Antigua’s Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations are perhaps the most extravagant and impressive in all Latin America – a week of vigils, processions and pageants commemorating the most solemn week of the Christian year. The celebrations start with a procession on Palm Sunday, representing Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, and continue through the week, climaxing on Good Friday. On Thursday night the streets are carpeted with meticulously drawn patterns of coloured sawdust, and on Friday morning a series of processions re-enacts the progress of Christ to the Cross. Setting out from the churches of La Merced and Escuela de Cristo and the village of San Felipe at around 8am, groups of penitents, clad in purple or white and wearing peaked hoods, carry images of Christ and the Cross on massive platforms, accompanied by solemn dirges played by local brass bands and clouds of incense. After 3pm, the hour of the Crucifixion, the penitents change into black.
It is a great honour to be involved in the procession but no easy task – the great cedar block carried from La Merced weighs some 3.5 tonnes and needs eighty men to lift it. Some of the images displayed date from the seventeenth century, and the procession itself is thought to have been introduced by Alvarado in the early years of the Conquest.
Check the exact details of events with the tourist office, which should be able to provide you with a map detailing the routes of the processions. During Holy Week virtually every hotel in Antigua is full, and the entire town is packed, but as enterprising locals rent out spare rooms there’s always a bed to be had somewhere.