I accidentally timed my arrival in Antigua with the blooming of the jacarandas in its main square. No accident though, was my plan to see its Semana Santa celebrations, the most elaborate in Latin America.
The city’s holy week is particularly notable for its combination of two cultures: Roman Catholicism that was brought by the Spanish conquistadors and ancient Maya tradition. This complex relationship has itself, over centuries, become a facet of Guatemala’s unique identity. Today people from around the globe join its people for what is the busiest week of the year in Antigua.
Activities and processions are centred around the city’s Cathedral de Santiago and its adjoining cobbled streets, where food, textiles and toys of all sorts are sold by people from local villages. Throughout the week, spectators smother the pavements in front of Antigua’s smart restaurant courtyards that tempt large families and tourists with the promise of long lunches and fine wine selections.
Overlooking proceedings, the blooms of the jacarandas compliment the rich yellows in the religious alfombras (carpets) and almost match the shades of the deep purple processional robes, which for centuries first in Spain, and then Latin America, have denoted royalty and suffering.
Appreciation for this extreme dedication to a faith and all that comes with it isn’t lost on me as an Atheist. On my travels I continue to be taken in by the spectacles, architectures and sensory atmospheres that are created by religious devotion. Antigua’s Semana Santa was no exception.