I’m not quite sure exactly what I expected during Semana Santa in Antigua; all I knew was that it is supposedly the best place (possibly in the world) to spend time during the holy week. The reason for this is because Antiguans celebrate it with every fibre of their being!
Easter is a big holiday in various parts of the world for very different reasons. For some in the Western world it simply signifies a holiday where we do egg hunts and gift chocolate eggs. However in Antigua it’s a wholesome religious celebration of the crucifixion and rebirth of Jesus.
My friend in Antigua informed me that in the whole month leading up to Semana Santa during Lent they also have a huge build-up of processions and displays at the churches so it would be beneficial to visit at any time around March. However the celebration climaxes during the actual week of Semana Santa as it’s possible to see around 4-5 processions each day.
The processions were unlike anything I had ever seen before; each church had their own specific processions with their own floats which were carried manually by men and women. One was even carried by children! It looked incredibly strenuous, especially during the heat of the day! They commenced at the churches at various times throughout the day and would circle around Antigua and the outer suburbs before returning to the church. What I found crazy though was the long routes that they took. I remember one of the scheduled processions which began at 3pm in the afternoon but didn’t return to the church until 6am the following morning! That’s some sheer dedication and determination from the people involved!
I managed to see quite a few of the processions, it was actually quite hard not to. Often as I was going about my daily tasks I would run into a procession which would make it almost impossible to continue on my route until it had passed through! It was quite comical at times, especially towards the end when I had just about had enough of seeing them! The one night I tried to get an early night as well I was rudely awoken at around 11:30pm by the sombre sounds of the brass band accompanying one of the processions passing my homestay! It wouldn’t have been such a bad thing except that the processions are so utterly slow-paced that they take a good half an hour to pass a section!
The main processions took place in the early hours of Good Friday morning so that night I decided I just wouldn’t bother going to bed at all which I believe is what a lot of people generally do as well as there is so much to see around Antigua! Initially I went for drinks with my Spanish teacher, her friends and friends from my school which was pretty epic as it seemed everyone in Antigua was out to celebrate in the streets! The atmosphere was completely euphoric and the processions over the next few days were completely mesmerizing. The best one I saw was in the central plaza, Parque Central, with the gorgeous backdrop of Catedral de Santiago.
My absolute favourite part of Semana Santa however was definitely the stunning alformbras that decorated the streets. The people of Antigua spend countless hours of their time along the procession routes creating the most stunning “carpets” from various materials such as flowers, fruits and coloured sands. I spoke to one family who had been up for 12 hours preparing an alformbra, which when the procession passes through will quite literally get walked all over! I was even lucky enough myself to be able to be part of creating one as I asked a local family if I could help! My teacher had told me it wasn’t taboo and would be absolutely fine to ask so I definitely had to give it a go!
I feel honoured that I was able to be a part of and witness the Catholics here celebrating something that is clearly very important to them and is so deeply ingrained within society and tradition. Although I am not a religious person myself I do appreciate how important it is to others and it certainly warmed my heart to see so many people come together for the holy festival.
Apart from all of the Semana Santa related activities that I saw in Antigua I did also manage to take some time to visit the churches, which I hadn’t managed before. There are a variety of churches in Antigua of course and the best way to see them is just to wander around and stumble across them! The ruins at Iglesia de San Francisco were quite a sight as they date back to the 16th century.