Tag Archives: Semana Santa

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!



Portrait Photography Workshop: Maundy Thursday in Oaxaca

Semana Santa, the Easter season in Oaxaca, is magical and mystical.  It is especially so in Teotitlan del Valle where traditional Zapotec practices blended with Catholic ritual offer photographers an exceptional workshop experience.  On the evening of Maundy Thursday, almost the entire village arrived for the five o’clock mass at the church with the overflow spilling out into the church courtyard.  Our small group came to participate and experience the ritual.

Women covered their heads with traditional fringed shawls.  Men approached the sanctuary in reverence with their heads uncovered.

Children played tag around the church courtyard tended by a mother, an aunt or an older sister.


The bejeweled horse decked out in sparkling mirrored plumage was fed fresh sweet cornstalks by mesmerized little boys.  The seasoned veterans sat on the garden wall or under the ancient tree on a comfortable bench.


After the hour-long service, after everyone stood together in reverent prayer,  the priest and church committee of volunteers led a procession around the plaza to the clanging of wood beaters on top of the church, the blast of trumpets and the rhythmic clap of drum beats.

This would go on all night at regular intervals as is this village’s custom.  On Good Friday, another procession will begin at ten o’clock in the morning with figures of Jesus and the Virgin of Soledad circling the village each in a different direction and then reuniting at the church for another mass.


Our next photography workshop is set for summer 2012: Market Towns and Artisan Villages.

Lunes Santos Procession Celebrates Easter Monday

Lunes Santos, also known as Holy Monday or Easter Monday, is part of the Semana Santa week celebration in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.  The procession is a village pilgrimage, complete with horse in dazzling livery with youthful rider, children dressed as Roman soldiers and babies in white adorned with glittering wings and floral crowns.  It is a photographic feast.

The procession winds through the streets of the village after beginning at the Iglesia de Preciosa Sangre de Cristo (Church of the Precious Blood) at nine in the morning.  They stop at altars sheltered with tapetes (handwoven rugs) set up along the way for refreshment and rest, a reenactment of the Twelve Stations of the Cross.  This is my first Semana Santa in Oaxaca — tomorrow begins our portrait photography workshop that will delve into the personal images of Semana Santa.  I set my alarm for seven o’clock this morning so I would not miss this solemn village event. (Next photo workshop based in Teotitlan is during Dance of the Feather.)

Our first stop was at the corner of Av. Benito Juarez and 2 de Abril where the figures of Jesus and Mary were placed under the altar and adorned with fresh orchids.  The priest said a blessing.  People came to the altar to make a prayer and leave an offering.


The women had been up early preparing tejate with masa and cacao that had been ground by hand on the metate.   Then men came through the crowd with handpainted gourds filled to the brim and handed one to me.  It was delicioso and muy rico!  We were thirsty and tired pilgrims.


I asked Josefina about the significance of the babies dressed in white with wings.  They symbolize purity and innocence, she said, adding that this was an important part of the celebration.  I extrapolate that it is connected to being reborn and ressurrected which is the essential meaning of Easter.

In my own faith tradition, I would interpret this to mean that each year we each have an opportunity to start afresh with new hope and opportunity to do better in the world.

At our next lengthier stop at the corner of Independencia and Hidalgo, we were served a homemade nieves (ice cream refreshment.)  The priest led the assembly in prayer and the band played solemnly.


The procession wends its way through the village, stopping in each of the five sections, for villagers to give and receive blessings, picking up pilgrims along the way as was the tradition centuries ago.  I am reminded of when I visited Jerusalem and encountered the pilgrims from many nations: Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas.  I saw them walking the Via Dolorosa to recreate history and affirm their belief.  Today was no different.