Honoring the miraculous cross of El Valle
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
The celebration to honor the Holy Cross of El Valle del Maíz is more than the ending and beginning of a cycle, more than a celebration of death and rebirth; the solemn festivities also include plays and dances, music, locos, pyrotechnics, food and many rituals that have been preserved and have evolved throughout the years.
The Holy Cross and the neighborhood
El Valle del Maíz is located off Salida a Querétaro, and according to the inhabitants, it is as old as the Villa of San Miguel el Grande, now San Miguel de Allende. The majority of the residents are relatives and have inherited their traditions from one generation to the next. El Valle—The
Valley of Corn—was a place where Otomí, black and Chichimeca natives lived. The land in this area was fertile 50 years ago and the people drew crystalline water from wells that had their source in the mountains.
In most of the churches crosses are made of wood, but the one in the Valle is sculpted in stone. The tradition of sculpting crosses comes from natives who worshipped stone gods before the conquest; after they turned to Catholicism they asked the Spanish for crosses made of stone, which was a way of venerating their gods along with Jesus Christ.
When the celebration of the Holy Cross in the Valley started is uncertain, but there are some documents stating that in 1802 there was a small, rustic chapel in the area; 100 years later, on June 19, 1902, the current cross of stone, decorated with symbols of the Passion of Christ, was installed. The cross contains within it an image of a crucified Christ that can be seen through a small crystal. Construction of the current chapel was started in 1936 by Fray Luis Chávez de Garibay.
On Salida a Querétaro there are also two small crosses of concrete that were built between 1926 and 1929 during the Cristero War after two men were murdered there.
The Holy Cross of that neighborhood is said to be miraculous, and for that reason people from across the municipality come every year to worship it and bring small ex votos made of silver or other metals called milagros.
There are also paintings thanking the Cross; one is inscribed “thank you for saving me from death after I was bitten by a rabid dog.”
Leones de la Sierra
The preparation of the devout for the celebration started several weeks ago, when different groups went to the church to ask for permission from God and their ancestors to start rehearsals for the festivity. This year on Wednesday, May 28, at 7pm two bands will play reggae music.
Polo Estrada, captain of the mogigangas—giant puppets—shared with Atención a poem: “The celebration of El Valle is back, the mojigangas hold their usual ritual, there is wiri wiri, and there is mescal. Time and space are the same and while there is a party, there is no pain. Disaster dances with the muerte and hides her scythe. As the flower to the cane, the fiesta returns to el Valle.” This poem was written by Guillermo Velázquez of Los Leones de la Sierra.
The Leones de la Sierra of Guillermo Velázquez will perform on Thursday, May 29, at 8pm. The connection between El Valle and the band started more than 25 years ago when Polo Estrada invited them to perform to show other cultures to the people of el Valle. Estrada says that Velázquez shows great creativity expressed through singing. The Leones de la Sierra are popular not just for being a band that sings coplas that criticize the social and economic life of the country but also because nearly every year when they perform the rain begins to fall. Despite the rain, people dance to the rhythm of the music until the group finishes
playing (sometimes for more than five continuous hours).
The Royal Rehearsal
The fiesta continues on Friday, May 30, at 6pm with the arrival of musicians at the church to sing the tardecitas. At 8:30pm all those involved in the festivity and the devout gather in the church to hold the Ensaye Real, a ritual that consist of asking for permission from the ancestors and God to hold the celebration. The Royal Rehearsal is a procession that leaves from the church, headed by the Pilgrim Holy Cross, which is carried through the main streets of El Valle to a cross located in front of the Misión del Molino Hotel, from where it is carried to the Mirador. From there, the procession returns to the church, stopping along the way at houses to collect gunpowder, flowers, candles and money for the Cross.
The procession ends in the church, where a vigil is held until dawn. At the same time, the devout prepare offerings made with cucharilla (desert spoon plant), which in the morning are placed in different areas of El Valle. Those responsible for the festivity also make candles and decorate them with big, colorful flowers made of wax.
On Saturday, May 31, the fiesta continues with the alborada, an hour’s worth of fireworks. Estrada commented that the fireworks are shot off at this time of the day to announce to people that there is a festivity and also to invite everyone to attend. Estrada said that the fireworks are a way of communicating and that in some rural communities when there is a wedding or another kind of party a child is sent to the highest mountain to beat on a cardboard box to inform people that there is still food and drink at the house of the party.
At 5pm the same day, a procession featuring dancers, demons and mojigangas leaves El Valle and goes to the west side of Plaza Real del Conde, where after a noisy explosion a battle between soldiers and dancers starts.
Saúl Sánchez, Crecencio Olivares and Antonio Álvarez commented that this battle was different in the past because there were tokens that were presented before the holy cross, offerings of fruits, cakes and all kinds of food. These offerings were “property” of the soldiers. The dancers—apaches or rayados—used to go to the hill of three crosses and from there to the rhythm of the drums they used to come down dancing and screaming to steal the offerings from the soldiers, and that was the reason for the fight. This mock battle is also a way to remember the conquest of the natives by the Spanish. The celebration continues later in El Valle with all kinds of dances.
Sunday parade and the greased pole
On Sunday, June 1, at noon a parade featuring dancers, locos, mojigangas, floats and music leaves from El Valle toward the historic center. The parade originally was very small and only included a guitar and a trumpet player, but over time it grew. The parade ends in El Valle, where there are dances all day long.
On Saturday and Sunday of the festivities a greased six-meter-high pole is erected, from which hang a variety of prizes, ranging from food to appliances and even plants. These articles are a reward for those who are brave enough to attempt to climb the pole and get dirty.
On Sunday at 6:30pm there is an event called entrance of the parandes, offerings with all kinds of cakes placed on rectangular structures and adorned with colorful flowers made of paper. After offering them to the Holy Cross, they are handed over to residents committed to being in charge of the offerings the next year. At 7pm, a play called The Hidden Treasure is performed; it tells the story of the devil’s tricks to divert the shepherds on their way to Bethlehem to meet the newborn Jesus. The play features music and dances and is a lot of fun.