Tag Archives: Good Friday

Good Friday in Oaxaca, Mexico: Procession of Silence

Holy Week or Semana Santa in Oaxaca, Mexico, is coming to a close for 2016. On Good Friday, the Procession of Silence that re-enacts the trial, crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus (14 Stations of the Cross) starts around sunset and winds through the main streets of the historic center.

Leading the procession is Archbishop Jose Luis Chavez Botello and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Antequera, Oaxaca.

(FYI: Oaxaca was named Antequera in 1529. Later, it reverted to Oaxaca, adapted from the Nahuatl Huaxyacac, which was Hispanicized to Guajaca. The predominant tree of the region is the guaje, which produces an edible seed pod, the source of Oaxaca’s name.)

Spanish Catholicism came to Mexico with the conquest and many areas here observe Semana Santa with devotion that include influences from indigenous tradition. In Oaxaca city, the Procession of Silence is probably more akin to its Iberian Peninsula origins.

Solemn, spiritual, filled with the images of belief and sacrifice, the procession draws visitors from throughout the world. At its apogee, the crowd was at least 10 people deep.


The mystery is further heightened by the metered beat of a drummer, candlelight, rebozo draped women, hooded men, the eerie sound of crosses dragging on the cobbled streets, and the illumination of a full moon.

I usually spend Easter week in Teotitlan del Valle, so this was a new experience. What I heard about from friends beforehand was the description of men wearing pointy hats, a reminder of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. Let’s be clear. We don’t want to confuse the two!


The conical hood, called a capriote, hides the face of the person wearing the nazareño cloak. This is a garment of Medieval origin and associated with the Passion of Christ.

I am not Catholic nor am I religious, but I consider myself spiritual, observant and respectful, so understanding the rituals and traditions of Catholicism in Mexico, where I spend a good part of my life, is important to me.

We had a great perch on the rooftop patio at Mezzaluna, at the corner of Garcia Virgil and Allende, in clear view of Santo Domingo Church and the procession as it passed below. This is the corner where the procession began and ended.

Cost of admission was a delicious pear and gorgonzola pizza, sueros (I like mine plain, Victoria beer. fresh squeezed lime, and a salt-rimmed chilled glass) and mezcal. The house espadin mezcal was especially delicious, especially since it came in a double-shot tumbler size glass!

As the procession ended, the crowd dispersed to fill the walking street/andador Macedonio Alcala, the adjacent artisans markets, and restaurants open late to feed all the hungry visitors.


As I walked by Templo de Sangre de Cristo at the corner of Alcala and M. Bravo, I was moved to enter where I saw figures carried in the procession at rest inside the church. The altar was draped in red cloth as were all the saints in their wall niches. People sat in silent prayer.

Back on the street, I passed Ave. Morelos, where the full moon hung low in the sky, a backdrop to street lights and headlights. As I meandered back to where I stay in the city, it was a perfect ending to a great day and a reminder that life is in the beauty of each moment.

And, of course, there are the children, who hold all the promise of a future yet to unfold.






Portrait Photography Workshop in Oaxaca: Good Friday–Day Five

Today, we are immersed in the reverence and solemnity of Good Friday, moving along with the crowds to photograph the religious and social rituals that are part of this important day. Here in Oaxaca, Mexico it’s called Viernes Santo and celebrated with traditional European-style that very different from the United States.

We are based in Teotitlan del Valle for the second part of our portrait photography workshop. The giant matraca (wood clackers), positioned on top of the church between the two steeples, started yesterday evening on Maundy Thursday and went on all night.  It can be heard throughout the village. To signify the Last Supper, our host Josefina served us succulent fish stuffed chiles rellenos and a potato turnover with salsa, accompanied by white beans to signify the season.

This day, Good Friday, began with not one but two processions, one led by half the townspeople following the figure of Jesus held high on a litter, and the other led by the Virgin of Soledad (solitude) who represents Mary.


Each procession was led by a brass band, singers, noisemakers and drummers through different parts of the village.  They converged at the exact same moment in the Zocalo in front of the village governing center called the Municipio or Palace.

There must have been 600 people sitting under the shade of the rug market, on the steps of the Palace and protected by umbrellas from the fierce sun that was strong even at ten o’clock in the morning.  The priestly benediction included adhering to the ways of Jesus to refrain from violence, alcoholism, and to maintain strong community and family connections.  A good universal message, I thought.


This is a reverent and solemn occasion for the people of Teotitlan del Valle. Most here take their religious life seriously and are observant.  I was impressed by the mix of husbands and wives and children, young men and women, as well as the traditional abuelas and abuelos (grandmothers and grandfathers) who participated today.


It was not unusual to see entire families sitting together or standing for the hour-long priestly blessing.  There is no mass on Good Friday as is the custom.  In the magic light of late in the afternoon, the people processed from the church to the cemetery and then back again.  This will complete the spiritual connection with dead loved ones, as well.


Our next photography workshop is this summer 2012:  Oaxaca Photography Expedition: Market Towns and Artisan Villages.  Two spaces left.  Don’t miss it!