Saturday, April 22, 2017

Mexican Popular Culture: Ritual As a Vehicle for Sustaining Communal Identity

Throughout our nearly ten years living in Mexico, first in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, surrounded by its indigenous Purépecha pueblos, then, for the past seven years in Mexico City, we have been struck by the omnipresence of rituals.

Religious Rituals

Ritual action, with its symbolic nature, is most obvious in the fiestas held to commemorate each pueblo's or parish's patron saint's day or the various holy days of the Catholic liturgical calendar, such as Three Kings' Day (January 6), Candelaria (February 2), Easter (March or April), and All Saints and All Souls Days (November 1 and 2, celebrated as Day of the Dead). The Catholic Mass, itself, is a highly structured series of ritual actions and words.

Fiesta de Cruz Verde, Fiesta of the Green Cross,
May 3, Pátzcuaro, Michoacán

Procession of Silence, Semana Santa, Holy Week
Pátzcuaro, Michoacán

El Señor de la Misericordia,
The Lord of Compassion
begins his annual summer series of visits
to the pueblos of Coyoacán

Church of Three Sacred Kings,

Secular Rituals

But there are also ritualized civic holidays commemorating such historic events as Mexican Independence (September 15-16, with its midnight "Grito", Cry of Independence) and the Mexican Revolution (November 20) with its parades of children dressed as revolutionaries and speeches calling for fulfillment of the promises of the Revolution.

School Independence Day Parade
Father Miguel Hidalgo is portrayed on the banner.
Parades like this are still held every September 16, all across Mexico.
By Antonio Ruiz
Museum of the Secretariat of Hacienda,
Centro Histórico

All of these celebrations, both religious and secular, are accompanied with the explosion of cohetes, rocket-style firecrackers, and end with a nighttime fireworks display.

Cohetes set off to announce the beginning of a church fiesta

Castillo, "castle",
a wooden tower of fireworks is set off to mark the end of a fiesta.

Everyday Rituals

La Cortesía

But there are also less obvious rituals that are embedded in everyday life. La cortesía­—the courtesy, the formalized language and behaviors, based on medieval Spanish court etiquette­—is enacted between individuals at every occasion of greeting and parting. There is not only the "buenos días", "good day/morning", "buenas tardes", "good afternoon", and mutiple phrases at parting ("hasta luego", "until the next time", "qué le vaya bien", "may it go well for you", "cuídase", "take care"), but also the "con permiso" | "es proprio" exchange, i.e., "with permission" | "it's proper", upon entering and leaving someone's home, doctor's waiting rooms and even elevators. Then there is the "buen provecho", "have a good meal", said to fellow diners as one enters or leaves a restaurant.

Sweeping the Doorstep

An even less obvious example of ritualized behavior is the daily sweeping or scrubbing of entrance doorways and the sidewalk in front of homes and businesses (and inside business and government offices). We wondered about the stylized quality of this action, which led us to the Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España, The General History of the Things of New Spain, compiled by the Spanish Franciscan friar or brother, Bernardino de Sahagún (lived 1499 to October 23, 1590). Born in Sahagún, Spain, in 1499, he journeyed to New Spain in 1529. He learned Nahuatl and spent more than 50 years in the study of Aztec (Nahua) beliefs, culture and history. His extraordinary work documenting the indigenous worldview and culture has earned him the title “the first anthropologist." Wikipedia

Sweeping up after a fiesta,
The traditional broom is made of twigs.

Preparing to open outdoor restaurants for the day

Street sweepers

Reading parts of Sahagún's extensive work, we found that much of it catalogues the daily rituals of the Nahuatl-speaking peoples of central Mexico. Sahagún details the ritualization of the indigenous world, with different gods overseeing each of the eighteen months of twenty days and being honored by the people with their proper, highly structured fiesta, which usually lasted several days. Each day of the year was also under the rule of a god. These monthly and daily acts of ritualized worship were much like those of the Catholic calendar of annual sacred days and daily saints' days. We discovered that at the familial level, one ritual that was required was the daily sweeping of a household's internal patio, the space in front of the household's image of its protecting god and the front entrance to the home. Thus, the sweeping we see daily goes back centuries.

Ritual Language

As we have noted elsewhere, a also highly ritualized language is also used in discussing political issues or carrying out a demonstration in the streets. The terms often occur in sets of opposites, implying an undelying dualistic world view.
  • México tranquilo versus México bronco (Mexico unbridled);
  • los indios vs. los pobres (the poor);
  • las provincias vs. México (meaning Mexico City)
  • los de arriba versus los de abajo (those above vs. those below);
  • la autoridad, la imposición, la represión (by those above) vs. la lucha del pueblo (struggle of the people against them);
  • el personalismo, el clientelismo, el corporatismo (the control of society via personal connections and distribution of benefits to defined client groups for political ends);
  • la corrupción, la impunidad, la mentira (the lie), el sospechoso (suspiciousness), el retraso (the backwardness) vs. la lucha, la justicia. la dignidad and la esperanza (the hope).
This language carries over into public protest demonstrations, with oft-repeated slogans such as "¡La lucha sigue!" "The struggle continues!" and symbolic, ritualized routes for marches. In Mexico City, the capital, they are usually from the Angel of Independence on the Paseo de la Reforma, both of which are symbols of the Mexican lucha, struggle, for political liberties, to the Zócalo, the central plaza and symbolic "heart of Mexico."

March up Paseo de la Reforma from the Angel of Independence,
September 26, 2015,
commemorating one year since the disappearance
of 43 Ayotzinapa Normal School students.

Note far right: Banner portraying Emiliano Zapata, a prime symbol of

the hopes of the Mexican Revolution.
In the distance, behind
 the column topped by the golden Angel,

is Chapúltepec Castle, also a highly symbolic site.
Photo: Cuartoscuro

Ritual and Continuity of Communal Identity

It would appear from all these observations and comparisions of contemporaty Mexican popular culture with pre-hispanic indigenous culture, that the ritualistic nature of indigenous life provided a ready structure for adoption of Spanish court rituals and Catholic religious ones. From the indigenous side, Catholic religious rituals also provided a medium though which the pueblo, the people as a long-established community, could maintain and regularly reinforce their ancient communal identity, paradoxically, both in spite of the Spanish Military Conquest and subsequent Spiritual Conquest.

It is noteworthy that the Franciscans and the other religious orders that followed them to Nueva España to convert los naturales, the natives, to Spanish Catholic Christianity intentionally adopted a strategy of seeking out indigenous religious practices and customs that were similar to Catholic ones and building on them by introducing the beliefs and practices of the new faith as an evolutionay step from those previous ones to spiritual and religious maturity, not as a radical replacement. As a result, although the gods and their representations have changed, the continuity of pueblo life remains bien arraigado, deeply rooted, and retains its ánimo, its vitality.

Communal identity and pride
From final procession of The Lord of Compassion
ending His series of summer visits to pueblos of Coyoacán

Members of the Society of Jesus Nazarene,
Passion Play of Iztapalapa 

Providing tacos dorados, fried tacos, at Carnaval Fiesta
Santa María Magdalena Petlacalco, Tlalpan

"Aztec" dance group enacting an indigenous ritual offering of corn.
Xaltocán, Xochimilco

Member of fiesta organizing committee (identified by pink polo shirt with emblem)
with his wife and daughter,
San Lucas, Coyoacán.

La Comparsa de Chinelos de San Lorenzo Huipulco
The Dance Group of the "Disguised Ones"
San Lorenzo Huipulco, Tlalpan

Passing on Tradition and Identity 

Elders of the original villages of the City are most evident in the maintaining of their traditions and, thereby, their community identity, although in some neighborhoods this process has all but disappeared in the face of modern urbanization and homogenization, But in many communities, there is also an active effort to engage youth and children in the ceremonies and thus, invest in the transmission of tradition and communal identity to the next generation.

Little girl leading the Grupo de Comparsas Piñas y Pinones.
Group of Dance Groups, Pineapples and Pinenuts.
a city-wide association of pueblo comparsas-

San Lorenzo Huipulco, Tlalpan

Children and youth participate in the Parade of the Axolotls, salamanders unique to the waters of the Valley of Mexico,
during patron saint fiesta of
San Sebastian Axotla,  Delegación Álvaro Obregón

Candelaria, Candlemass,

Sword fight of the Santiagueros, Kights of St. James,
who reenact the battle between Christians and Muslims Moors in Spain.
The boy's red costume indicates he is playing a Moor.
Pueblo Candelaria, Coyoacán

Marching band,
Pueblo of Three Sacred Kings, Coyoacán

Nazarene youth,
Passion Play of Iztapalapa

Passion Play of Iztapalapa

Aztec dancers,
Pueblo Xaltocán, Xochimilco

 Child Chinelo dancer, Carnaval,
Santa María Magdalena Petlacalco, Tlalpan

Spanish-Mexican dancer,
San Mateo Churubusco, Coyoacán

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Original Villages | Iztapalapa's Holy Week Passion Play: Part II - Good Friday

Captivated by the Palm Sunday initiation of Iztpalapa's Passion Play, we return on Good Friday for the climactic trial and crucifixion of Jesus the Christ. 

Exiting the Metro Station, we find the wide Calzada Ermita-Iztapalapa filled not just with vendors on the sidewalks as they were last Sunday, but now the entire boulevard is full of carnival rides and stalls selling all kinds of items, including some craftwork.

We had been warned the crowd could be huge. There are plenty of people, but the muchedumbre, the crowd, is typical for a fiesta. We make our way slowly towards the plaza, where the central scenes of the drama will be enacted.

Mexican families arrive for the fiesta

Indigenous women from ...
... Veracruz and the State of Mexico

Fiesta crowd,
viewed from a pedestrian bridge over Calzada Ermita-Iztapalapa

Entering the plaza, we pass a large statue of the Mexica tlatoani, speaker, Cuitlahuac, the last indigenous ruler of Iztapalapa.

Cuitlahuac, last ruler of Iztapalapa,
Brother of Moctezuma the Younger,
replaced Moctezuma as ruler of Tenochtitlan
after Moctezuma was killed.
He led the resistance that drove Cortés out of the city,
but died shortly after of imported European smallpox.
The plaza is named in his honor.

As we walk along the side of the plaza that is open space, we see the Nazarenes, men and boys robed in purple, who were here on Palm Sunday, but this time instead of carrying light palm fronds, they are preparing to carry heavy crosses for the procession up Mount Calvary, i.e., Cerro de la Estrella, with its ancient history of human sacrifice.

Joven, teenage boy, practices carrying his wooden cross

The sole woman Nazarene we see preparing for the procession of penitence,
accompanying Jesus the Christ.

As we approach the site of the play on the west end of the plaza, we are anxious about whether too big a crowd has already gathered to make it difficult, if not impossible, to get into a good position to photograph the action. We are relieved to find we can get close to the side of the first of two stages, one where preparations for action appear to be taking place.

We do not have long to wait. After a brief welcome is announced over the PA system, a cadre of Roman soldiers, bearing trumpets takes the stage, which is an ornate Roman palace consisting of three levels. 

The trumpeters announce the arrival of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the council of priests and elders of Jerusalem. 

High priest Caiaphas
calls on the Sanhedrin to try and convict Jesus for heresy,
claiming that he is the Christ, the Messiah sent by God.
(Interestingly, his crown is in the form of an Egyptian symbol for the bull god, Apsis.) 

Annas, a former High Priest,
also exhorts the council to convict Jesus.
In this scene, Jesus is not present.

While the council is debating, Judas Iscariot, the disciple who, following the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, had betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, shows up, repenting of his betrayal of his Master and seeking to return the coins he was paid by the priests. (We did not attend those Maundy Thursday scenes, as they were enacted after dark on Cerro de la Estrella. As it happened, there was also an unseasonably early thunderstorm with heavy rains that evening. The rainy season usually starts in May.) 

Judas is prevented from entering

When the scene ends, we assume that the next one will be on the other stage, so we hurry around the outside of the crowd to find the best possible position there. As it happens, the next scene is on the same stage as the first. The palace has become that of Pontius Pilate, and Jesus is brought before him.

A new corps of trumpeters announce the appearance of Pontius Pilate,
the Roman "prefect" of the province of Judea.

Throughout the production, both Palm Sunday and today, we are impresssed by the variety and quality of the costumes. We think Cecil B. DeMille would be impressed.

As we are several yards away, it is difficult to get good shots.

Jesus before Pontius Pilate the first time.
The Archangel Gabriel accompanies Him.
Pilate is out of view.

Pilate sees the problem as one of internal matters of the Jewish community, and also that Jesus' preaching had mostly taken place in Galilee, territory controlled by Herod Antipas. So he sends him to Herod (and the stage near where we are standing).

Before Jesus' arrival, Herod is being entertained by a belly dancer
(think of Salomé dancing to get the head of John the Baptist).

Jesus before King Herod

We are also impressed by the level of acting
of these amateurs and residents of Iztapalapa.


Neither does Herod want to take responsibilty for the fate of Jesus, so he sends him back to Pilate.
Jesus is returned to stand before Pilate

Pilate decides that to please the Jewish religious leadership,
he has to concede to condemning Jesus to death by crucifixion
for claiming to be "King of the Jews", a crime of treason
against the Roman Empire.

As Pilate looks on, a Roman army officer reads the verdict,
calling for Jesus to be paraded through the streets
and taken to the Hill of Golgotha or Calvary,
to be hung by crucifixion, along with two thieves.

By tradition, during the Jewish Passover,
one convicted criminal is set free.
Pilate asks the crowd who it should be,
Jesus or Barabas.

The crowd calls for
the liberation of Barabas.

The condemned Jesus is led to His cross.

While Roman soldiers and Jewish leaders prepare for the procession through the streets of Jerusalem/Iztapalapa, the followers of Jesus gather to accompany Him in the final hours of His Passion.


Judas follows along
Disciple John

We get only a glimpse of Jesus' bloodied arm as He passes, bearing His cross.

The press of the crowd following the procession is great,
and we are tired, so we do not follow the drama further, toward its climax.
But this being modern times, a large screen shows us the Via Cruz, the Way of the Cross.

We don't have the stamina to follow the procession through the streets of Iztapalapa, let alone to climb Cerro de la Estrella, but before we leave, we make one last stop at a site that is significant to the history of the Passion Play of Iztapalapa.

Lord of the Little Cave

Sactuario del Señor del Santo Sepulcro
Sanctuary of the Lord of the Holy Sepulcher
popularly called 
el Señor de la Cuevita
Sanctuary of the Lord of the Little Cave

Returing to Calzada de Ermita-Iztapalapa, we cross to where there is a large cemetery. Just to its east is the entrance to the atrio of a church, the Sanctuary of the Lord of the Little Cave. It is here, acutally, that the tradition of the Passion Play of Iztapalapa began in 1833.

According to local tradition, the Lord of the Little Cave is an image originally from Etla, a pueblo in Oaxaca (in southern Mexico). Around the year 1687, the stewards of the image brought it to Mexico City with the purpose of having it restored. Before arriving in the capital, they had to spend the night in one of the caves on Cerro de la Estrella. The next day, when they wanted to continue on their way, they found that the image had markedly increased its weight, making it impossible to carry it. For the people of that time, this meant that the effigy had chosen to stay in that place. The inhabitants of Iztapalapa adopted it as their own and built a modest hermitage at the entrance to the cave.

In 1833, a cholera epidemic hit several parts of Mexico. In the Valley of Mexico, the epidemic killed many people. The people of Iztapalapa went to the image of the Lord of Little Cave and prayed to Him to save them from the disease. They promised that if He delivered them, they would carry out a procession and build a new sanctuary for Him. Miraculously, on May 3, 1833, the Feast Day of the Holy Cross, the epidemic came to an end. In gratitude, the people of Iztapalapa built the current Sanctuary and began to hold a procession on the Feast of the Holy Cross. Ten years later, during Holy Week, they began the reenactment of Passion of Christ. At first, only carved images were used. Beginning in 1906, members of the barrios of Iztapalapa acted the roles. (Wikipedia en españolSo in 2018, its 175th enactment is being carried out—not all that old by Mexican standards.

But the synthesis of Catholic beliefs and ritual with indigenous community identity goes back to the Spiritual Conquest that began in the 16th century. It is the path that we have been following for the past year, exploring the original villages of the City, marked by their old churches. The Sanctuary of the Lord of the Little Cave is relatively new, but it embodies this old marriage of cultures. 

As we walk across the large atrio toward the church, we realize that another procession is getting ready to join the larger procession in the streets. It is composed of more Nazarenes.

Four men bear a large and especially heavy cross.
They wear crowns of thorns, interwoven with flowers.

Older ...
... and younger carry on the tradition.

Following the cross and two lines of Nazarenes is a group carrying a covered object, where usually a statue of a saint would stand. We ask a couple who are watching if they know what is under the cloth. They tell us that it is el Señor de la Cuevita, the Lord of the Little Cave.

El Señor de la Cuevita, the Lord of the Little Cave, a most revered object,
that gave birth to the Passion Play of Iztapalapa. 
He is covered out of respect for Good Friday as a
day of mourning and penitence.

Once again, as in all our experiences of the fiestas of the original villages of the city, we feel the power of tradition and ritual for maintaining and reinforcing ancient communal identity. The gods and their representations have changed, but the continuity of pueblo life is bien arraigado, deeply rooted and retains its vitality.

In the reenactment of the Passion of Christ, we also sense that not far below the surface is an identification with His suffering that symbolizes and expresses the centuries-long suffering of indigenous communities of Mexico at the hands of their own version of invading Romans and oppressive, self-centered domestic rulers.

Some faces of Iztapalapa

Delegación of Iztapalapa
is large, green area on mid-east side of the City

Barrios and colonias of Delegación Iztapalapa
Original barrios are marked by green and yellow star.
Just below them is Cerro de la Estrella (dark green area)

Original indigenous barrios of Iztapalapa
lie north of west-to-east Calzada de Ermita-Iztapalapa (brown line)

Oranage and yellow star marks the Plaza Cuitlahuac in Barrio San Lucas
Green and yellow star marks site of crucifixion reenactment
on Cerro de la Estrella.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Original Villages | Iztapalapa's Holy Week Passion Play: Part I - Palm Sunday

When we moved to Mexico City nearly six years ago and settled into a fifth-floor apartment in Colonia Parque San Andrés in Delegación Coyoacán, we discovered that we had a view of a low, tree-covered hill about five miles straight east.

We soon learned that the hill was called Cerro de la Estrella, Hill of the Star. An extinct volcano, it played a significant role in indigenous history as the site of a temple where the xiuhmolpilli (sheeoo-mol-PEEL-yee), the Binding of the Yearswas enacted every fifty-two years by the Mexica (Aztecs). This date marked the point in time when the first day of the 365-day Solar Calendar and the first day of the 260-day Divinatory Calendar, based on the human gestation cycle, coincided—a critical juncture of human and cosmic destiny. In Spanish, it has been called Nuevo Fuego, the New Fire ceremony, as fires in all the pueblos were extinguished and a new fire was lit as part of the sacrificial ritual. 

So we made the Hill, called Huizachtecatl by the Mexica, one of the first historical sites we visited, relying on a taxi driver to take us to the Delegación of Iztapalapa and up the hill to where the Museum of the New Fire sits. A gate on the road means visitors have to walk from there up to the summit, which we did. (See our post on Hill of the Star for the history of the hill and the foundation of Iztapalapa at its base). 

Subsequently, we heard of the Passion Play that is put on each year by the people of Iztapalapa during Semana Santa, Holy Week. We were intrigued, but when we heard that as many as four million people attend the Good Friday reenactement of the Crucifixion of the Christ under the hot sun of an April afternoon—and that Iztapalapa was "dangerous" because of "a lot of crime", we were dissuaded from trying to attend. 

However, over this past year, as we engaged in exploring the original indigenous villages of the City as part of our Mexico City Ambles, we came to realize that we needed to go to Iztapalapa—one of the most important such pre-hispanic setttlements. During our explorations we quickly learned that the best time to visit these barrios and pueblos is when el pueblo, the people, are holding a fiesta—vividly, energetically and proudly celebrating their centuries-old communal identity. So we knew that we had to visit the original barrios of Iztapalapa during Semana Santa and witness its Passion Play. Fiestas are also the safest time to visit an unknown neighborhood, as the community, including its leadership, is out in the streets. 

Day of Palms

So at about 11am this Palm Sunday, we board Line 12 of the Metro at Estación Ermita (the Hermitage Chapel) and head east. Traveling underground we know that we are crossing what was the channel between Lake Xochimilco to the south and Lake Texcoco to the north. The next stop, Mexicalcingo, marks the beginning of what was the Iztapalapa peninsula before the lakes were drained. At the next station, Atlalilco, we change to Line 8.

Exiting at the next stop, the Izapalapa station, we find ourselves on Calzada Ermita-Iztapalapa, the wide boulevard that follows the path of the original Mexica [meh-SHE-cuh] causeway that began in Tenochtitlan and, at its southern end, divided to connect Coyoacán on the west shore with Iztapalapa on the east shore.  

We immediately know that a typical Mexican fiesta is in progress. The street has been closed to traffic, and families are walking in the roadway. As always, there are vendors selling. As it is Palm Sunday, the main item is palm fronds woven into itricate patterns.

We follow the crowd into the first side steet which leads to the main plaza of Iztapalapa a block further on. 

Los Nazarenes

The first thing that strikes our attention are numbers of men and boys dressed in purple robes. Purple is the color of penitence for the Season of Lent. These must be the Nazarenes who participate in Holy Week processions as an act of penitence, often walking barefoot and sometimes carrying a cross. We had seen them in such processions in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, where we lived before coming to the City. Here they are holding large palm fronds. We have read on the internet that Palm Sunday in Iztapalapa involves a procession recreating Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem.

As they are obviously involved in the procession, we approach them and ask when the procession begins. Being muchachos, teen-age boys, their answer is rather lacking in specifics. They say it will pass by here at some later time this afternoon.

So we walk along the side of the plaza, which is hidden behind vendor's puestos, stalls. We ask some adults about the procession and one tells us it begins at the church on the other side of the plaza. 

So we head across the plaza, a large, pleasant, tree-filled space.

Wending our way though the puestos on the far side, we see the wall of the church atrio, atrium and find an entrance.

The Church of St. Luke

Church of St. Luke

It is the church of San Lucas, St. Luke, the parish church for the Barrio de San Lucas. The atrio is full of people, some obviously in costumes for the Passion play. Others wear orange T-shirts identifying them as security staff. And still others who have come to watch the spectacle. Inside, Mass is in progress.

From the front door we can glimpse behind the altar a bearded figure with long, flowing hair in a white robe, At his side stands a woman in a blue shawl. It is Jesus the Christ and his Mother, the Virgin Mary. Behind them stands a very blond angel. It must be the Archangel Gabriel. A priest is speaking from a lectern to one side.

Once again in our ambles, we have found what we were looking for. This time, it's the Son of God and the Mother of God, or at least actors representing them. Semana Santa is starting off in Iztapalapa at full steam. The Passion Play is about to begin.

Some Actors

We turn from the sanctuary entrance back towards the waiting actors. We wonder what roles they will be playing. We have read that only residents of the eight original barrios of the indigenous altepetl, city-state of Iztapalapa­—San Lucas, Santa Bárbara, San Ignacio, San Pablo, San José, San Pedro, La Asunción and San Miguel—can participate. There are 136 principal speaking roles, along with another 275 actors and 500 extras. We approach some in distinctive costumes, introduce ourselves and ask about their role.

He is to play a blind man.
This beautiful young woman
tells us she is playing "a virgin".

Mary Magdalene
A "lady of the night"




Others who—while not in costumes—seem to be related to the play.

These two gentlemen, wearing sashes that say
Society of Jesus of Nazareth.
tell us they have responsibilty for accompanying "el burrito", the little donkey.

At about this point, two men in orange shirts approach us and ask if we are "press". We say that no, we are a retired estadounidense, USer, with una gran inquietud, a great curiosity, about the original pueblos of the city and that we have a blog on the Internet where we publish stories and photos of our paseos. We hand them our Mexico City Amles/Paseos card. They energetically welcome us and offer any help we may need. 


We tell them it would be helpful to know the schedule of events for the coming days, so we would know when to arrive. They tell us there is a Web page for the Semana Santa Passion Play with the schedule, but basically, if we come at 4PM on Tuesday and noon on Thursday and Friday, we will see the important scenes. We thank them for being tan amable, so kind and considerate.

The Play Begins   

Soon, there is movement in the crowd near the right side of the church. Evidently, something is about to happen. Within a few minutes, over the heads of the crowd, we can see the top of a statue of a saint moving towards us—the sure sign that the procession is beginning.

Lord Jesus on el burrito, the little donkey


The donkey statue and the Nazarenes are followed by the Son and His Mother, Jesus and Mary.

Jesus, Mary and the Archangel Gabriel

We are immediately struck by the actors. Jesus is over six feet tall, broad shouldered, with very strong facial features and large hands. He is no retiring, thin, sad Jesus. He is a strong force. Mary, while less dramatic, conveys with her eyes a quiet strength one would not want to provoke.

We have read that tradition demands that those chosen to play these two roles may not date, drink, smoke or go to parties until they have finished their commitments, along with two newer ones—no tattoos or piercings. The candidates must also show that they have the economic means to buy their costumes. The candidates are investigated to ensure they meet these requirements.

In addition, candidates to play Jesus must also show that they have the physical strength to endure beatings and carry a 100 kilo (220 lb) cross four kilometers (2.5 miles) uphill. Once a candidate is chosen, he is then required to remain celibate for the intervening year before the performance and begin physical training six months in advance. Wikipedia

Gabriel the Archangel is strikingly güero—blond, fair-skinned—and fine-featured for this usually more or less moreno, brown-skinned, people. He is extremely guapo, handsome. 

Added to the guapas/os other actresses and actors we have met, we think that whoever did the casting had a very professional eye. We are also impressed that, if the rule holds that all of them come from the eight original barrios of Iztapalapa, there is such a range and depth of physical beauty in the rostros, countenances of this ancient community. And such confident sense of personal presence.

The Miracle Worker

As we are observing all of this, Jesus lets go the arm of Mary, who walks on, and he stops right in front of us! We cannot believe our good fortune. We have the best seats in the house! Front row, center! As that credit card ad used to say, "Priceless!"

Jesus of Nazareth,
called the Christ, the Messiah,
the Annointed One.

What then unfolds are a series of scenes from the life of the Christ and his final week of Passion.

A crippled man is brought on a litter and placed before Jesus

Two Pharisees, enforcers of Jewish law, watch with skepticism and concern.
As it is a sabbath, no work should be done.

Jesus prays over the cripple—who falls back in failure on his first two tries to rise to his feet, leading the Pharisees to laugh in scornbut on the third try the man manages to stand up.

"I can walk!"

Next, a child leads to Jesus the "blind" young man we met earlier.

He, too, is miraculously cured.

Joy and thanksgiving!

Then a series of women approach Jesus and ask forgiveness of their sins. 



Then, Mary herself approaches her Son.

She asks why he is doing what he is doing.
He responds that it is God's Will.
In the background, a threatening face.

She pleads that he relent. She sobs over the tragic end she foresees.
She then accepts what is now inevitable

Judas Iscariot

The procession then moves on from the church atrio into the street.

Outside, an initial encounter takes place between Jesus and Judas.

Gabriel watches impássively.
He is impassive throughout the drama.
He also constantly holds his arms in a lifted position.
(After some time, we figure he must have a supporting frame under his robe.)

Entrance into Jerusalem, the City of God's Peace

The procession moves on into the plaza, where some stages await. 

On the outskirts of Jerusalem, Jesus, Mary and the Disciples
stop for a meal.
Mary Magdelene weeps at Jesus' feet, washing them with her tears.

The group then begins the procession into Jerusalem; that is, through the streets of Iztapalapa.

Two bugle corps announce the approach of Jesus,
who is called the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One.

In training for future Semana Santas,
and other fiestas.

Photo thanks to Semana Santa Iztapalapa

The Faithful follow

Delegación of Iztapalapa
is large, green area on mid-east side of the City

Barrios and colonias of Delegación Iztapalapa
Original barrios are marked by green and yellow star.
Just below them is Cerro de la Estrella (dark green area)

Original indigenous barrios of Iztapalapa
lie north of west to east Calzada de Ermita-Iztapalapa

Oranage and yellow star marks the Plaza Cuitlahuac in Barrio San Lucas
Green and yellow star marks site of crucifixion enactment
on Cerro de la Estrella

See also: Iztapalapa, Part I: Hill of the Star and the Origins of Culhuacán and Iztapalapa