The Holy Burial, a Procession of Light and Dark
By Jesús Aguado
The procession leaves from the church of El Oratorio at 5pm on Good Friday (April 03) and passes through calles Pepe Llanos, Juárez, San Francisco, Plaza Principal, Reloj, Mesones, and back to Pepe Llanos, and ends at the Oratorio. Padre José Luis Rodríguez Perales from el Oratorio explained the spiritual meaning of this event.
Stages of the procession
The procession leaves from El Oratorio at 5pm on Good Friday, when there is still daylight and arrives back at the same church when night has descended. This has a religious meaning: when Christ died, according to the Holy Scriptures, the sky was filled with darkness because the light—Jesus—was taken from the world, and sin brought shadows. The light diminishes gradually as the procession goes on. The procession is headed by acolytes and the Christ of the Inspirations, which is taken down from the main altar of the Oratorio. This sculpture of Christ symbolizes that what is about to happen is God’s will. The second stage of the procession features a legion of Romans who represent the two Roman soldiers guarding Christ’s tomb.
In the following stage of the procession, young girls dressed in white, who are “angels,” clean the path by throwing chamomile and mastranzo. These herbs, according to Father Rodríguez, represent the painful passion of Jesus Christ but also represent health, because they are medicinal. They can be trampled, as Christ was, but they will always emit their healing perfume that brings peace and tranquility. Following the girls, five small statues of angels are borne aloft. These statues were the original ones used by Father López Espinosa for this procession. In the past, the girls used to carry symbols of the passion (ladder, cross, spear, washbasin, and a sponge), but these have been lost. Behind these smaller angels, five larger angels appear, carrying the chalice of bitterness, the whip used for whipping the Nazarene, the crown of thorns made by the soldiers for Jesus, the cloth Veronica used to wipe Christ’s face, and nails and a hammer.
The most important image is the recumbent statue of Christ, which in the procession appears in a glass catafalque. The glass-enclosed coffin is followed by three priests who walk beneath purple and gold canopies. At every stop they pray around the catafalque. Behind the canopies the procession continues with a choir made up of children and an orchestra and a choir made up of men who sing the “Cristus Factus,” among other songs composed exclusively for the celebrations of Holy Week in San Miguel by Father José María Correa. The procession is followed by 24 women carrying the Virgin of Solitude, which has a showy 12-meter-long mantle carried by single women. Behind this Virgin follows St. John, the only apostle who accompanied Jesus to the cross.
The statue of St. John is followed by the Magdalene, the adulterous woman who was released of seven demons (seven deadly sins) by Jesus. The procession ends with the two men who helped to take Jesus down from the cross, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. One of them carries a document because it has been said that he had power among the Roman soldiers and requested through that document that Christ’s body be handed over.
According to Father Rodríguez, before 1712 El Oratorio Church was a humble Indians chapel, where indigenous residents used to venerate the Virgin of Solitude and the Lord of Ecce Homo. At that time, there were in the Villa of San Miguel el Grande, as San Miguel was then called, numerous groups of natives interested in learning about Christ’s life, so on April 10, 1712, Father Pérez Espinosa was invited by his brother to hold some talks about Lent. He was fascinated by the natives and decided to stay in the Villa. He started the proceedings to found the Congregation of El Oratorio, and his petition was granted on May 2, 1712. To explain the meaning of Holy Week to the locals, Father Pérez Espinosa began performing the baroque catechism—religious instruction of the gospel using emotionally compelling, graphically powerful images—to have a greater impact among the indigenous. Father Espinosa used to perform 11 stations of the Way of the Cross, including Palm Sunday, and all the processions were presented just with images. The Holy Burial was adapted to the culture and represents Jesus’s burial.