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Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Friday, March 25, 2005

Semana Santa

Alfombras (or floral carpets) glorify the sacred procession on Good Friday in Antigua, Guatemala


Photo: Semana Santa in Guatemala

With dirge music of brass bands and streets filled with the faithful and the merely amazed, Good Friday is the high-low point of Holy Week in Antigua, Guatemala.

For days in advance, various social and neighborhood groups construct alfombras—carpets made of sawdust, fruits, and flowers—both in the churches and along the streets. Some include Christian symbols—a cross, or an ox for St. Luke—others owe their designs to the woven patterns of huipiles, the garments of Guatemala’s indigenous people, still others incorporate more contemporary, popular messages.

But as human flower projects, the most spectacular are the alfombras along Antigua’s streets, meticulously designed and, ideally, completed just before the Good Friday procession begins. “Sand or sawdust is generally used to level the cobblestone roadway.  Sawdust is then collected and dyed in different colors.  Favorite colors are purple, green, blue, red, yellow and black. Flowers such as bougainvillea, chrysanthemums, carnations, roses and other native plants and pine needles are also used.”

There are several other interesting sites with explanations and images of the alfombras. But here is the most marvelous introduction I’ve found (in Spanish) to Semana Santa—Holy Week—throughout Guatemala. For the non-Spanish speaking, it’s still well worth visiting, with beautiful photography of processions all across the country, as well as the music of Good Friday marches, played by Guatemalan bands.

imageGood Friday Procession

Antigua, Guatemala

Photo: Semana Santa in Guatemala

As for the alfombras, no one knows whether this custom came with the Spanish from Western Iberia (where floral carpets are made for Corpus Christi processions) or if the pre-Hispanic cultures of Guatemala were already making such ephemeral artworks from local flora. (We welcome your observations or research into this subject, por cierto.)

In any case, this tradition reaches to core of flower culture, likewise the human condition. Like Tibetan mandalas, but on a magnificent citywide scale, the alfombras are made to be destroyed. Here the message goes beyond our transitory nature. The alfombras pour out the spirit of sacrifice, in the re-enactment of Christ’s walk to Calvary.

Posted by Julie on 03/25 at 11:50 AM
Religious RitualsPermalink