My last couple of days in Mexico were approaching fast and furiously. I packed my overnight bag early this morning and took the 9:15 am bus to Taxco again. I had already been here last week for the Palm Sunday Procession and had decided that I wanted to return to this famous Mexican silver city to see its famous Semana Santa processions. I sat back in the comfortable Estrella de Oro bus and let the Mexican landscape pass me by, reflecting back on my weeks here in this beautiful country.
Although we stopped in a local village, we arrived punctually at 10:45 am right in front of the Posada de la Mision, again my comfortable home base for my overnight adventure in Taxco. I checked in and said hello to Fabiola who had been so kind last week as to give me a nice local tour of town last weekend.
I checked in and went for a nice walk through town. Shortly before noon I sat down on a little balcony on the second floor of one of the restaurants overlooking Taxco’s zócalo (main square) with a perfect view of the Santa Prisca Cathedral. The local crowd was already gathering for this procession which is entitled “Las Tres Caídas” and refers to the three times that Jesus falls down on his way to his crucifixion.
The noon-time procession on Good Friday in Taxco
My egg breakfast had to wait since the procession started to arrive and surprisingly they were coming into the town centre from another street, so I realized I didn’t have the best seat in the house after all. A local family was sitting on the balcony on other side of the restaurant and had a much better view and I asked them if I could stand behind them to take some photos of the procession. They were very gracious and squeezed in for me so I would be able to get a better view of the happenings.
A throng of people had congregated in front of the Cathedral, and there was a reenactment of Christ’s walk towards his crucifixion. Several people were carrying a a statue of Christ bearing a cross on a wooden frame. This statue would be lowered three times to represent Christ falling three times on his way to his crucifixion.
The whole process probably took an hour or more and after I finished eating my now cold eggs (not an enticing proposition, I might add) I headed back to the Posada de la Misión to catch a bit of rest. The last few days had been so jam-packed with action that I just needed to regain my strength a little.
The casket carrying the statue of Christ
At 4:30 I got up again and went to a local Internet café to check my messages. Again, at 5 pesos per hour (about C$.60) the price is extremely affordable. Since I only had one memory card on me for my camera, I was even able to download my images and burn them onto a CD for another 20 pesos. I must say, I have been very impressed with the Internet cafés here in Mexico – they are reasonably priced, you can play online games, listen to music and even download data and burn CDs.
At around 5 pm I went to Taxco’s Ex Convento (the former convent, now one of the churches in town) where one of the most famous Good Friday processions in the entire country was about to start. This procession was called El Santo Entierro (the Holy Burial, representing the burial of Christ).
The mood in town was downright somber, there were many hundreds of people in the streets, from small children to the very elderly, but hardly anyone spoke a word. Many people were dressed in black. I was waiting patiently under a small ornamental tree right in front of the Ex Convento to see what would happen next.
A group of women dressed all in black was lining up and they would participate in the procession as animas (spirits), part of the 3 groups of penitentes (repenting sinners) that participate in Taxco’s Easter week processions. The suspense was getting too much, and finally the procession started. Group after group of encrucijados (men with a naked upper body, with a black hood covering their face, and a black robe from the belly down) were carrying heavy rolls of thorny blackberry bush stalks with their arms stretched out as if they were being crucified.
The roll of thorny blackberry bush stalks represents the cross and there were what seemed like hundreds of hooded men that came out of the Ex Convento intermittently. With this heavy bundle on top of their shoulders, they would have to bend down to the main entrance of the church and pay their respects. Each man had three other helpers accompanying him for safety purposes. They proceeded to walk slowly towards the Santa Prisca Cathedral.
One of the encrucijados
The women, dressed all in black as animas, meanwhile, were walking barefoot as well, and they were also wearing black hoods, their legs were shackled with a chain and in each hand they were holding a candle. Much of the way they would be walking bent over. All you heard was the shuffling of the chains along the cobble-stoned streets.
The third group of penitentes is called flagelantes, these are men, again hooded, with a naked upper body, barefoot and with a black robe from their mid-section on down. These men were all carrying a heavy wooden cross and a whip made of rope that had little nails embedded in the end section. And with this whip they were flagellating themselves every time the procession came to a stop. Some of the men carrying the thorn bundles already had scabs on their back from being flagelantes earlier in the week.
Flagelantes, carrying their crosses
Some of these flagelantes even came out of the Ex Convento already with a bloody back and the procession would still go on for two or three more hours. Again, the atmosphere in the town was extremely eerie, everything was quiet, traffic had been blocked off, there was no music anywhere, hardly anyone spoke. A total contrast to the normal lively ambience in Taxco.
I watched this until about 6:30, there were literally hundreds of animas, encrucijados and flagelantes coming out of the Ex Convento to participate in this procession and I have to admit I felt quite overwhelmed by this extremely realistic re-enactment of pain and suffering.
At one point I left the procession and walked into the town which was eerily quiet with no street vendors or street life of any kind. I felt I had to get away from this scene of black hooded people who were intentionally inflicting pain on themselves. In Taxco this is a time-honoured ritual, but when you are not used to this kind of demonstration it does have an impact on your psyche.
I decided to grab a dinner in one of the pizzerias overlooking Taxco’s main square, right next to the Cathedral. The building was about 4 stories high and the top two stories were part of the restaurant with the top portion holding the kitchen and a partially open terrace.
It was a beautiful place with a perfect view of the Santa Prisca Cathedral, the Zócalo, and the landscape stretching south from Taxco, overlooking the rooftops of the city. I sat down by myself and reflected on all the images that had been burning themselves into my retina. No doubt the Easter week processions in Taxco are a very unique and strangely esthetic special event.
In some ways these processions remind me of a bullfight, both of these rituals share a long tradition, they involve suffering and blood, and they are both an integral part of the psyche and the identity of the locals, while foreigners may feel overwhelmed by these experiences.
Beautiful lily with Santa Prisca in the background
I for one found it was difficult to remain totally emotionally detached and the image of all these people in black robes, black hoods, shackled, carrying heavy thorn bundles or flagellating themselves until their entire back is bloody no doubt affected me. I heard that there was going to be another procession tonight at midnight, with almost everyone dressed in black, holding candles, again including the penitentes.
At this point I realized I just didn’t have the psychological stamina to head out for another one of these processions, no less at midnight, by myself, when everything is dark and the atmosphere is even more eerie. So I decided to spend a quiet night in the hotel, reflecting on these visual experiences.