It’s that time of the year again. Antigua’s religious processions are famous the world over, so this is as good a time as any to visit.
Of all the processions, my favorite ones are procesiones infantiles, or children’s processions. They have all the pageantry and formality of other processions, but children are so much more expressive than adults, which makes it easier for observers. Processions are serious business. Some can take as long as eight hours to complete. It’s a slow march, with a few stops along the way. These stops, however, offer no respite, since the andas, or religious platforms bearing religious artwork still have to be carried on the shoulders of the tired cucuruchos, the purple-robed participants who have been given the honor of carrying them.
The particular procession I attended last Saturday was a relatively short one (see the full schedule of processions up to Easter Week here). Processions start and end at the same departure point. This one had departed from Santa Ana’s church, which s right by the entrance to Antigua. If you were to walk briskly from Santa Ana’s church to Parque Central, Antigua’s main square, it would take you less than 20 minutes to reach the square. This particular procession had left Santa Ana’s church at 1:00 p.m. and didn’t arrive at Parque Central, it’s midway point, until 4:30 p.m. I would estimate that it would be close to seven hours before this procession would finally be over.
Fortunately, anda bearers carry their load in shifts, which is why you often notice more than a few just walking around with no particular marching formation. Anda bearers are allowed to go eat, be with their families, or walk around town before and after their shift is over.
Even toddlers get in on the action. They’re usually accompanied by older family members that are participating, or parents will walk along with them.
This day was particularly chilly and windy, unusually so, and the threat of rain loomed constantly. This tiny Roman soldier could only do his best to protect himself from the cold.
The heavy smell of incense is another ever-present characteristic of these religious processions.
Since authentic Roman helmets are hard to find, props must be improvised. Red plastic brooms are used to give the helmets a realistic look.
March directors make sure the anda stays off the ground at all times.
Another participant seen at processions is the mourner. Young girls dressed in all-black clothing usually catch my attention when I see them among the sea of colorful robes and artwork.
At this point during the procession it started to rain lightly. Anda artwork is hand-painted and artist-designed. Their cost is well into the thousands of dollars to build, preserve and maintain. The bigger andas are commissioned to well-known artists and their total cost can go into the hundreds of thousands. Here, the march director decided a bit of precaution was in order, so the anda was lowered and laid on the floor and the artwork was wrapped up in clear plastic.
Once Jesus was under wraps, the procession continued.
If one is coming in from towns and cities outside Antigua, care must be taken to plan a speedy entrance into town. I’ve been stuck in traffic jams lasting hours, just a couple of miles outside of Antigua, because procession routes are off-limit to vehicles. It pays to know all entrance and exit routes when in town.
The music I’ve been told sounds like that of New Orléans, though more solemn. Musicians participating in processions take their music seriously, and they are not ones to goof around.
There’s plenty of time to catch the remaining processions, though lodging pickings will be slim. If you do come, you’ll have a great time. They’re not to be missed.