By James F. Quinn
When I walked into Colonia San Luis Rey on that Good Friday morning, I knew I was an outsider — an English-speaking visitor, of course, but, more importantly, a nonbeliever. Eight years in a church-related children’s home, and many more years of living, had baked faith out of my bones.
Art: Good Friday in Colonia San Luis Rey, Photographs by James F. Quinn. Fri, Feb 24, 6-9pm. Galería Pérgola, Instituto Allende, Ancha de San Antonio 21
But as I passed under flags reading “Lord, have mercy on us,” and smiled at people creating Stations of the Cross on the bumpy streets, I knew I would be in the minority that day.
The size of the crowd in the church square surprised me. Residents mingled with camera-toting outsiders who had read the same Atención article about the Way of the Cross that had attracted me. But the center of the square was filled with costumed actors. Many wore scarlet robes and gold helmets and held pikes like those that Roman soldiers might have carried. Others were dressed as court officials or members of the Roman government of what, on that morning, had been transformed from a San Miguel neighborhood into historic Jerusalem.
There were girls in white dresses, young boys wearing soldier’s robes, and a solemn woman in white makeup and a black hooded cloak who carried a skull on a pillow. She was Santa Muerte, someone said; Holy Death, a symbol I had never encountered in my sanitized religious experience north of the border.
I saw a very realistic crown of thorns on the stage in front of the church. Its points looked dangerous.
Roman soldiers entered the square with Jesús. A later Atención article said he was actually Javier Araiza, owner of a grocery store near the church. That morning he was deeply in character, his face lined with red makeup. Hauled onstage, he was quickly tried and whipped by two soldiers wielding scourges. In real life, he was their neighbor, but on that day he was the hated King of the Jews. If they gave their swings less than full force, it wasn’t apparent from the audience.
Several soldiers hauled a cross from its storage space behind the church. Jesús Ibarra’s Atención article said that it had been made by Don José Merced Martinez Luna, a carpenter and one of the residents who first organized the pageant in 2002. It was 18 feet tall with an 8-foot crosspiece, and it weighed nearly 150 pounds.
The procession, with Jesus hauling the heavy cross, left the square and started toward Montes de Loreto, which had been transformed into Calvary. He fell three times under his burden, first in town and later along his route. Behind him, actors playing the two thieves convicted with him marched with heavy beams on their shoulders. As he struggled uphill, an actor portraying Simon of Cyrene helped him carry the cross.
At the crowded Calvary site, I watched as soldiers tied first the two thieves and then Jesús to their crosses and raised them skyward. Below them, women, children, grownups in soldier costumes, and members of a brass band gazed upward quietly.
The three figures remained aloft for a long time. Finally, the soldiers untied them, lowered them to the ground with cloth sashes, and slowly carried them back down the hill. The crowd on the hillside followed them down.
Though I ended the day no more a believer than when I started, I came away from the pageant deeply impressed by the reverence and commitment that each of the participants had brought to it. They may have been carpenters, storeowners, bus drivers, teachers, or students, but on that morning, they had submerged themselves in the traditions of their faith.
“Good Friday in Colonia San Luis Rey,” a collection of documentary photographs, will be part of a group show at the Pergola Gallery in the Instituto Allende that will also include work by painters Harriet Moore Ballard, Peter Leventhal, Carole Watanabe, and Ezshwan Winding. The show will run until Thursday, April 5.