Hours to make and seconds to destroy, Holy Week flower carpets are a labor of love in Guatemala


ANTIGUA, Guatemala (AP) – The night before Holy Week Processions Walking in front of his home, Luis Alvarez works with two dozen family members and friends to create an elaborate 115-foot-long (35 meters long) carpet of colored sawdust across the street.

“A carpet is a moment of thanksgiving for all the blessings we receive throughout the year,” said the devout Catholic in preparation. Holy Week Carpet for over 30 years. “Every particle of sawdust is a prayer.”

For them and thousands of other residents of this volcano-surrounded colonial city, participating in some of Guatemala’s oldest and most popular Holy Week traditions is a laborious but inevitable way of staying closer to God as well as their families and their once-united community. There is a way. It is rapidly weakening due to large-scale tourism.

“Throughout my life it will unite me with my father, and even more so with my sons,” said Francisco González-Figueroa, who became an aspiring cucarucho as a child. As the float carriers of processions are called, and now carry both their own. To help the boy. “One always waits for this moment. It’s the sensations – contact with the divine, but also music, colors, smells.

He was one of more than 9,100 Cucuruchos who, in a group of 104 men, took turns carrying the block-long boat carrying the 300-year-old, life-size statue of Jesus holding the crucifix. They left the church of La Merced at about 9 in the morning on palm sunday And the extremely hot tropical sun was winding its way down the rocky roads even after sunset.

The Brotherhood of Jesus Nazareno de la Merced, founded in 1675, runs one of the oldest processions in Guatemala, but there are half a dozen other processions in Antigua alone in the week before Easter – peaking with two on Good Friday.

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Thousands of people, of various ages and professions, sign up from across the region to become cucuruchos for a fee of about $5. This helps the various brotherhoods pay for elaborate, ever-changing float designs with sacred images and pursue their core mission of evangelization.

The number of bearers – men for the main floats and women for the light floats carrying images of the Virgin Mary – increased sharply after processions were unprecedentedly canceled or banned for three years during the pandemic. Has been.

“We asked Jesus to take away the epidemic because we wanted to take it away,” said Julio de Matta, who has been a Cucarucho for two decades. Like many participants and Antigua residents, he refers to the boat as Jesus himself, a symbol of his deep faith.

“It is a feeling of atonement. Since we were children, our fathers instilled a lot of devotion in us,” he said an hour before the Palm Sunday procession began. Even though her turn to be taken didn’t come for 12 hours, she was already waiting in La Merced church wearing the traditional white veil and purple tunic – the same shade as the city’s jacaranda flower.

A few blocks away, Ivan Lemus was also waiting, but for Cucuruchos to climb onto the first carpet he had made. This was a promise made to his ailing grandmother.

Lemus and more than a dozen friends worked through the night to prepare the base atop the cobblestone. Then, they used stencils and spoons of colored sawdust to create designs that featured grapes, wheat, a cross with a butterfly. It was all dressed up with real colorful carrots, cauliflower and corn. Early in the morning, he had to redo a corner because a motorcyclist accidentally slid into it and wiped it out.

Lemus, 28, looking excited with bleary eyes, said it had always been a dream to have the procession pass over one of his carpets.

“Jesus passes by your house, and you’re offering something and being blessed,” Lemus said as a friend sprinkled water on him to keep the sawdust from flying away.

On a street near the ruins of a 17th-century church, a family running a hairdressing salon was rushing to put their carpet back in place in their old wooden box, the top of which was filled with crosses and yellow chrysanthemums and other flowers .

“This is our way of thanking God because we have work all year long,” said Alejandra Santa Cruz, as the procession got so close that the sound of drums and clouds of incense echoed in the air.

While homes and family businesses are still at the historic core, Antigua’s popularity among international tourists means that many have been taken over by hotels, Airbnbs and restaurants – the very social fabric that makes Holy Week so special. Is destroying.

“This is the only moment to be back on the streets in Antigua,” said Leonel Gonzalez, who started as a cucarucho at age 10 with his grandfather, father and uncles. “Antigua remains the least connected to the people of Antigua.”

He still travels more than three hours each Good Friday from the city where he works as a doctor, to take the boat to Antigua and chat locally with childhood friends. They may never meet for the rest of the year, but they undoubtedly always find each other.

“When someone takes his place by boat, he gives thanks for being there for another year, and remembers those who have gone,” Gonzalez-Figueroa said, adding that he recalled Holy Week events. It is celebrated and is planned in family gatherings throughout the year. “I always tell my sons, it doesn’t make you better or worse, but it unites us.”

That’s why Álvarez is happy to see that young people who no longer have homes in the historic center are interested in learning about carpet traditions, despite the effort and cost. He remembers a night in 2011 when three storms hit at intervals, forcing him to start over each time and complete the work with barely enough material and just before the procession.

For Good Friday, he planned two different carpets, each with 32 main designs of approximately 1,100 square feet (105 square metres) – one made of dark sawdust for the morning and the other made of flowers for the afternoon. , when the wind is strong.

But even a few well-arranged pine needles are pleasing to God, if that carpet is made with a heart, and every Antiguan has at least one design in mind, Alvarez said.

Do they not mind that months of planning and all-night hard work literally goes to waste in less than a minute?

On the contrary, he answers with a smile: “It’s special to wait for that moment, to wait for Jesus to pass.”

The Associated Press’s religion coverage receives support from the AP Collaboration With The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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