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Colombia: Semana Santa Popayán

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Semana Santa Popayán | Colombia | Americas

[Visited: April 2009]

Trying to get from Cali to Popayán was difficult: a crowd was patiently waiting to get on a bus to the White City. And when we finally approached Popayán, I noticed that there was a lot of traffic trying to get into the city. It was Maundy Thursday, Jueves Santo, and the Semana Santa or Easter celebrations that had been going on since almost a week already were approaching their culmination. When later on I walked around the city streets, I noticed how they were full of people - a sharp contrast with the quiet town I had visited a few months before. Especially close to the churches, many people were gathering around street markets selling all kinds of handicrafts from all over Colombia. Unlike normal days, churches were open for visitors.

Picture of Semana Santa Popayán (Colombia): Men dressed up in white in the Semana Santa procession

The churches were obviously filled with worshippers, but also with statues mounted on platforms that would be used during the Semana Santa processions in the evening. The Semana Santa celebrations of Popayán originated in 1556 (just two decades after the foundation of the White City) and have been held every single year since then. Originally, images taken by the Spanish conquistadores were used, but nowadays, many images are from Ecuador while only some are from Popayán. From Monday to Saturday, processions are held, each different one from the other. They all commemorate the last days of Jesus Christ, culminating in the celebration of the crucifixion on Viernes Santo or Good Friday.

Picture of Semana Santa Popayán (Colombia): Catholic worshippers with candles walking in the Semana Santa procession

That evening, we were late for the procession, and when we arrived in the city centre, the streets were already filled with people. We quickly walked ahead of the procession by taking some backstreets, and ended up having a pretty good view close to the San Agustín church. The procession is a complicated celebration, including various figures. First, people cleaning the streets, and then a marching military band playing loud rhythmic music, followed by many platforms carrying religious images depicting scenes of the last day of Jesus. Each image of Jesus or the Virgin are preceded by sahumadoras, young, and often beautiful girls between 17 and 21 years old who carry a sahumerio in a bed of flowers: a kind of incense to purify the air. The long procession is accompanied on both sides of the street by catholics carrying candles, giving it all a fairy-like atmosphere. The procession stops at regular intervals, mostly to give the cargueros, the persons actually carrying the heavy loads of the platform and elaborate statues surrounded by candles, on their backs. Some friendly payaneses allowed me to stand on their chair so I could have a better view. The next day, we returned for the Viernes Santo or Good Friday processions, and made sure we were close to the Santo Domingo church several hours before the procession would start. The streets were already filling up with people. The procession was even more impressive than the day before, perhaps also because it carried images of Death and Jesus on the cross. Standing close to the procession, our ears were deafened by the military bands, but the views were fantastic. Whenever the procession halted, the silence was sometimes tangible. When, after a pause, the cargueros lifted their heavy load on their shoulders again, respect for them grew in the audience. Some of the images were inside a glass cage, but most were just carried around unprotected on their platforms. They appeared beautiful, with intricate cloth lying over their roofs, and real candles lighting up the platform. In between the passing pasos or platforms with images, we saw and heard choirs and orchestras, complete with rollable pianos, pass. Watching the entire procession pass takes up several hours, and is concluded by soldiers marching by - with guns on their shoulders and candles in their hands. After that, the streets behind the procession fill up with excited people. We returned home, passing the procession at another point, realizing that for the people actually in the procession, it took much more than a few hours since the procession moves ahead at such a slow pace. Our senses were more than satisfied with visual and sound impressions.

Picture of Semana Santa Popayán (Colombia): Sahumadora preceding a statue of Jesus in the Semana Santa procession in Popayán
Picture of Semana Santa Popayán (Colombia): Parading statues through the streets of Popayán
Picture of Semana Santa Popayán (Colombia): Worshippers carrying a statue through the streets of Popayán during Semana Santa
Picture of Semana Santa Popayán (Colombia): Good Friday or Viernes Santo procession inevitably includes the crucifixion of Jesus
Picture of Semana Santa Popayán (Colombia): Viernes Santo procession near the Santo Domingo church
Picture of Semana Santa Popayán (Colombia): Choir dressed in red as part of the Semana Santa procession
Picture of Semana Santa Popayán (Colombia): Orchestras are part of the Semana Santa procession in Popayán
Picture of Semana Santa Popayán (Colombia): People walking with candles to accompany the Semana Santa procession
Picture of Semana Santa Popayán (Colombia): Candles and guns: military at Semana Santa procession
Picture of Semana Santa Popayán (Colombia): Walking ahead of the Semana Santa procession
Picture of Semana Santa Popayán (Colombia): Playing the xylophone: militar band making music as part of the Semana Santa procession
Picture of Semana Santa Popayán (Colombia): Holy statue carried around Popayán during Semana Santa
Picture of Semana Santa Popayán (Colombia): Real candles are used to lighten up the statues of holy figures

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