Holy Week is pretty much one of the biggest, fattest deals anywhere in Mexico.
For those of us who aren’t fighting the crowds at the beach–well, even for those at the beach–what does one do to celebrate Holy Week in Mexico?
Note: all these options are open to the general public. You do not need to be Catholic (or even any kind of Christian) to attend. However, do use good judgement when attending. These events are solemn, so keep quiet and be discreet while taking photos. Particularly on Thursday, if the Eucharist is out on display, please refrain from taking pictures of the host on display. Or people praying.
But, other than that, join right in!
How to Celebrate Holy Week in Mexico
There are lots of ways to celebrate Holy Week. Traditions vary from region to region, even from parish to parish. But these listed below are usually easily found anywhere in Mexico.
Observe or join in as many as you want!
Seven Churches Pilgrimage
There is a lovely tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday. At first, I thought this was just a Mexican cultural quirk. Then my parish distributed a pamphlet last year, letting me know this is a tradition with serious, Biblical roots. THEN I did some crowd-sourcing this year and found out that it’s not just a Mexican tradition, but something that’s done in any Catholic community throughout the world!
(Well, any community that has seven churches close enough to walk to within a reasonable amount of time, of course.)
On the night Jesus was arrested, he got dragged around to a lot of places. So each stop on this pilgrimage commemorates each place Jesus visited that night. The first reminds us of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46). On the second stop, we read about Jesus being bound and send to Annas (John 18:19-22). Then Jesus was taken to Caiaphas, the High Priest (Matthew 26:63-65). After that, he was sent to go on trial before Pilate, the Roman governor (John 18:35-37). Pilate then sent him to see Herod (Luke 23:8-11), and Herod sent him back to Pilate (Matthew 27:22-26). Finally, Jesus is led to his crucifixion (Matthew 27:27-31).
Which Churches to Visit?
If you’re in the city of Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico, I’ve got a great route to follow in the center of town. Granted, anyone doing this is free to visit any churches in any order. But, for convenience’s sake, this one starts at the top of the hill (Ojo de Agua), winds through downtown, and finally stops at the Church of Guadalupe. It’s all walkable, but it is a hike.
To avoid climbing up that steep hill after hiking your way across downtown, do this with a friend. One parks at Guadalupe, then carpool to Ojo de Agua, so when you’re all done, the one with the car at Guadalupe can drive you back to Ojo de Agua.
Unless you’re going for extra “pilgrimage points” for hiking all the way back uphill when you’re all done. You know–if such a thing as “pilgrimage points” exists, of course!
Ojo de Agua
Right on the site of the spring where Saltillo was founded, Ojo de Agua offers a
spectacular view of the city. While there, check out the spring (halfway down the front steps), and one of my favorite pictures of San Juan Diego (near the altar on the left side). On your way there or back, it’s worth stopping by the Lookout over Saltillo. And if you’re hiking down, you might as well wander through the Oro de Aguila neighborhood, and enjoy all the murals that cover the houses there.
But while at the church, take some time to reflect on Jesus praying for himself and his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46).
San Juan Nepomuceno
A bit of a downhill hike from Ojo de Agua is San Juan Nepomuceno, on the corner of Hidalgo and Escobedo. Take some time to check out murals while you’re there–those murals are what makes San Juan Nepomuceno worth a visit!
While there, reflect on Jesus’s arrest, and being sent to Annas. (John 18:19-22)
Keep heading down the hill from San Juan Nepomuceno. Take a right on De la Fuente, and walk for two blocks. On the corner of De la Fuente and General Cepeda, you’ll be on the southwest corner of Plaza Ateno. On the opposite corner sits the San Francisco Church. Try to get there while the sun is still up–the stained glass windows in this church are probably the best in Saltillo!
While there, reflect on Jesus being tried before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest (Matthew 26:63-65).
Looking for a slightly shorter pilgrimage? If the First Baptist Church (right next door) happens to be open, stop on in! Make it an ecumenical evening, as we’re all commemorating the same events this weekend.
From San Francisco, it’s easy to see the domes of the cathedral. Head down Calle Juarez and–BOOM–you’re there.
While there, reflect on Jesus’s first visit to Pilate (John 18:35-37).
Capilla de Santo Cristo
The doors to the left of the Cathedral go to the Holy Christ Chapel. Head on in, take in all the milagros on display on the walls by the altar area, and reflect on Jesus’s visit to Herod (Luke 23:8-11).
From the Cathedral, walk past the Government Palace. Behind it, almost on the corner of Guadalupe Victoria and Allende (OK–it’s not even half a block from Allende) is San Esteban, one of the oldest churches in Saltillo. (The oldest church in Saltillo?)
While there, reflect on Jesus’s final trial before Pilate (Matthew 27:22-26).
Our Lady of Guadalupe Sanctuary
From San Esteban, walk down Guadalupe Victoria to the Alameda, turn left and walk along the north side of the Alameda (by the Normal School on Aldama), carefully cross Emilio Carranza (there’s a lot of traffic here–pay close attention to the traffic lights and only cross when it’s safe), then turn right, walk a block to Perez Trevino, and turn right and continue on Perez Trevino to the Sanctuario de Guadalupe.
While walking all that distance, reflect on Jesus carrying his cross to his crucifixion (Matthew 27:27-31). If Jesus carrying his cross seems like a superhuman feat to reflect on, feel free to reflect on Mary accompanying Jesus on that road, giving us a great blueprint to follow, not only as Jesus’s mother, but as one of his disciples, too.
Want to do a little more reading about this tradition? Click on the link here for more information!
Stations of the Cross
On Friday (often at 11, but this varies from parish to parish), churches will gather and pray over the stations of the cross–particular moments in Jesus’s walk to his crucifixion, either in the church or through the neighborhoods.
Procession of Silence
Many, many towns have a Procession of Silence. If you really want to jump into Mexican Catholic culture (or just get a bird’s-eye view of it), respectfully attend a Procession of Silence. However–be warned!–they’re not for everyone. I’m Catholic myself, and they still kind of creep me out. Most of the procession is just like a funeral procession for Jesus. I’m totally OK with that.
But in many cities, people dress up with hoods. Given my background as a gringa, Klan-style hoods hit a little too close to home. Granted, the tradition of these hoods goes waaaay back before the Klan (or even Christianity in America). But even thinking about that, those hoods then remind me of the Spanish Inquisition, which is another period I’d rather not dwell on.
The Procession of Silence is something that can draw big crowds in a lot of cities. (If you go to San Luis Potosi for Holy Week, make sure you have have hotel reservations well in advance!) However, it’s not for everyone.
Never fear, the best bit about Holy Week is coming up!
My first few Easters in Mexico, I was hugely disappointed by Easter celebrations here. After all, Good Friday is widely observed and a big, fat, hairy deal. So wouldn’t Easter Sunday be an even bigger deal?
Yes and no.
Yes, Jesus’s resurrection is every bit a big, fat hairy deal as his death. (They really go hand-in-hand.) But, like most spectacular celebrations in Mexico, Mexicans love to jump the gun and celebrate at midnight.
OK, maybe that’s not a just Mexican thing, but a Catholic thing. Or sometimes it’s hard to separate the two!
Easter is celebrated on Saturday night (usually around 9pm) with the Easter Vigil. It starts with a bonfire, y’all. I can’t really stress the importance that this bonfire had in me becoming Catholic. (Seriously not kidding.) Every church should celebrate Easter with a bonfire.
(OK, I’d also say that absolutely everything should be celebrated with a bonfire, so maybe I’m just easy to please.)
After the bonfire–which is loaded with symbolism–everyone files into the church (or joins everyone else already sitting there and saving spaces) and we lauch into roughly a bazillion readings, starting with–literally–the dawn of time. Now that my Spanish can keep up with these, they are powerful, beautiful readings and reflections.
However, at my first Easter Vigil, I was just lost. Oh, and the church is all dark during this time, so I was honestly lost in the darkness.
But then they get to the Gospel readings and the lights come on, and it’s just breathtaking–even when one’s Spanish can’t keep up!
So that is why Easter Sunday seems a bit anti-climatic in Mexico. We already celebrated on Saturday night!
If you’re interested in joining in, check with your local parish (many have offices with mostly regular office hours) and they’ll be happy to let you know when things are happening this weekend!
Photo of palms courtesy of Valentin Salja on Unsplash.
Photo of bonfire courtesy of Toa Heftiba on Unsplash.
White Lily photo courtesy of Matt on Unsplash.