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The following articles are listed on this page, and in this order:

The Ritual of Nuestro Señor de la Columna   By Sareda Milosz

Religious  Adventures in San Miguel de Allende from the Calles y Callejones travelblog

The Jewish Community of Mexico - submitted by Milou Monterrier

Virgin of Guadalupe, Goddess of the Americas      by Patrice Wynne

The Blood of Christ—and Blood & Sand     By Cherie Magnus

 

5/14/04         The Ritual of Nuestro Señor de la Columna   By Sareda Milosz

On the Sunday before Palm Sunday (this year it was March 21) I am awakened at about 4 a.m. by distant explosions heralding Nuestro Señor de la Columna’s entrance into San Miguel de Allende after an all-night trek from Atotonilco. There’s time for a cup of coffee before joining my bleary-eyed but enthusiastic neighbors to greet the arrival of Our Lord.

As the explosions draw closer, the local dogs, including my own, grow nervous from the appalling noise. I throw down some kibble to comfort them, and leave them inside the house where they’ll feel safe from the commotion.

Avenida Independencia, two blocks from my door, is strewn with fragrant herbs and decked with flowery arches and white and purple bunting. I stay on the sidewalk as I walk toward the approaching procession, which I join as it crosses the Libramiento to enter my colonia. Most of the participants have been up all night, a faithful company bearing the statue of Nuestro Señor de la Columna cross country from his usual niche at the Sanctuary of Atotonilco.

I fall into step behind the image, which is anchored to a huge wooden platform borne upon the shoulders of the devout. Our Lord is accompanied by images of John and Mary, carried the same way. We sing, and chant the rosary. We accept cups of coffee from the neighbors. We all have morning breath.

Huge explosions precede us, lighting the way and revealing briefly the faces of those I have joined on the last leg of the trek. Our progress is painfully slow; the street is choked with reverent participants, and the aromatic herbs we crush beneath our feet do not provide purchase for hurrying. In the sea of bodies, physical contact provides the forward impetus for the human mass, which would otherwise be paralyzed beneath the bowers.

At about 7 a.m., as the sun rises over the town, the bearers lay down their burdens. Somehow we have made our way to within a block or two of Calzada de la Luz.

Nuestro Señor, shrouded beneath a purple velvet vestment and hundreds of scarves, resembles a strange behemoth. My neighbors, many of whom have purposefully acquired their homes along the procession route, bedeck the carrying platforms with white chrysanthemums.

Several of the men begin the time-consuming task of removing the protective scarves from the sacred images. The tenderness these men exhibit--I know them as carniceros and albañiles and musicians and even n’er-do-wells--inspires tears. Their devotion is contagious. These are dramatic moments as the images are unmasked and the sun comes over the hill, bathing the scene in the glowing pink light of dawn.

Once the scarves are removed, Our Lord’s radiant crown must be restored. I feel an odd, visceral sensation as the men do their duty and screw the golden, fork-like halo emanations into the holes in Christ’s head. Sometimes one of the sparkling members of the diadem clatters to the pavement, and the dressers must try again to secure it properly.

There is Nuestro Señor, crowned and flayed, his bloody ribs exposed to view as he leans forward on his column, resting on his elbows. His eyes betray an inner, inhuman serenity and acceptance that could belong only to the son of God. The 17th century religious sculpture, nearly life-size, is warm with the patina of magnetic charisma acquired through generations of devoted veneration.
The images of John and Mary gaze upon the scene, sadly philosophical, emoting the tragic Christian sacrifice that precedes Resurrection.

The crowd surges forward toward San Juan de Dios church. Music now accompanies the rockets, and jacaranda blossoms sail through the air like holy confetti. Slowly, past the new plaza, past the DIF building, past the spirit-laden cemetery where ranks of ghosts awaken within their ancient crypts to the familiar rhythm of a century of shuffling, ardent pilgrims.

Nuestro Señor de la Columna is delivered once more to the nave of San Juan de Dios, where, amidst kisses and caresses, he will inspire tender devotion in the most wayward of Catholics and heal the wounds of moral corruption that have festered since his last visit.

The procession’s culmination is anti-climactic. Nuestro Señor is a hard act to follow. After Mass the troops dissolve, stumbling home to bed beneath the morning sun.

5/6/05  2 Religious  Adventures in San Miguel de Allende from the Calles y Callejones travelblog

Día de la Santa Cruz
The Day of The Holy Cross is celebrated each year on the second and third of May -- in fact, the entire month of May is given to periodic celebrations. Throughout the evening of the second there are ceremonies and all day on the third there are processions for the Santa Cruz, punctuated by the sound of fireworks accompanying the processions. And again on the 28th of the month, there will be other processions. In the community of Valle del Maiz, the procession of the Santa Cruz has been observed for the past 102 years. The procession winds its way up out of Valle del Maiz, led by this cross which has been in the family of Sr. Ramón Rodriguez Centeno since the time of his great-grandfathers. The procession visits a calvario at the entrance into Valle del Maiz on the Salida a Querétaro; this calvario was erected some 80 years or more ago. The procession then heads back down into Valle del Maiz where a decorated cross awaits at the entrance of the church. Before entering the church, the procession first climbs a steep path, past an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe painted on a wall to lay flowers beneath an old stone cross embedded in a stone wall before returning to the church. At the church, an altar has been set up in a side room, with candles and a variety of symbols and flowers set up on the floor in front of the altar.   posted by William at 3:01 AM

Behold The Man
Of all the religious images in San Miguel de Allende, among the oldest are those of El Señor de la Conquista, which dates from 1564, and that of Ecce Homo. The image Ecce Homo originally was in the church known today as El Oratorio de San Felipe Neri; before that congregation was founded in 1712, the church housed a brotherhood of mulattos. It was to this brotherhood that the image belonged, particularly fitting since the image Ecce Homo is dark-skinned. For some time, Ecce Homo has been housed in a special camarin which is located behind the main altar of the Parroquia. Ecce Homo is also called at times by the local people "El Señor de la Lluvia" (Lord of the Rains) since it makes one of its rare public appearances at this time of the year just before the rainy season begins. (The only other public appearance of the image is on Holy Friday when it appears in the procession of El Santo Encuentro.) Once a year, it is removed from the Parroquia to visit El Oratorio de San Felipe Neri and to sit in a special place on the main altar in the church la Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Salud. posted by William at 3:01 AM

5/2/04  The Jewish Community of Mexico - submitted by Milou Monterrier

Background

     The Jewish presence in Mexico dates back to the Spanish Conquest, even though it was only until the final years of the XIX century and beginning of the XX when a mass immigration of Jews from Syria, the Balkans, and Eastern Europe, fleeing from persecution and poverty, gives way to the initial stages of a modern Jewish Mexican community.
   Gradually the immigrants were confronted with the need to organize themselves in order to provide religious and educational services so as to keep their traditions alive in the new environment and to be able to transmit their millenary legacy to future generations. Therefore, they formed nuclei according to their countries of origin, a modality which persists up to the present day. Simultaneously, each nucleus or sector has maintained an autonomous existence regarding its internal affairs while working together in the solution of shared issues and problems.
   On November 9, 1938 and due to the dramatic conditions surrounding European Jewry, the Jewish Central Committee of Mexico (JCCM) emerged. At the beginning it functioned as a local association intent on helping Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Europe. Later it sought to satisfy the requirements of cohesion and political representation of the community sectors. Its birth has guaranteed that within diversity coexist unity and a rational community existence. It has become a clear response to the imperatives posed by modern Jewish existence of building bridges and opening channels of communication with the institutions of contemporary Mexico.
   Nowadays the JCCM acts as a representative body of the Jewish Mexican Community. Its main objective is to promote cordial and open relations with the Mexican government and with other Jewish communities around the world. At the same time it fosters the active participation of members of this community in order to help attain national goals and supports the Mexican government's initiatives during critical episodes.
   The JCCM maintains close links with international organizations like the World Jewish Congress to which it belongs through its Latin American branch and participates in international Jewish forums through its Foreign Relations Commission.
   Its analysis and opinion agency is Tribuna Israelita which was founded in 1944. Through its sophisticated lay and professional structures it promotes an ongoing dialogue with opinion leaders in this country and the implementation of joint ventures with diverse national organizations. It generates a series of publications on the religious, ethical and philosophical facets of Judaism, on the Jewish presence in Mexico, and on racism. Concurrently it seeks to sensitize public opinion as to the evident risks of anti-Semitism and takes an active part in debates on national issues.
   Also within its institutional framework, the Mexican Council of Jewish Women, seeks to represent the feminine sector of this community vis a vis national women's organizations dedicated to helping those in need, especially in the spheres of education and health.
   In its structure the Jewish Central Committee is formed by 10 community sectors to which the majority of the Judeo-Mexican population is affiliated:

  1. Beth Israel Community Center.
    English speaking institution which practices Conservative Judaism.
  2. Jewish Sport Center.
    Sports, cultural, and social institution which integrates members from all the other sectors.
  3. Monterrey's Community Center.
    Representative institution of Monterrey's Jewish Community.
  4. North Baja California's Community Center.
    Representative institution of Tijuana's Jewish Community.
  5. Ashkenazi Community.
    Formed by descendants of Eastern Europe immigrants.
  6. Bet El Community.
    Institution which practices Conservative Judaism.
  7. Guadalajara's Community Center.
    Representative institution of Guadalajara's Jewish Community.
  8. Maguen David Community.
    Formed by descendants of immigrants from Aleppo, Syria.
  9. Alianza Monte Sinai.
    Formed by descendants of immigrants from Damascus, Syria.
  10. Sepharadic Community.
    Formed by descendants of immigrants from the Balkans.

Jewish Presence in Mexico

     The Jewish community of Mexico is made up of approximately 40,000 people. Most of them live in the capital city and its suburbs in the state of Mexico while the rest in the cities of Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Tijuana.
   Within the organizational community structure its Jewish educational network is outstanding. More than a dozen schools and yeshivot, combine in their curricula the official programs and Judaic studies and are attended by up to 85% of Mexican Jewish children. There is also a Hebraic University that trains professionals in Jewish education. On its part the Program of Jewish Studies of the Iberoamericana University offers, with the support of academic centers in Israel, a degree in Judaic studies. Due to the variety of Jewish education options, the level of disintegration of the Jewish family is still very low.
   It is worth mentioning the dynamic participation of the Jewish feminine sector in national and community projects. There is a wide range of organizations devoted to social, cultural, and philanthropic work which are coordinated by a Federation.
   The Jewish Mexican youth participates in Scout and Zionist movements or in those linked to the community sectors. Most of those who attend universities belong to the Mexican Federation of Jewish Students (FEMUJ).
   There is a wide gamut of organizations focused on fostering relations between Israel and the community. The Mexican Associations of Friends of the different Israeli universities maintain close contacts with official and private academic institutions in the country and have participated in national priority projects through the exchange of researches and know how.
   ORT has also contributed significantly in the area of education by implementing technical systems in official high schools.
   The Retorno (Return) group conducts a preventive program with the Jewish Mexican youth to create awareness on the pernicious effects of alcohol and drugs.
  Kadima, on its part, works to sensitize Mexican Jews on the adverse conditions facing the disabled and attempts at involving the latter in community affairs.
   A variety of periodicals -magazines and newspapers- reflect the different political, cultural and ideological trends in the community.
   The Jewish community has kept a high and outstanding profile in modern Mexico. Its institutions combine the Jewish traditional way of life as well as a constant tendency to reach out towards the future enabling it to accurately identify the challenges of the century to come. The Jewish Central Committee of Mexico, as its representative body, is intent on solidifying the close links that exist between Mexican Jewry and other national sectors in order to preserve democracy, tolerance, and pluralism in this country.

4/25/04 VIRGIN OF GUADALUPE, GODDESS OF THE AMERICAS by Patrice Wynne

This is an almost true story. An American professor is describing his atheism to a Mexican couple who are attempting to understand his faith. Suddenly there is a gleam of understanding in the eyes of the senora. "We know that you do not believe in Jesus," she said with a look of sympathy, "but surely you must believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe!" This experience expresses a spiritual reality at the heart of the Mexican people: the Virgin of Guadalupe is the source of their faith, and life without her is inconceivable. Her image is more iconic than the Mexican flag, or in contemporary times, the images of Frida Kahlo. The Virgin is the Mother of the Mexican people, the Empress of the Americas, the Reina de Mexico---and all of Mexico stands in homage to her, her magnitude unmatched by any saint or even by Jesus Christ in the reverence and love which she evokes. Macho men bow at her feet and weep before her. One finds her omnipresent image in spaces both public and private: on household shrines, on walls of professional offices, in the bolsa of the campesino and the wallet of the President.

The Virgin is mirrored on clothing and costumes, playgrounds and paintings, gas stations and police stations, taco stands and taxi stands, t-shirts and tattoos, candies and candles, aprons and autos, backs of bodies and backs of buses, sugar sculptures and soap sculptures, Mexico City art galleries and Tijuana shooting galleries, milagros and mercados, taverns and talaveras. You might be wiser to ask: where does the Virgin NOT appear in Mexico? She is composed of wood, tin, paper, plaster, embroidery, marble, concrete, tile, sugar, plastic, beads, metal, cloth, stone, clay, cake, canvas, bottlecaps, leather, toothpicks. Visual and multimedia artists are revisioning post-modern, often controversial, Guadalupes, infused with meanings relevant to our times on the communal and personal issues of the Mexican people on both sides of the border. San Miguel artist Susan Plum, who does international installations on the Virgin of Guadalupe, uses ironing boards to represent Our Lady. To my knowledge, there is no other religious symbol in any culture that is replicated in as many places and as many ways as the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Why do the Mexican people love her so? The answer is found in the story of her apparition for in her biography is the biology of the Mexican people, the matter and substance of their cultural and spiritual history. It is a cold winter morning, like mornings now in San Miguel, in a village outside Mexico City: December 9th, 1531, only 10 years after the defeat of the great Aztec nation by the Spanish conquistadores. Tenochititlan, the once mighty Aztec capital city, has been buried and on its foundations is being built the Spanish capital city of Mexico. The  indigenous myths and dark skinned deities which had sustained the people for generations have gone underground. A new Roman Catholic belief system, taught by white skinned people, has not yet taken root. The people's souls are lost, orphaned by their gods.

An Aztec Indian, known by his Christian name, Juan Diego, is on his way to Mass. He approaches the sacred hill of Tepeyacac, where his ancestors until recently had worshipped at the temple to the corn Goddess Tonanzin, whose name means "Our Mother". Her temple had been devastated by order of the Catholic Bishop Zumarraga. He walks on naked feet and wears a coarse-woven mantle, called a tilma, made of maguey cactus fibers. Suddenly he hears the melodious sounds of singing birds, rare at this time of year, and sees a lovely brown woman with a halo shining in the morning sunrays, dressed in glorious robes in shades of gold, blue and rose. Speaking to him in his native language, Nahuatl, she identifies herself as the Blessed Mother Mary and in a tender voice calls him "little son," “Juanito"and  "Juan Dieguito, my little dear". She urges him to go to the city and request that the bishop build a shrine to her, on the very place of the destroyed goddess temple, to express the special love she has for the Indian people. Mustering his courage, Juan Diego visits Bishop Zumarraga but is dismissed as a dreamer. He returns to the hillside and begs of her: “I am a nobody, a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf”. She offers him these consoling words: "Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happily within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything."

Three times she appears; three times he begs for her temple; three times he is turned away. When the Bishop asks for proof that she is the Mother of God, she tells Juan Diego to pick the Castillian roses, impossible to exist in that climate, but growing in abundance nearby. Gathering them in his tilma, he opens his cloak in the presence of the Bishop, who drops to his knees for emblazoned on the Indian's apron is the image of the Virgin exactly as Juan Diego had described her. In thirteen days, a small chapel is completed in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe; two years later a major church is built in the site. 

The first record of her apparition, the Nican Mopohua or Huei Tlamahuitzoltica, was written in Nahuatl, the Aztec language, by the Indian scholar Antonio Valeriano around the middle of the 16th century, 100 years after her appearance. This has led many to speculate about the veracity of the Guadalupe story, as the Catholic faith was dramatically served by her appearance. By 1541, according to Franciscan priest and early historian of New Spain, Father Motolinia, nine million Aztecs had become Christians. A Papal Bull, issued in 1754, declared Guadalupe the Empress of the Americas. In 1810 Father Hidalgo raises a flag, imprinted with the Virgin of Guadalupe's seed-like image, aloft in his march of Independence to San Miguel, fostering the Virgin as a symbol of both the Revolution and the empowerment of the Mexican people. Today most cities and villages throughout Mexico have a church dedicated in her name; her image is found every marketplace, gas station, home and business where, if you look carefully, you will see altars created in her honor.

The Basilica of Guadalupe was built in 1709 near the place of her appearance; a vast modern church and complex was completed in 1976. At this Basilica on her feast day, celebrated on December 11th and 12th, over 5 million people will come to celebrate her day. On display is the Tilma of Juan Diego which shows no sign of decay almost 500 years later. An estimated 10 million worshippers visit her Basilica annually, making it the most popular shrine to the Virgin Mary in the world, and second to the Vatican as the most visited Catholic church in the world. In July 2002 Juan Diego was declared a saint, the first indigenous saint of the Americas. Throughout Mexico, millions of the faithful gather every December 12th for processions, petitions, prayers, invocations, tributes, dances, songs, festivities, prayers and fireworks to honor their Queen.

The origin of the name Guadalupe has always been a matter of controversy. The name came about because of the translation from Nahuatl to Spanish of the words used by the Virgin to announce herself: the Nahuatl word of "coatlaxopeuh" which is pronounced "quatlasupe" and sounds remarkably like the Spanish word Guadalupe. Catholic historians translate Coa as serpent; tla is interpreted as "the", while xopeuh means to crush or stamp out. The original Nahuatl translates as "the one who crushes the serpent", an allusion to Quetzecoatl, the serpent god-king of the Aztec religion.

Yet remembering her origins, The Virgin of Guadalupe is the modern touchstone to the pre-Conquest Goddess Tonanzin, the Aztec Dark Madonna. Guadalupe has taken over her reign under a different name and combines Catholic and pagan practices under a new religion, Mexican Catholicism. Many of the ancient practices survive such as using talismans (milagros), divination by her image, herbal curing invoking her name, practices of curanderas with her image on their altars. Her supernatural powers are claimed as part of the family history of Mexicans who have prayed to her in times of tragedy, illness, death---with miraculous results. In my own life, I experienced her intercessory salvation on a recent trip to Patzquaro. We were driving through the town of Santa Clara del Cobre, on our way to a village far down the narrow 2 lane highway. I always travel with my digital camera while travelling Mexico, but this trip I'd not wanted to stop for photographs along the dangerous roads. As we passed by a carniceria, oddly named Guadalupana, I asked my companion to pull over. The photo took longer than normal. The camera battery was dead and the digital card was full. When I returned to the car a half hour later, there was a woman standing next to the car and the hood was up. She was the shopkeeper across the street from where we'd stopped. Standing in her doorway, she'd noticed a liquid pouring out from under the hood, and came across the street to inform us. Her family owned a garage within walking distance and she directed us there. The men were very helpful and knew how to repair the Volvo--a milagro in this small town! As we left an hour later we had several near misses on the roads including a bus that swerved in our direction and a bull standing in the road when we turned a corner. But had our car broken down along that 20 mile stretch, without any pullover lanes and many blind curves, we could have been in great danger, not to mention out of luck in finding a repair person. I feel in my bones that the Virgin of Guadalupe reached out to me for a photo of her namesake meat stand, and saved our vacation...and possibly, our lives. Viva Guadalupe! I have created a line of Guadalupe clothing and homewares, dedicated to her with the hope that more people can understand the power of Guadalupe. You can read more about this on my website: www.sanmigueldesigns.com

In San Miguel on December 12th, visit Colonia Guadalupe around 2pm where you will be able to see the live Guadalupe on the back of a truck followed by the devoted in procession, signing her songs and carrying her statues to be blessed. Around 5pm visit the shrine to the Virgin in the chapel at Mexiquito, the boys orphanage, where you will be delighted by the children and the families in their finest Guadalupana attire. Stay for the delicious meals prepared on the outdoor grills by the nuns. To get there, take Calzada de la Aurora out along the road to Dolores Hidalgo. The chapel is on your left as you leave town. Or visit the Parroquia at night where you might see hundreds of baby girl Virgincitas and little boy Saint  Juan Diegito's, often with bird cages on their backs, symbolic of the bird song that brought the Lady to him. The faithful will weep for her intercession in their lives. They will leave roses at the foot of the Virgin statue, and later have their children's polaroid photograph taken in a paper grotto with Guadalupe's image vividly and lovingly painted as the background. On the Feast Day of Guadalupe, the Mexican's love of family, nation, faith, ancestors and indigenous heritage are unified in the Celebration of the Mother whose love and protection are the ground of their being.

4/22/04 THE BLOOD OF CHRIST—AND BLOOD & SAND By Cherie Magnus 

It was late afternoon on Wednesday of Holy Week in San Miguel de Allende and a crowd was gathering in front of the baroque Oratorio. Colors from the setting sun streaked the sky and turned the young acolytes’ white garments rose as they stood patiently with their incense, tall candlesticks and golden crosses at the top of the church stairs. Behind them were a hundred women of all ages in formal black. Wearing everything from cocktail dresses and sequins to simple cotton, some were carrying their shoes to preserve their feet as well as embracing symbols of the Crucifixion.

The crowd congregated in silence, a few took photographs. Two little girls yanked on my sleeve and I snapped their pictures. Way up high in the tower more teenaged boys in white were fooling around while waiting for the time to peal the huge bells.

At last the traffic in the street was stopped and the procession began, with angels and Roman soldiers and solemn drummers and when the beloved statues were hand carried on flower bedecked litters out of the church, I couldn’t help but catch my breath. Men in crisp white shirts and formal black slacks carried Christ with his cross, but it was women who carried the others—adored images of Mary, Magdalene, John, Veronica made from corn paste and orchid bulbs as well as wood. Tiny women all in black wearing white gloves, most barefoot, bore the heavy wooden stretchers over their shoulders, some waiting all of their lives for this honor today.

When the crowd fell in behind the last of the litter and lantern  bearers as they wended theirway up the hill and on to the Stations of the Cross, I cut out and ran over to the Biblioteca’s Santa Ana theater where “Jesus Christ Superstar” was just beginning. Afterwards I was drawn back to the Oratorio in time to see the procession return to the church. There had been a downpour during the movie, I had heard it pounding on the roof. Now two hours later the procession was damp, weary, still proud. Even more of the ladies in black were barefoot, but the teenagers wore their high platforms with pride after hours of walking the rough streets of San Miguel. The little girls in white still held forth their bread, the prom-queen angel still presented her full tulle skirts, but everyone looked tired. Then up the hill in the distance appeared the moving lanterns, candlelight progressing slowly downhill in the dark, lighting the way for the venerated images. By the time the last of the procession disappeared into the church, I was emotionally exhausted, and I turned to the picnicking families, the candy and tamale vendors, the balloon men with relief.

Holy Thursday I attended a gringo lecture on “Rabbits, Eggs, and The Blood of Christ.” And then I visited the churches, which were all open as is traditional this night. One is supposed to visit seven, but in San Miguel the churches are so many and so close together I actually did eight in short order. People file quietly in, pray, touch the statues, receive manzanilla flowers, a roll of blessed bread, a purple palm cross for a small donation at the many tables set up by teenagers in the sanctuaries. There is a great suspense in all the churches, altars are covered, people are awaiting the Eucharist, the body and blood.

The town was jumping, packed with tourists and residents, no one was home. Some shops were open, singing poured out of the cantinas’ swinging doors, there was no place to sit in the Jardin. Young Mexicans on vacation, their spring break—gorgeous slim girls in tight hip hugging and belly bearing jeans holding hands with handsome boys shared benches with families, babies on shoulders and strollers impossibly navigating the cobblestones, here and there clusters of shorts-clad gringos. Vendors were selling everything, everywhere. A friend from Canada invited me to join her group at Mama Mia’s for drinks, but feeling drained from so many over-the-top emotions, I just went home and flicked on the tube, where almost every Mexican channel had Bible movies or film of Holy Week processions and appearances of the Pope on the news.

But all of this paled in comparison with Good Friday. There were three processions, the last one in the evening consisting of hundreds and hundreds of participants, including two choirs (the choir of children singing the ancient “La Guadalupana”) and a real orchestra, with accordions, violins, and lots of dark brass, carrying their music stands. All of the women litter bearers wore black with white gloves and black lace mantillas, the men all in black suits, white shirts, and black ties with purple sashes. The dearly loved images are frequently graphically gory; Jesus bleeds, his flesh is torn to the bone, his torment and pain so palpable. The penitents carrying crosses have real bloody wounds from their crowns of thorns, the Roman soldiers’ whip the bound prisoners as they walk. Everywhere is violence and blood and suffering—so much a part of Mexican history and religion since before the Conquest.

This was a real funeral cortege, men wearing hats along the sidewalks were asked to remove them, and the crowd watched the procession with respectful silence, even the children. Right before the arrival of the glass coffin with the bloody body of Jesus, little girls spread manzanilla and mint over the cobblestones, and the air was perfumed as the flowers were trod upon. Nothing mechanical or electronic, no animatronic giant moving floats, only the power of people and their faith, and it was powerful. And while there were tourists among the believers lining the streets, this popular event is not sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce. This was the church brought out into the streets and into the lives of the people.

Saturday, instead of the Blood of Christ, there was blood and sand at the bullfight arena in the center of town—somehow a fitting activity for the end of Holy Week. Though averting my eyes on occasion during the “moment of truth” at the end of each matador and bull ballet, I loved the color, courage, grace and drama of men and beasts in the ring,

At night the churches held candlelit Easter Vigils, but I went dancing at la Cava de la Princessa with a group of crazy artists from Calgary. Without a partner or much space to move, the release and abandon in the smoky, crowded club to the hot salsa band from Mexico City was just what my body and soul needed. No one but me knew I was expressing the inexpressible as I danced away the week’s emotions.

Easter Sunday is the day that lifesized effigies of Judas, other bad characters, and politicians are strung up in front of the government buildings along the Jardin, and joyously blown to bits one by one at noon after church services. San Miguel de Allende reverberates with the loud blasts. It’s a great catharsis and a fitting end to an intense week of passion, emotion, blood and death, and Resurrection.

(excerpted from The Church of Tango; a Passionate Pilgrimage  by Cherie Magnus)

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