Semana Santa Procesión (Holy Week Procession)

Trip Start Oct 16, 2007
Trip End May 09, 2008

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Friday, March 21, 2008

Since 94% of Ecuadorians are Catholic, Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is very important with many activities during the entire week from Palm Sunday to Easter.  The highlight of the week is the Good Friday Procession, in which seemingly thousands of people participate.  The procession in Quito is a whole-day event, and starts at Plaza San Francisco in the morning.  The participants march throughout the streets of the Centro Histórico (Old City), and finish back at the Plaza San Francisco in the late afternoon.

We were lucky to eat at a couple of great restaurants in La Mariscal earlier in the week, and got more information about the procession.  The owner of the restaurant Big Sur in La Mariscal told us to go to Plaza San Francisco at 7:30am to secure a good spot to take pictures of the procession, and the owner of Cafeto also gave us some brochures about Semana Santa.  Both restaurants had awesome food and the owners were so helpful in getting us some information on the festivities!

7:30am was a bit too early for us on Friday, but expecting a big crowd we made it to the plaza around 9:30am and found a great spot right at the corner of Bolivar and Cuenca.  When the procession actually started around 11am the plaza was jam packed.  We could hardly move an inch!  It was absolutely nuts as people from behind pushed like crazy trying to get closer while the police blocked off the street to create room for the procession.   With mainly locals around us, it was interesting to see how moved the people where when the procession passed us.

The procession had two major parts. The first wave of participants, called cucuruchos, wore purple robes with matching tall purple pointy hats.  It is hard to resist the comparison with the KKK, however besides the costumes there seems to be no connection between the two.

Mixed with the cucurochos were some purple veiled women, called veronicas.  The Semana Santa brochure said that each year there are about 800 cucurochos and 150 veronicas in the procession.  Also in the procession were people dressed in white robes wearing a crown of thorns, carrying unbelievable huge wooden crosses on their backs through the streets, representing Jesus.  Sometimes they were surrounded by participants dressed as roman soldiers.  Others had a huge log on their back, with their arms tied to the log.  Some other people wore heavy chains on their feet as they walked bare-foot in the streets.   We saw some people whipping themselves over and over again while they were walking.  We saw their backs swollen red from the beating, and some were even bleeding a bit.  We even saw one guy with barbed wire wrapped around his body also bleeding. Check out a video of the procession here.

An hour later after the purple participants left Plaza San Francisco, three huge statues were carried on shrines by people through the streets. The statues were the Virgin Mary, Jesus and San Francisco (Saint Francis).  The police surrounded the statues as they passed through the street, to protect them from the crowds of people that tried to get close to them. 
Near the end of the procession, we saw the participants still carrying the crosses. They could hardly walk and took frequent breaks, with other people pouring water on their heads to cool them off.   Once in awhile we saw someone who could no longer carry the cross and other people had to step in.    Then it started to rain, and masses of people still followed the statues packed tightly together in the streets. It was a pretty solemn and impressive event to observe.               
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