Mexico: Taxco, an inspiring Holy Week

Holy Week in Taxco involves one of the most moving and impressive liturgical ceremonies to be found in Mexico. A fascinating and creative religious syncretism.

The crowd observed total silence as they waited for the imminent arrival of the procession. The frightening, uneasy silence was gradually broken by an impressive staccato noise. In the distance, one can hear the terrifying sound of chains being dragged along the dismal, stone-paved streets of Taxco, stained once again by the sweat and blood of the penitents.

This is Taxco, a city in the north of Guerrero State in central-southern Mexico, now trembling and vibrating with the overflowing and overpowering faith of its penitents. Holy Week in Taxco involves one of the most moving and impressive ceremonies to be found in Mexico.

During Holy Week, an event lasting from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, as many as ten processions are held, four during the day and six at night.

Holy Week in Taxco has been celebrated this way since 1598.  It is thought to have originated in its celebration in Cadice, Spain. It seems that the indigenous Mexicans, used to celebrating the great sacred feasts of their ancient religions embraced with extraordinary energy and fervour the public representations of the Catholic Church, combining them with their rites and beliefs, thus producing a fascinating and creative religious syncretism.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week are dedicated to the processions performed by three great religious confraternities: The Bent Ones (Las Animas), the Crucified Ones (Los Encruzados) and the Flagellators (Los Flagelentes) whose members spend the week doing penance and therefore are called ‘penitentes’, inflicting themselves with pain.

All the penitents wear long black robes tied at the waist with a horsehair belt, and a black hood with slits for their eyes. The penitent Animas have chains tied to their ankles which they drag along as they walk. Bent 90 degrees at the waist, they carry small crosses and lighted candles. For this reason, the members of this confraternity are called ‘bent’. The Encruzados carry in procession a bundle of canes tied across their bare shoulders. The bundles may way from 40 to 50 kilos. The Flagelantes walk bare-chested a carry a large wooden cross in the crook of their arms. 

Starting from the church of Tehuilotepec (a town near Taxco), the Taxqueños and the Tehuiltecos bring a donkey with an image of Jesus Christ to the parish of Saint Prisca and Saint Sebastian, in the centre of Taxco. The schedule of the first Sunday of Holy Week begins at 6 am with the so-called Procession of the Palms, from the church of Tehuilotepec and along the road that joins the two towns as far as the arches marking the entry into Taxco where they are joined by 12 people representing the twelve apostles. The procession then continues until it reaches the parish church of Saint Prisca and Saint Sebastian. At around 11am, the solemn Mass of Palm Sunday is celebrated.

On Monday of Holy Week, at around 9.30 pm, the so-called procession of the Virgins begins, preceded by the image of the Virgin of the Nativity venerated in the church of Guadalupe. The Virgin is carried from the church to Saint Nicholas Tolentino Square where the procession proper begins, passing along the so-called ‘Via Corta’.

The Virgin Mary presides over the procession while the white image of Saint Michael the Archangel, dressed in white clothes, takes the lead and opens the way. Other statues from the other Taxco churches also join the procession: The Virgin of the Candelaria, the Virgin of Fatima, the Virgin of Lourdes, the Virgin of the Conception and the Virgin of the city of Tanda.

Each statue is accompanied by a group of women dressed in white (the more common colour) or in black, barefooted and wearing lace veils on their heads, carrying candles and swinging thuribles to purify the air.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, the procession of the chained ones is held with both men and women allowed to take part. It begins around half past nine in the evening and is dedicated to the ‘Souls in Purgatory’. It is presided over by the image of San Nicola Tolentino. The confraternities of the Bent Ones (Animas) and Crucified Ones (Encruzados) also take part.

On Wednesday of Holy Week, at about three in the afternoon, in the parish of Saint Prisca and Saint Sebastian, the ‘Garden of Olives’ is constructed using laurel branches, flowers, caged birds and a statue of Jesus. At around nine-thirty, the Procession of the Holy Trinity commences. The procession is led by an image of the Most Holy Trinity. It sets out from the Square of Saint Nicholas Tolentino and follows the ‘Vía Corta’.

Holy Thursday begins at around nine in the morning with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. During the course of the day, the Taxqueños and their guests visit Gethsemane. At mid-day, there is the reception of ‘Los Cristos’ (the ‘Christs’) in Garita Square.

The ‘Christs’ are images brought from nearby towns such as Sochula, Landa, Tehuilotepec and Zacatecolotla. The images of the churches of Taxco such as those of Chavarrieta, Ojeda, Pedro Martín, Huizteco, Los Plateros and Los Encruzados are also received.

At around five o’clock in the afternoon, in the parish of Saint Prisca and Saint Sebastian, the Solemn Mass of the Last Supper is celebrated with the ‘Washing of the feet of the Apostles’.

At seven o’clock, there is the ‘March of the Roman Soldiers’ led by Judas Iscariot who is seeking Jesus on the main streets of the city. At eight o’clock, a Solemn Holy Hour is held in the parish church of Saint Prisca and Saint Sebastian. At nine, the ‘Arrest of Jesus’ by the Roman soldiers takes place at the entrance to the church followed by the Procession of the Divine Prisoner, which goes from the church to the chapel of San Nicola Tolentino where the prison where Jesus is represented in prison, has been set up. An all-night vigil is held to venerate the ‘Divine Prisoner’.

At eleven o’clock, at the church of Santa Veracruz, there is the Procession of the Christs of the various churches, with the Christ of Santa Veracruz at its head. It takes the so-called ‘Vía Larga’ and arrives back at its starting point at four. This procession is joined, at the quarter known as Los Jumiles, by the Christ of Huizteco, the Christ of the Specchio, Guadalupe, San Miguel, the Christ of Landa, that of Cazahuates, of La Cima and that of Minas Viejas, which will return to their original chapels at about six in the morning. The confraternities of Las Ánimas, Encruzados and Flagelantes take part in this procession.

On Good Friday, at about six in the morning, there is the Sermon of the Flagellation of Jesus at the chapel of Saint Nicholas Tolentino. At eleven o’clock, the Procession of the Three Falls starts at the same chapel of Saint Nicholas Tolentino. At mid-day, there is the Sermon of the Three Falls in Borda Square and then the procession continues as far as the church of the former convent of Saint Bernard of Siena.

At three in the afternoon, there is the solemn liturgy of the passion and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ at the parish church of Saint Prisca and Saint Sebastian followed by the adoration of the Holy Cross.

At five in the afternoon, at the church of the former convent of Saint Bernard of Siena, there is the sermon of the Descent of Our Lord Jesus Christ followed by the Procession of the Sacred Burial, which follows the path of the ‘Via Corta’ and is joined by the penitents and flagellants.

At eleven in the evening, at the former convent of Saint Bernard of Siena, there is a solemn Rosary and a sermon of condolences to the Blessed Virgin of Sorrows. At midnight, the solemn Silent Procession starts, led by the Blessed Virgin of Sorrows. This is followed by an all-night vigil at the church of Saint Bernard.

On Holy – or ‘glorious‘ – Saturday, people bring containers of water to be blessed (the water of glory), which will later be sprinkled in the form of a cross at the entrance to houses to keep away the wicked and the drunks. At ten in the evening, there is the Great Paschal Vigil at the parish church.

At midnight, the solemn Mass of the Resurrection of Our Lord is celebrated in the parish church of Saint Prisca and Saint Sebastian. On Easter morning, at the same church, another Mass is celebrated and Our Lord Jesus Christ is dressed in white. After this Mass, there is a children’s procession along the ‘Via Corta’. At five in the afternoon, the solemn Procession of the Resurrection is also held along the ‘Via Corta’, starting at the convent of San Bernardino de Siena and ending at the church of San Miguel. This celebration marks the end of the great event of Holy Week.  

(Pedro Santacruz – Photo: Bonilla Carlos Ernesto/C.C.)