Somewhere, buried in the emotions and endurance of Holy Week’s brutal processions was a story angle. A child walking in their first parade, an old centurion wearing his Roman helmet and armor for the 40th straight year, a devout gringo who signed on and was carrying a shrine to St. Peter. I wanted to know about them, understand them and retell their story in some way.
But as the stream of parishioners flowed out of Oratorio de San Felipe Neri into San Miguel de Allende’s streets, it was clear that I was only going to encounter these personal tales on the surface. I was wedged between a hulky teenager and a posse of expat Texas housewives at a nearby intersection, legs locked, with little mobility, and, oh yeah, little command of Spanish. The writer in me would never get to the bottom of these stories. I was merely an observer with a 200mm lens.
This was to be the ultimate spectacle of the week: the funeral procession of the savior. Hundreds of the faithful dressed in all black, or in the garb of period piece re-enactment, waltzing somberly to the slowest drumbeat on Earth. After high noon’s broiling crucifixion ceremony, standing through five more hours of slow-motion walking might sound like torture, but it wasn’t. All I can say is that sometimes the mystery of something can captivate you so much that time, bloodless legs and cooking skin are rendered insignificant.
“You’ve found the best spot in all of San Mee-gul. How’d ya know?” asked one of the Texans. She had bleach-blonde hair that was tamed into a bob by what could only be called an ample amount of hair spray.
“I guess its because we came early and scouted where we wanted to be,” I remarked.
“Well, you’ll get great pictures from here. I do every year, but you’ve got a better camera.” It’s true, I did, but I was paying for it with a spine that had been twisted severely from the awkward weight of my camera bag and its multitude of lenses. Such is the price of devotion to a hobby.
Then again, my devotion was nothing by comparison. Take for instance, the women in black. Caught between the need to dress sufficiently dark and somber, and the need to look graceful, many of them shouldered the weight of the massive altars on top of severe, four inch heels. The simple physics equation of doing so — on cobblestones no less — befuddled Hailey.
As the minutes passed, I came to realize that we may have had the best spot in the city for viewing the procession. It hung a sweeping left turn in front of us, affording a 270-degree view as it went by. An hour into the parade, the sun passed low enough down the street to allow for amazing backlighting conditions. Flooded with sun, my 24mm, 50mm and 200mm lenses were capturing an ethereal light that washed the images with warmth.
Nothing was done the easy way during Holy Week. Midway through, music was provided by an actually orchestra, who carried their instruments — from flutes to timpanis — through the streets. Eventually, the casket and shrine of Christ — a massive 10-foot tall structure of wood, brass, glass, plaster and flowers — was ushered through the crowd by 20 men.
We were 100 yards from the starting and ending point of the procession — the Oratorio San Felipe Neri — and after the casket and shrine to Christ passed, the corridor of people dispersed and reorganized to accommodate the parade’s return. Just as they did, the front of the snaking procession (pictured below) appeared down the street in the late evening light.
By now, we were three and a half hours in, and somehow, someway, each character in the procession remained true to their part, even the children.
We stayed until nightfall — five total hours — and quietly watched as the casket and shrine of Christ passed through a corridor of lit lanterns. The crushed plants that the angels had sprinkled on the pavement (a mixture of herbs and daisies) were scattered across the cobbles, a pleasing but biting smell of tarragon hanging in the air. But as the parade rounded the last turn to head back into the church, a cleaning crew — an army of sweepers and blowers positioned in a V formation around a sanitation truck — turned the tranquil, meditative street into a buzzing dustbowl. Good Friday had come to a close.