A Visitor for Semana Santa

Semana Santa (Easter Week) is the second most celebrated religious holiday after Christmas in Mexico.  Many cities have elaborate processions and recreations of the key events in Christ´s last week, for example the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.  Given all of the pageantry, Charlie and I suggested that my sister Sylvia from Sacramento come to visit us during that week, and she did.  

We had a great time seeing everything we could.  We started the week by showing Sylvia the beautiful historic center of Querétaro – the tree-lined squares, the ornate churches, the historic houses and theater, etc.  When we stopped at one of the local museums (which was once a convent), we saw evidence of the upcoming Easter festival — an altar to “Our Lady of Sorrows” (the Virgin Mary).  These types of altars can be found around town during this week.  An image of the Virgin is central to the altar, but surrounding it are flowers, oranges, wheat grass, gold foil, chamomile and purple crepe paper. 

That afternoon we ate a delightful late lunch sitting outside at one of Querétaro´s shaded squares.  This particular restaurant features regional cuisine, which we sampled by eating gorditas (small tortillas filled with meat or vegetables), chiles en nogada (chiles rellenos with cream sauce and pomegranate seeds), and arrachera (grilled meat).  We ended that first day, appropriately enough, drinking half-price margaritas during happy hour at a local bar/restaurant hang-out for foreigners called Harry´s overlooking another of Querétaro´s squares.

The next two days we spent in San Miguel de Allende, which is only 1 hour from Querétaro by bus.  Many foreigners (especially Americans) live there, so English is heard regularly (whereas in Querétaro, it´s rarely heard).  Our hotel was right off the main square with the architecturally-interesting parish church, the Parroquia.  We enjoyed listening to the bells, which rang regularly during the day (and night).  After walking around the town, we found our way to the artisans´ market – a must for my sister and me (less so for Charlie).  We bought various interesting handicrafts, such as textiles, a shadow box of skeletons, a beautifully embroidered purse, and a rug from Oaxaca.  A small procession of penitents carrying four religious statues and stopping at various “Our Lady of Sorrows” altars along the way made the afternoon interesting.  The following day we headed out of town to a botanical garden, where we saw many different kinds of cacti, both large and small, many of them flowering.  By late afternoon we were ready to head back to Querétaro by bus.

The key Easter event in Querétaro takes place on Good Friday.  It is a silent procession of more than 500 penitents (men and women) walking down the street in robes with hoods.  However, the men are walking barefoot with chains attached to one ankle and carrying heavy wooden crosses.  It is a very solemn event since the only sound you hear is the beat of the drum.  Men and women also carry statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary taken from the local churches.  The streets of downtown Querétaro were lined with people and the three of us joined in.  We chatted with a Mexican woman standing near us who had lived in the United States for several years.  We talked about life in Querétaro, and she about her family.  She also wanted to make sure we understood the significance of this procession.

On Saturday the three of us headed to Bernal by bus, about a 45 minute drive.  Bernal is a local curiosity, since it is the third largest rock monolith in the world, after the Rock of Gibraltar and Sugarloaf in Rio de Janiero.  The town of Bernal is quite small, so the rock looms impressively over it.  There are many myths and legends about the rock – some say it was a meteorite; others that the townspeople live long lives because of the special properties of the rock.  Charlie and I had been in Bernal the month before for the celebration of the equinox, when we saw various indigenous groups dancing at the base of the monolith and participated in an event to draw energy from the rock.  I´m not sure about its “special properties”, but I really enjoy visiting this small town.  Again, Sylvia and I stopped at all the artisan stalls and bought various items, such as mice made out of wool (for use as paperweights), rock crystals, flowers/figures made out of twine, and a wool shawl. 

Later that afternoon, we headed out to the local Frexeinet winery not far from Bernal.  Granted it was a Saturday, but the place was absolutely filled with people sitting at every table consuming bottles of champagne and wine with cheese.  We bought our bottle of dry champagne and managed to find a space to sit down and enjoyed the music.  The wine garden was very nice with lots of shade and tables made out of barrels.  In one of the pictures above you can see us enjoying some of the bounty from the grapevines.

Our week with Sylvia was drawing to a close.  On Sunday, we walked to the site (Cerro de las Campanas, the Hill of Bells), where the French Emperor of Mexico Maximillian was killed by firing squad in 1867.  Now a small chapel marks the spot, towered over by a huge statue of Benito Juarez, the indigenous man who became President of Mexico again after Maximillian´s death.   Later that Sunday afternoon, we christened our new charcoal grill by barbequing some chicken on the roof of our apartment.  From our rooftop patio, which we share with another apartment, we can see all of Querétaro.  While most people use their roofs/patios to dry laundry, we use ours to sit and enjoy the day. 

We learned about our last Semana Santa event from our landlady´s son and it was probably the most unusual – the burning of Judas.  All over Mexico, in public squares they burn effigies of Judas (the betrayer of Christ), that signify different vices.  In downtown Querétaro, in a pedestrian walkway next to a church, they hung five effigies signifying vices like alcoholism, smoking, violence in soccer, etc.  One by one they hoisted them up in the air in flames. To ensure its destruction, firecrackers would blow up the figure at the end.  Fireworks went off in between each burning.  Before our eyes, our vices were being destroyed.  It was quite a spectacle.

The next day Sylvia flew back to Sacramento and we returned to our lives in Querétaro after a very exciting week of Semana Santa.

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One Response to “A Visitor for Semana Santa”

  1. Catherine Brousseau Says:

    Julie, the photos are gorgeous. I particularly like the one of the cacti. There is a wonderful Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, so I have a sense of what you saw. What a treat to have your sister there for a visit!

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