Mournful processions of Holy Week
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
During Holy Week San Miguel streets are paved with mint, mastranto and chamomile, which perfume the air as the Catholic faithful tread upon the herbs, wearing purple, white or black during two processions as old as the images they feature. The Holy Burial, dating from 1713, and the Holy Encounter, dating from 1756, are two of the most notable processions on Good Friday.
The Holy Encounter and the Passing of the Priest
This representation of the Passion of Christ features several stations. The tradition was started in 1756 by Father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro, who used to carry a cross from Atotonilco to San Miguel. Traditionalist Rubén Villasana told Atención that the current procession has undergone several changes, which are visible if it is compared to a mural painted by Antonio Martínez de Poca Sangre in the Shrine of Jesús the Nazarene in Atotonilco, which dates from Father Alfaro’s time.
This religious event starts at 11am on Good Friday, with the arrival of pilgrims from Atotonilco carrying the cross that Father Luis Felipe used to bring to San Miguel. At 11:30am, at the Santa Escuela, the chapel adjacent to the Parroquia, a mock trial of Jesus
Christ takes place. Christ is represented by a statue called Our Lord of Eccehomo. This first station recalls the moment when Pontius Pilate condemns Christ to death, washing his hands and saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” After the trial, an image of Virgin Mary is transported from the Parish of St. Michael the Archangel to the portal de Guadalupe.
At noon, the procession leaves from the Parroquia, headed by an image of St. Roque—patron of the Brotherhood who along with Neri de Alfaro started the procession. St. Roque is followed by girls wearing white (angelitos), who toss aromatic herbs and flowers. Behind the angelitos barefoot men wearing silicios (roughly woven garments) follow, 12 of them with crowns of thorns on their heads and 12 carrying skulls, which represent the path from death to eternal life. These men are guarded by a group of Roman soldiers.
The Lord of Eccehomo continues the procession, carried by 12 men, and behind them appears the parish priest carrying Luis Felipe Neri’s cross. The parish priest is flanked by two men portraying the thieves Dimas and Gestas tied to a piece of wood. The procession is followed by a blood-stained Nazarene dating from the 18th century and created at the request of Padre Alfaro. The sculpture has a special mechanism that allows the head to move. Also carried in the procession are statues of San Juan, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Cleophas and Veronica.
The high point of the procession, the Holy Encounter, comes after the images pass through calles Correo, Corregidora, San Francisco and Plaza Principal to Portal Allende. When the Nazarene arrives at Portal Allende, the Virgin Mary is transported from the Portal of Guadalupe to the center of the Plaza Principal and they finally meet. Jesus raises his head three times.
The Holy Burial
“It is something beautiful that needs to be photographed,” says Father Josué Alejandro Rodríguez from the Oratorio of San Felipe Neri. From the point of view of believers, it is a manifestation of the spirit to be part of Christ’s Passion and to accompany him and the Virgin of Solitude in their most critical moment. For a Catholic, according to the priest, it is a way to be transported to the time and relive the funeral.
This procession started as a way for father Luis Juan Antonio Pérez de Espinosa to teach the illiterate natives about the Passion of Christ. “With the sounds, images and perfume, he used to transport the natives to the past,” remarked Father Rodríguez.
The first Holy Burial was reenacted here between 1712 and 1713. There were no more images other than the Virgin of Solitude and our Lord of Eccehomo—which appears in the Holy Encounter—and the first event took place inside the Indians’ Chapel (now the Oratorio). Perhaps the procession was held on the streets by 1800. The procession was canceled between 1920 and 1930 because of military and religious conflicts and was revived in 1940.
Jesus, it is said, died on the cross at 3pm. The procession leaves from the Oratorio at 5pm and returns as darkness falls. Father Alejandro remarked that the timing has a theological explanation, symbolizing that the Savior is dying as the sun sets and returning when the earth is in darkness, when there is
only mourning and sadness and no more salvation.
The funeral march leaves at 6pm from the Oratorio and is headed by a statue of Christ of the Expiration. A line of Romans opens the march. Their participation does not necessarily indicate that they were faithful followers of Christ, but they are there because when Jesus died Pontius Pilate commanded a guard to watch over the cave to be sure that the corpse could not be stolen.
Behind the soldiers walk girls wearing white. These girls, also called angelitos, carry statues of angels that display on pieces of canvas images of the Passion, such as the nails, the crown of thorns and the dice used by the Romans to gamble for Christ’s clothes. The angels and angelitos are flanked by a line of women wearing deep mourning and carrying lanterns.
The procession continues with a group of men carrying lanterns, and then under a canopy appears a catafalque made of wood and glass carrying the recumbent corpse of Jesus Christ. This sculpture is bigger than the one used in the past, which measures 1.50 meters and has indigenous features. The old statue is exhibited in the Chapel of the Animas in the Oratorio. Behind the coffin follow a group of priests from the Oratorio.
The empachos (chorus) follow the procession singing lyrics called songs of the Passion, which were written by the priest of the Oratorio exclusively for this event. “The songs need to be sung by young girls and boys because it is a singing of pain from the innocents, a plea to God,” said Rodríguez. There is also a choir of adolescents who sing the Christus Factus.
The Virgin of Solitude represents Virgin Mary, who is alone after the death of her husband, St. Joseph, and her son. That statue, wearing a large velvet cloak, is carried by women who are part of an organization called Esclavitud Lauretana. This Virgin only appears in public only for this procession, and on Holy Saturday is exhibited in the Santa Casa de Loreto. The rest of the year the image remains in the Oratorio sacristy.
The procession is followed by St. John the Apostle, who followed Christ to Calvary, as well as Mary Magdalene, who was released of the seven demons, the seven deadly sins.
The procession ends with the images of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who carries a document in which Pontius Pilate authorized him to take Christ down from the cross and bury him.