Friday, April 15, 2016

Semana Santa (Easter Week) in San Miguel

San Miguel de Allende March 18 - 27 2016
Our Lady of Sorrows Altar

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San Miguel must have the most festivals and processions to mark Semana Santa (Holy Week of any other town in Mexico. We scheduled our stay this year to take in as many of the Holy Week events as possible. The week before Easter started with sorrows and built up to a big bang on Easter Sunday.

Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Our Lady of Sorrows, is relatively unknown in much of Mexico but is one of the highlights of Holy Week in San Miguel. All over town, San Miguel de Allende's families and business owners have constructed altars dedicated to the sadness of the Virgin Mary for the loss of her son. For one night private homes and entrances to businesses are opened to the public to display elaborate altars, decorated with flowers, candles, bitter oranges and small pots of sprouting wheat. Our local newspaper, Atencion, lists most of the best places to visit on the Night of the Altars when all the candles are lt and visitors are treated to a fruit juice, a frozen Popsicle or other treats. 

We had started our evening with a guitar concert at the Biblioteca. The concert ended just in time for us to make the rounds of the Altars. The street next to the Biblioteca had been closed to traffic so that everyone could safely see a huge altar built in the middle of the street. We were attracted by loud music just a block away. A big dance area had been roped off in front of the Temple of the Oratorio and crowds of people were surrounding costumed dancers were putting on quite a show. Clowns handed out candies to the children and nearby booths provided free fruit juice. That was just the start. We snacked our way around to see several altars in private homes. In one we accepted a glass of pineapple juice, and in another house with an elaborate altar we ate a small cup of tasty rice pudding. 

Back in the Jardin area there was a concert was in progress in the Temple of San Rafael, next to the Parroquia. Candles on the floor led to an elaborate gold altar in front of which sat a small string orchestra, accompanying two excellent sopranos with a program of sacred music. After a short intermission we were treated to a second concert with a pianist and a baritone. There were still several more altars to visit on our way back to our apartment and more snacks to eat. This was an event not to be missed.

Two days later was Palm Sunday with two processions, one right after the other, to see. The first procession, led by clergy and altar boys and girls, walked from Santo Domingo Church down a hill to the Temple of San Francisco. Parishioners, including several people dressed as pilgrims and a man dressed as Jesus riding a donkey, filled the street while we Gringos snapped photos. 

Once the group were safely in the church to celebrate a mass, we hurried to see the second, larger procession, due to start shortly. Ray and I went down Sollano Street, where the procession would make its way from Juarez Park to the Parroquia. The doors and windows of many of the houses on the street were decorated with flowers, the ground was strewn with sweet smelling herbs and archways covered with palm fronds and flowers reached from one side of the street to the other. Finally the procession started up the street with each group of parishioners carrying palm decorations woven in elaborate patterns and a large statue of Jesus riding a donkey and another Sorrowing Mary. I followed beside the faithful as long as I could but finally broke off into a side street to take an alternate route to the Parroquia where I got a good vantage point to see the procession make their way into the church for a mass. That was enough for one day.

There were other processions during the week in neighbouring towns, re-enacting the events before Good Friday. We decided to limit our viewing to the next weekend. That was a good decision. We were awakened early on Good Friday with the booms of multiple firecrackers. Later in the morning the neighbouring homes were decorated and the street in front of our apartment was covered with sweet smelling herbs in anticipation of a small procession from nearby San Juan de Dios Church through the streets and up to the Parroquia. Angelitos,little girls in white dresses and angel wings, led the procession, strewing chamomile onto the pavement. Little boys with painted mustaches and shepherds cloaks came behind. Parishioners carrying a statue of a bowed and bloody Christ followed as did the statue of Sorrowing Mary and Saint john, the patron saint of the Parish of San Juan de Dios.

That was just the first of three processions that day. Noon brought the crowds to the Jardin and the area in front of the Temple of San Rafael, next to the Parroquia. There was an enactment of Jesus, betrayed by Judas, being given a death sentence by Pontious Pilate and being led away by Roman guards. Once found guilty, the procession, led by a large choir, emerges from the church and winds around the Jardin, ending at another Church, the Oratorio, a few blocks away. The two thieves, destined to be crucified next to Jesus, are led by Roman soldiers brandishing whips, adding to the bloody sores painted on their torsos. Several pilgrims, dressed in blue sack cloth and wearing crowns of nails, follow behind. Then the statues appear, San Roque with an ulcerated leg and accompanied by his faithful dog, Mary Magdalene, Saint John the Baptist, a Judas,Saint  Veronica with the image of Christ on a cloth, several other saints, the sorrowing Mother Mary and Christ carrying a Cross. The faithful, who have been in the Temple of San Rafael, follow behind. It is a huge procession. 

After a lunch at a restaurant with are friends, we are ready to take on the most solemn procession, enacting the death of Jesus. The circular route starts about 5 PM and ends after dark back at the Oratorio. Streets leading to the Oratorio and around the Jardin are closed off to allow the hundreds of spectators room to observe the spectacle. Clowns walk around making balloon animals to keep the children amused before the procession arrives. Finally, the first group of parishioners arrived, all dressed in funereal black, the women with black Spanish Mantillas on their heads. All the statues from the noon procession, and then more, were there. The parade moved slowly, stopping frequently for prayers. Shortly before Christ arrived in his bier, a man and a woman, standing on a balcony across from the Jardin. Organ music played from inside the room and the two singers burst into song. It was an added extra to the procession. We didn't accompany the faithful back to the Oratorio. We had seen more than enough for one day.

The day everyone was waiting for came on Easter Sunday. The traditional name is the Burning of Judas, but the ritual has evolved into more of a political statement, focusing on Politicians currently out of favour with the populace. We arrived, along with a good portion of San Miguel citizens and tourists, to find Calle de Canal in front of the Jardin lined with about 25 Papier Mache figures, sponsored by various companies and restaurants in San Miguel, leaning against the Old City Hall building. I didn't recognize a Judas figure, but there were two devils, a witch, two Donald Ducks with orange hair and bright, blue suits, and a figure that was more recognizable as The Donald himself, who is not a friend of Mexicans or the mostly liberal tourists. 

The figures were strung by a loop on the head to ropes extending from trees in the Jardin to balconies on the building across Calle de Canal. The spectators were kept back at a safe distance from underneath the figures and the fun began. Event officials lowered one figure and lit a fuse attached to a bamboo belt around the waist of the figure, and raised the figure above the street. The fuse lit a firecracker that caused the figure to slowly twirl until the fuse lit the second firecracker and finally reached a third firecracker. A few seconds later the figure to explode with a loud boom. There was clapping by adults and fear in the eyes of young children. One by one the figures were exploded. The cheering got loader while the audience waited for The Donald to take his turn. A chant of "Trump, Trump, Trump" spread within the crowd. Finally it was The Donald's turn. The fuse was lit, The Donald twirled, once, twice and a third time before exploding with a gigantic boom. The crowd let out the loudest cheer yet and high-fived the performance. Even if this was only a symbolic victory, the crowd had made its point. The Donald was not winning any votes in San Miguel de Allende. The fun was all over except for the rush for souvenir body parts on the street below the now exploded figures. The children especially had a grand time claiming a leg or arm to take home. It may be a prized possession until next year. 

And so ended the official Holy Week. We were glad we had been able to be here to see all the festivities. It was unlike anything we had ever seen before.

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Friday, April 8, 2016

El Señor de la Columna (our Lord of the Column)

San Miguel de Allende Sunday March 19 2016

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San Miguel has more than its share of Festivals. Last year we were told about the procession of El Señor de la Columna (our Lord of the Column) just the night before the event. We were there to see it and made sure we didn't miss it this year. It lived up to all our expectations. It wasn't just the number of faithful who turn out each year to join a religious procession, it wasn't the fact that many had walked all night from the town of Atotonilco, a town about 18 km from San Miguel, it was the the elaborate decorations residents had spent hours overnight creating just so the procession could walk all over the art work.

It all started in 1800. An serious epidemic had broken out in the San Miguel region. After years of no end in sight for the epidemic, Father Remigio Angel Gonzales, the parish priest of Atotonilco, decided that action was needed. He carved the figure of a bloodied Christ leaning on a gilded column of wood. By 1823 it was ready. Father Gonzales organized his parishioners to bring the sculpture in procession from Atotonilco to San Miguel de Allende. Their prayers were answered and the epidemic was finished. The procession has been repeated each year on the Sunday before Palm Sunday. The statue of El Señor de la Columna, along with statues of the Virgin Mary (Our Lady of Sorrows) and St John are carried by hundreds of pilgrims starting at midnight from the church in Atotonilco, arriving about 8 AM at San Juan de Dios Church, just a few blocks from our apartment in San Miguel.

We were up early enough to walk past San Juan de Dios Church where the faithful have camped overnight and are waiting, wrapped in blankets against the chill of the morning. Booths were being put up to provide breakfast for the waiting crowds. We continue on to the main street along which the procession will come towards San Juan de Dios Church as soon as the sun came up. Residents were busy putting the finishing touches on carpets of coloured sawdust, flower petals and sweet herbs, decorated with religious figures, over which the pilgrims would walk. Standards of flowers line the sides of the streets and strings of purple and white paper flowers, banners and balloons form archways over the street.

As the sun came over the buildings, the imminent arrival of the procession was announced by explosions of large firecrackers set off on the rooftops on either side of the street. The procession, including a costumed pilgrim, Roman guards, a band playing mournful tunes, small children in first communion outfits, altar boys and girls waving incense, three priests and groups taking turns carrying the statues, came into view. The crowds grow and fill the streets on either side of the procession, walking to keep pace with the statues. Ray and I join the throngs and try to get additional pictures of the procession and the statues. Finally we make it to San Juan de Dios Church where a mass will be held. We decide that breakfast at our favourite restaurant Café Monet is the perfect way to end the morning.

A March Tradition: Concheros Dancers

San Miguel de Allende Friday 7 March 2016

How can I resist a festival, especially one with dancers in the most elaborate outfits I have ever seen.

The first Friday in March is the annual gathering of the Concheros, who come, dressed in pre-Hispanic outfits, from small towns near San Miguel to dance all afternoon and into the evening in the Jardin, the central meeting place of San Miguel. Properly called, El Señor de la Conquista (the Lord of the Conquest), the event commemorates the conversion of the indigenous people to Catholicism by the Conquistadors. When the Spaniards attempted to eliminate all pagan traditions, the dancing could not be stopped. Hence the event, with traditional dancing, was incorporated into a Catholic Holiday.

Crowds of San Miguel residents come to the Jardin to await the dancers. One by one the groups of men, women and children arrive to the beat of drums and take their places on the streets surrounding the Jardin. We watch the dancing and take photos of the elaborate costumes and huge feathered headdresses. The groups get a break to file into the Parroquia and receive the blessing of the clergy. Then they take their places again and continue dancing, almost without stop into the evening.

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So Much To Do In San Miguel

San Miguel de Allende Feb 26 to 2 April 2016

The Parroquia
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There is no time to get bored in San Miguel. Every Friday the local newspaper, Atencion, is published with write-ups and schedules of the events for the coming week. There are documentary films with discussions in the San Miguel Biblioteca (Library and small theatres) and Posada Quinta Loreto Hotel. Concerts are offered at the Biblioteca, at the Angela Peralta Theatre, sometimes at the Centre de Bellas Artes, at the small Shelter Theatre and in St Paul’s Anglican Church, arranged by the Pro Musica group. A semi-professional group offers plays at the San Miguel Playhouse and an amateur group does play readings at St Paul’s Church. If that is not enough there are recent run and classic movies at the Petit Bar AKA Pocket Theatre, and at Cine Bacco in a local hotel. Instead of paying a fee to see the movie, which is on a legal, or copied DVD, your entrance ticket gives you a bag of popcorn and a drink of your choice.

We took advantage of many of the offerings, sometimes two per day. In between we had dinners and lunches with a group of Canadian friends, introduced to us two years ago by David and Suzanne Andrews. Ray and I attended a Bird Walk in the El Charco Botanical Garden. The walk is led by very well qualified Canadian and American volunteers, many of whom have settled permanently in San Miguel. The Botanical Gardens is interesting enough on its own, with its collection of cactus and other native plants, that we make a point to visit it at least once per year.
Jacaranda in bloom on the way to Aquafit
Plus, every Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I attended Aquafit classes in the heated outdoor pool of Posada de la Aldea Hotel and I took a very instructive afternoon Photography walk with Gracie Skylar, a talented local photographer. Now I need to practise all that I learned with Gracie.

Then every Saturday there is an excellent Organic market where we can buy artisan cheeses, herbs and vegetables, specialty mushrooms, home-made soaps and herbal remedies, breads, quiches and lots more. To take a break you can buy lunch of Mexican specialties and eat it accompanied by strolling musicians. If you still have time, there is an Artisan Market next door that operates both Saturday and Sunday. My favourite was Margaret Burbidge who makes wonderful necklaces, bracelets and earrings from silver, turquoises, coral, fossils and other stones, many of them bought in an annual gem market in Tucson Arizona. I couldn’t resist and bought two of her creations.