Semana Santa in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
As many of us spend this Easter weekend in COVID-19 lockdown, I remember fondly back to last year when I was fortunate enough to spend Semana Santa – Easter week – in San Miguel de Allende, in the Central Highlands of Mexico.
San Miguel de Allende is a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its stunningly preserved 16th-century Spanish Colonial Baroque architecture, and is great to visit at any time of the year. But the week leading up to and including Easter, Semana Santa (or Holy Week in English), is particularly famous for its traditional processions (or ‘callejoneadas’) and displays. Even for those who are not religious, it is a truly beautiful and uplifting experience lasting many days and, as you’ll see below, it ends with a bang!
On this trip, I was travelling light – only taking one old camera, and one general purpose lens. I hope you like the images!
Friday of the Sorrows (Viernes de Dolores)
Our trip to San Miguel de Allende began on the “Friday of Sorrows” a week before Good Friday, which commemorates Mary’s suffering at Christ’s passion. Despite the sad name for the day, locals here actually have a real celebration, opening up their windows and atriums to show off special altars and other displays they have built. In preparation for the day, and the week to come, flower sellers make up bouquets and floral crowns.
Passersby queue to get in to those houses that open their doors, but mostly because of the free drinks, ice blocks and lollipops on offer! It’s also a once in a year chance to take a nosey at the neighbours’ houses – some of which are exceedingly grand old colonial houses, with fountains in the courtyard and mezzanine floors overlooking them.
The air was fragrant with chamomile, which like the lollipops, is handed out freely. Others appeared to be skimping a bit on decorations, because they used leftover papier maché puppets from the Day of the Dead!
Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos)
The following day, as a warm up to Palm Sunday, we also saw a small procession of worshippers carrying their palm fronds to one of the main chapels in the city. That day, we also saw street vendors preparing to sell crosses woven from palm fronds for people to use during the following day’s processions.
Palm Sunday itself started off with an early morning re-enactment of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey. ‘Christ’ headed down San Miguel de Allende’s cobbled street of San Francisco with his 12 apostles, to the temple of the same name.
Later in the day, a much larger procession wound up a gorgeous narrow street overhung by palm fronds and banners, and strewn with fragrant chamomile, lavender and dill, to the main plaza and church. There was so much chamomile – manzanilla in Spanish – that it formed a carpet on the cobbled streets.
There must have been about a couple of thousand people waving palm fronds and banners representing local churches, as well as marching bands, and a large statue of Jesus on a donkey, carried by local strongmen.
Mojigangas – Giant Puppets!
On one of the days wandering around San Miguel de Allende, I came across a wedding procession. Like the Palm Sunday callejoneada, it headed up the cobbled streets and finished outside San Miguel de Allende’s 17th-century neo-Gothic cathedral, La Parroquia.
The procession included a couple of giant puppets, called mojigangas, representing the bride and groom. Mojigangas were also popular on other days during Holy Week. I felt sorry for the puppeteers carrying these 15 foot tall puppets, as they typically weigh at least 20kg. You can see their faces peering out from inside the costumes.
Holy Wednesday (Miercoles Santo)
On the Wednesday of Easter week, Holy Wednesday, there was a big procession involving locals dressed up as Roman soldiers. A highlight of this procession was the angelitas – little girls all dressed in white.
Good Friday (Viernes Santo) in San Miguel de Allende
Semana Santa’s most important ceremony is held on Good Friday: the Procession of the Holy Burial, which has been taking place in San Miguel de Allende for nearly 300 years. It started from the Oratorio de San Felipe shortly before dusk, and finished in darkness, lit by the lanterns carried by the participants.
The procession also included Roman soldiers, marching under the Easter moon, followed by men and women dressed in black. The women wore black lace mantillas on their heads, white gloves, and many were wearing black high heels or even stilettos. That might sound pretty uncomfortable on the uneven cobblestones, and it is deliberately so – many women do so as a form of penance.
Easter Sunday – the Firing of the Judases
Easter Sunday (Domingo de Pascua) is quite light-hearted compared to some of the solemn events in the days before. The highlight is the ‘Firing of the Judases’.
This old traditional comes from Spain, where carpenters would make wooden dolls representing Judas. During Easter these dolls would be hung and burned in town squares to punish Judas for betraying Christ. But in Mexico, during the period of the Inquisition, Mexicans made dolls and dressed them like Spanish Inquisitors instead!
These days, the current tradition is to make giant papier maché dolls or puppets dressed and painted to resemble political and public figures who are not currently in favour with the public. They are then hung and blown up with fireworks. No surprises then as to who the most ‘popular’ puppet was last year!
After all the puppets have exploded, kids – both small and big – rushed to pick up recognisable puppet heads and limbs that had survived intact.
The Streets of San Miguel de Allende
For the days in between the callejoneadas, we explored the narrow alleyways of San Miguel de Allende, with their beautiful doorways and windows. It was also a great opportunity for people watching, including the mariachis. But for me, one of the highlights was coming across an old pharmacy, guarded by a gorgeous Weimaraner.
You can check out other images from past travels on my Places page.