Experiencing Easter Through Semana Santa

“When Lorene Bronner shared with me her experience of Semana Santa in Guatemala last year, I was captivated by her story. Semana Santa is the celebration through Holy Week leading up to Easter. I invite you to take a trip to Latin America with me as Lorene vividly and reverently recalls her encounter with Semana Santa and the Guatemalan culture!” – Aileen Libbey

Observing The Celebration Of Semana Santa

By Lorene Bronner

Lorene Bronner and Sisters board an Antigua bound flight for Santa Semana.

As I studied travel literature and online sites about Semana Santa (Holy Week), I found the colorful and unique pageantry associated with this solemn occasion appealing.  I enjoy studying and experiencing various cultures, and interacting with the people. So my sisters Sheri and Denise and I traveled to Antigua, Guatemala, April 2019 to experience Semana Santa. Although many other cities celebrate this Holy Week, Antigua epitomizes the spectacular event. 

The famous Arco de Santa Catalina arch in Antigua, Guatemala.

Antigua  dates back to the early 1600s. In addition, the city bears the honor of being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Flower Carpets on the Streets of Antigua

Floral carpets being created on the streets of Antigua for the Holy Week celebration, Santa Semana.

During Semana Santa, various groups vie to create the most elaborate floral carpets in the streets. They make the carpets entirely of natural materials. For example, colored sand, sawdust, pine needles and boughs, flowers, fruits, vegetables and more find a place in the carpets. Each group creates their display in the same area every year, e.g. outside their café or establishment. They may work through the night with spotlights to complete their creation in time for the upcoming processions. In the meantime, workers spray down the emerging designs with water to prevent flower petals, etc., from blowing away. In order to reach the interior of the display without causing damage to the exterior, they work from wooden planks set across the displays on risers.

The Antiguans create the floral carpets to pay homage and reverence to the Holy Week events. As a result, I found it extremely touching to see these works of art destroyed in only minutes by the passing processions, solely for the purpose of glorifying our Lord and Savior. 

Left: A sunflower carpet being created on the streets of Antigua for the Holy Week celebration, Santa Semana. Right: Putting the finishing touches on an alfombras made from flowers and dyed grasses.
A collage of flower carpets adorning the streets of Antigua, Guatemala.
Learn more about “The Flower Carpets of Antigua Presage Easter in Guatemala

The Processions Begin

Jesus carrying the cross during a Holy Week processional celebration in Guatemala.

As Good Friday drew near, the displays became more and more elaborate. Processions began outside various churches and occurred 24 hours a day. As a matter of fact, one day we met our guide at 2 a.m. to see a procession emerge from a church. The Antiguans remove statues of revered icons from their niches in the churches and mount them on platforms. Then they are carried by volunteers who consider it an honor to be included in the ceremonies. About a week prior to the processionals, volunteers who wish to be considered go to the respective churches. Next, they are measured in height so that the height of the bearers of each platform is uniform. The Antiguans only allow men to carry statues of Jesus and the Apostles. They only permit women to carry the statues of the Virgin Mary. 

Men dressed in purple robes bear religious a display during a Santa Semana Processional.
Women dressed in black and white bear a religious display during a Santa Semana Processional.
Crucifix during Santa Semana Processional.

Because the platforms with the statues are extremely heavy, each group of bearers may only carry the platform for perhaps one block. Prior to taking up their spots, many bearers make the sign of the cross. Next, they bow their heads and pray prior to taking their turn. We were overcome with awe and wonder at what we were witnessing. 

Incense, Flowers and Live Reenactments

At designated times, the processionals begin. Several processionals may occur simultaneously throughout the city. To begin with, a small band sets the beat and the pace. From quite a distance, one can hear the somber sounds of the drums creating a cadence for the bearers. Clouds of aromatic incense signal the advance of the processions.  

Incense and musicians during Guatemala's Holy Week celebrations.
Sanitation crews cleaning up a flower carpet from the streets of Antigua.

The processions proceed over the carefully created carpets of flowers. No one else may walk on the flower carpets until the procession travels over them. A sanitation crew and truck immediately follow the procession. The crew sweeps up the flower carpets and dispose of them in the sanitation truck.

My sisters and I witnessed live reenactments of all the events of Good Friday, complete with Roman soldiers, horses, chariots, Pontius Pilate and Barabbas. Accordingly, we saw caricatures of Judas Iscariot hanging from a tree with a money bag in his hand. We saw Jesus carrying His cross.  

Guatemalan man dressed as a Roman soldier during a Holy Week processional in celebration of Good Friday.
Young baby dressed in traditional wear for the celebration of Semana Santa.

Reflections

We found ourselves enveloped in the solemn, reverent atmosphere. I almost felt as though I had been transported back in time to the actual events. Participants labored long, long hours to create these events that occurred over a period of only 3 days. As a result, I was inspired by these humble people who love their Lord and Savior so much, and so readily display their faith and love. I felt extremely privileged to be a witness to this incredible celebration.

CHRIST IS RISEN!!  ALLELUIA! 


Fontanini’s Easter Piece Collection

While you may not be able to have a life-size diorama of historic church statues on display in your home, you can certainly have the next best thing! Fontanini showcases the salvation story through their “Life of Christ” collection.

Pieces from the "Life of Christ" Fontanini collection on display at Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland.
Crucifix Collection Featured: Lighted Crucifixion Scene (1160412); Mother Mary (1033775); John (1033774); Soldier (1029610) | Resurrection scene listed below.
Fontanini "Life of Christ" collection piece showcasing the resurrection of Jesus at the tomb.
Featured: Fontanini Lighted Resurrection Scene (1212789); The Risen Christ 5 Inch Collection (1051658); Mary Magdalene (1051660)

At Easter, as we consciously reflect on what the cross means and that the grave could not hold Him, let us not forget the gifts Jesus has given us in Salvation and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit!


Lorene Bronner

About Lorene S Bronner

As an avid adventure traveler, hiker, runner, biker, photographer, travel planner, nature lover, gardener, birdwatcher and ecotourist, Lorene loves to explore and experience different cultures and environments. She treasures her roles as wife, mother, grandmother and sibling – in a very large, loving, gregarious family.

Lorene recently retired from 36 years of service as the salesroom manager of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland.

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