Archive for April, 2014

The amazing street “carpets”
April 23, 2014

We are still in Antigua, Guatemala, for this report the processions of Holy Week. One of the beautiful and creative elements in the celebrations is the street art, the creation of designs on the streets where a procession will pass through. These “carpets” (alfombras in Spanish) are designed and created by anyone who wishes. Here is a sampling of what we saw – and the work as it was being done.

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The elements in the carpets are typically colored sawdust, flowers, flower petals, pine needles, leaves and pieces of fruit or vegetables.

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The above two views feature the Quetzal (ket-zal), the national bird of Guatemala. I talked with students from The University of Texas at Austin as they worked on two alfombras. The Quetzal may have been one of their projcts, but I can’t trust my memory on that point.

As you see, many of the carpets present themes from nature or geometric designs. But some show a religious theme.

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Do you see, in the distance, Jesus on the cross? And in the middle left, is Jesus in Gethsemane, with an angel appearing to him, as one of the Gospels says.

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The most elaborate  alfombra I saw was the following.

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Take a second look at the roses. They are made of turnips, with some of the root tips still showing. You might try making this at home.

The beauty of the carpets is short-lived because of the processions. The first walkers in a procession, including the banner carriers, early trumpeters (if there area any) and rows of robed escorts, all walk on the sides of the streets, carefully avoiding stepping on the carpets. Then the float carriers walk right through the carpet, destroying it. Similarly, the band members walk over the carpet remains, then the general pilgrims, then the carriers of the Mary float, and finally the second band.

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Last of all comes the cleanup crew with their front loaders and dump trucks, shoveling and sweeping the street clean.

For me, the symbolism of the alfombras is profound. All of earth’s beauty and much of our creative efforts are temporary and short-lived. But we should not  lament this fact, for we know from the Scriptures that only the kingdom of God is forever. And God invites everyone to enter this kingdom through repentance and faith. Though our bodies, through death, return to dust, they will be raised in a new and glorious body like our  Savior has.

To God be praise and glory for ever and ever.

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Good Friday in Antigua, Guatemala
April 22, 2014

Here are some further insights into our time in Antigua during Holy Week 2014.

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St. Joseph Cathedral at night. It faces the small park in the center of the city.

The first church was built about 1541 but suffered several earthquakes throughout its history, so it was demolished.

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La Merced Church, located three blocks north of the square (park).

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A floral and fruit tribute to Jesus, in Merced.

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As you walk to La Merced, you pass under this arch, an iconic symbol of Antigua.

Now we come to our experiences on Good Friday. In the morning all the men in the procession wore distinctive headdresses, different from those worn earlier in the week.

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I saw four processions. As on the other days, each procession is sponsored by a different church or school.

FIRST PROCESSION. By La Merced Church.

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You see many local Mayan women wearing their typical elaborately embroidered blouses.

Carrying the float is hard work, so you rest when and where you can.

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Later, I learned that this procession involved 7.000 volunteers as carriers, replacing each other at intervals. Can you imagine the work of coordinating this?!

SECOND PROCESSION. By St. Joseph Cathedral.

This one began at 3:00. As usual the processions began inside the church, and the float was carried out into the street.

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For this procession the purple robes are gone, and the carriers wear black, for mourning obviously. We are standing on the cathedral patio, looking out on the huge crowd in central park.

Later Genesis and I went for a walk and, by coincidence, were on hand when the float was carried backwards into the cathedral.

THIRD PROCESSION. By Christ School. Earlier in the day a bystander told me that this would be the most elaborate procession of the day. It started at 3:50 PM on the outskirts of town and is to end at 1:50 AM tomorrow. We saw it after dark.

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I was speechless. A very long float – ornate gold and silver work , giant candelabra, and four seated figures that I guessed represented the four gospel writers, but I can’t be sure.

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And in the center Jesus, as if buried, in a gold and glass coffin.

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And giant silver angels guarding the rear.

Not far behind this float and its band was another elaborate float devoted to Mary. All in silver, glittering brightly, with candelabra and other candles. The candles all had electric lights, not actual flames.

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I would have to agree with the bystander who told me that this would be the most elaborate procession of all.

 

I joined the pilgrims, behind the Jesus float. But in about an hour I returned to the square in order not to miss the…

FOURTH PROCESSION

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The photos are not ideal, but the spiritual impact was profound.

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The body of Jesus in a shroud, in a glass case, is carried by statues of mourners dressed in dark gray. In front of this are several broken-down columns and capitals and weeping angels. I took this to be a sign that heaven and earth were mourning the death of Christ, as if the end of the world had come.

Behind the body of Christ was a striking figure, of which I could not get a clear photo because of the night and the massive crowd. I had to ask a bystander to be sure what this figure was. It represented God the Father, reclining, stretching his hand toward the dead Son.

Always, following the floats and bands, night or day, are the street vendors. Most of them are not selling religious items, but food and toys.

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Foam geckos are a favorite item. I bought one for the girls.

For me, the spiritual impact of the processions  was profound.

Here is my observation: You can miss the real Jesus in the Holy Week processionals. You can find the real Jesus in the Holy Week processionals.

 

 

Holy Week in Antigua, Guatemala
April 18, 2014

We arrived in Guatemala on April 15 to spend ten days with our daughter Melanie and family. We are all spending the first three days in the town of Antigua, a famous tourist spot, to see Roman Catholic processions that celebrate Holy Week.

First, here is a photo of Melanie’s family.

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Then, about the processions, from Palm Sunday through Easter there are one or more of them each day. They start anywhere from 4:00 to 11:00 AM and continue from eight to twelve hours, following a path through various streets and around the central park and past the cathedral.

The processions  are a beautiful spectacle. Usually, a small brass group leads the way, playing occasionally. Then one or two statues of biblical characters  on small platforms, carried on the shoulders of a few volunteers. Then there are men dressed in purple robes and headdresses.

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They line the sides of the streets. Note the one using his cell phone!

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And some of them carry censers. The aroma is very strong.

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Some of the censor carriers are quite young.

Some processions feature Roman soldiers.

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From Wednesday through Friday the large decorated floats all have to do with the suffering, death and burial of Christ.

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From this float I noticed a detail that I got in a close-up shot.

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Do you see two butterflies? Symbols of hope, I presume.

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The large floats are carried by men and boys, with 40 or more carriers per float.  The floats move forward very slowly, with many pauses along the way. After several blocks a new row of carriers steps in and trades places with the previous carriers. The carriers keep in perfect step and sway from side to side both while walking and while standing still.  As you see, the photo above is a night scene.

Behind the float and the band is a generator, pushed by hand, that powers the lights on the float and also powers floodlights so that the musicians can see their music.

On Wednesday and Thursday the men wore the robes you see in the above photo.

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Sometimes “Roman soldiers” carried the floats. Other soldiers marched as an escort. On Good Friday several soldiers rode horses,and there was one chariot.

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Here is a partial view of the band. Typically, the band had 30 or 40 instruments – brass, woodwind and percussion. The music as slow and a bit mournful, fitting the somber mood of our reflecting on the suffering of Christ. The booming drums and strong tubas gave an emphatic cadence. The band played a song, then walked in silence for awhile, and then played again.

After the band that followed the main float, anyone who wished could walk in the procession, so I did a few times on Friday, reflecting on the Scripture: “For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit.” 1 Peter 3:18

The next thing in the processions was always a float with the Virgin Mary.

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These floats were always carried by women. Another music band (of men) followed the Mary float.

Smaller floats of individual Bible characters or saints appeared at various places in the processions.

The entire pace of the procession was slow. All the participants were silent an respectful. Most of the bystanders were silent also.

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The last element in the processions is a practical one – two front loaders, two dump trucks, and a crew of workers to clean up street litter and the destroyed alfombras (decorative “carpets”) that people created.

There is more to be said about the processions, but that will have to wait for my next blogs.