Antigua: Lent, Alfombras and Semana Santa

We arrived in La Antigua, Guatemala, a UNESCO world heritage site, after a nine hour overnight ride on a double decker bus.

The ruins of Templo San Francisco

The ruins of Templo San Francisco

The city is absolutely, stunningly quaint and picturesque filled with well-preserved Spanish Baroque architecture and the ruins of Spanish colonial churches (destroyed by both time and recurrent earthquakes), many dating back to the sixteenth century.

Ruins of Santa Clara

Ruins of Santa Clara

On the horizon, surrounding the city, loom three large volcanoes: Volcan de Agua, Acatenango (last erupted in 1972) and Volcan de Fuego, which is constantly active at a low level with steam visibly venting many days.

Volcan Agua

Volcan Agua

We were incredibly lucky to have timed our stay here during Lent as Antigua has the biggest Lenten and Semana Santa celebration in the world and the weeks leading up to Easter were filled with music, religious processions and alfombras.

Procession on Good Friday

Procession on Good Friday

Alfombras are sawdust “carpets” which are laid out on the cobbled streets in front of the family home or shop and have a variety of stenciled patterns, geometric and free form designs, made with colorfully dyed sawdust, flowers, fruits, vegetables and pine needles.Alfombra - San BertoloAlfombra They were absolutely amazing and involved hours of tedious work to make.After th These acts of devotion cost participants dearly in terms of time, money and effort: many people work all night to create their unique alfombra.Alfombra Each area of the city, and some of the surrounding villages, had its own procession over the weeks leading up to Easter with the faithful celebrants carrying enormous and incredibly heavy wooden platforms with the parish statues.Lenten ProcessionWomen's procession We spent the month of March waking up before dawn on the weekends, walking the streets, admiring alfombras and waiting with the early morning crowds in anticipation of the marchers.Incense and Procession The procession would be preceded by music as the streets filled with the fragrant incense smoke from men swinging burners. The men, wearing robes of Lenten purple, and the women wearing dresses of black or white, would slowly pass by carrying the religious statues.

After the Crucifixion

Good Friday – After the Crucifixion

They would make their way over the  cobblestone streets carpeted with the alfombras, trampling them to mounds of sawdust and debris. The bands with drums and horns would follow, signaling the end of the event and then the street sweepers would descend immediately to clean up the debris. Half an hour after the procession passed there’d be nothing remaining of the glorious alfombras. Street Sweepers after the Procession By Anita and Richard, May, 2013

16 comments

  • Those alfombras are exquisite. I love the fact that people devote so much time and energy to create art works which are ephemeral. Too lovely.

    We spent many Semana Santa celebrations in Nicaragua and have visited Antigua, although not been there during celebrations. It did however provide some good inspiration for the design of our house in Granada Nicaragua.

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

    • We have great memories of both Granada and Antigua, lovely cities with festivals and traditions galore, and we miss all the fireworks sometimes! In the years since we were privileged to observe the processions, the making of the Alfombras and all the accompanying ceremonies and rituals, we have yet to come close to our sheer wonder at Antigua’s month-long Lenten and Easter rituals. Absolutely amazing and we’d love to see it again!

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  • Very cool! I tried to time my trip to Enna in Sicily to coincide with some Easter celebrations but it didn’t really work out… This looks incredible, how do they hold up those huge wooden things?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The processions that occur during the weeks leading up to Easter in Antigua, Guatemala are on of the highlights of our travel in Central America and draw thousands from all over the world. We also have tried to find other Lenten traditions (Palm Sunday, Good Friday) but, like you, haven’t had much luck in the years since. Maybe Sicily?? As for the wooden platforms (and yes they are huge and made of solid wood plus they carry all these statues, too) the answer is sheer strength and numbers. For many of the devout who participate in the processions it’s an honor to carry these massive platforms. Participants trade off their positions along the walk for a chance to rest but, you’re right, it’s an (exhausting) and incredible feat to carry them, especially since the processions go on for several hours!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Great story, that couch is amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Tim and Nat. I’m so glad you found this post of celebrating Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala as that truly remains one of the highlights of our travel in Central America. And thanks for your comments too about the couch which I’m assuming referred to the cork couch in our June 4, 2016 post on the cork oak trees of Portugal. The couch was quite comfortable and we too were wowed by the many ways cork can be used. (You should see the umbrella we found but it was a bit spendy at 80€! )

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  • Oh, Semana Santa! While living there I found the lines and crowds to be frustrating at times, but now being away from it makes me realize how lucky I was to have been there during it. Great pics, Dick and Anita!

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