Being a mostly Catholic country with a large religious following, Ecuador comes to life around religious holidays. Perhaps one of the most celebrated in the region is Easter and the days leading up to it. In Cotacachi we always see plenty of religious processions during Holy Week, known as Semana Santa in these parts. Good Friday always has a long procession of the faithful playing music and carrying the large pedestals with idols and other religious symbology.
This year instead of sticking around Cotacachi a friend and I spent a few days in Quito for the Good Friday events there. We arrived on Thursday and did a bit of sightseeing through Quito’s Old Town area (more on that in a later post), but the main event was on Friday.
The procession in Quito was viewed by up to 500,000 spectators (I think that is a bit of a high estimate, but that is what several folks told us when we asked) making it difficult to get close enough to see. We lucked out though when we hoofed it several blocks up the route and managed to get primo front row spots. Not a bad deal as long as you don’t mind sharing every available smidgen of your personal space (and then some!) with total strangers who are also jockeying for a view. But Suzan and I are old hat at Ecuador and its customs, so we stood our ground, cozied up to our neighbors, and enjoyed the scene.
The procession, known as “Jesus El Gran Poder” began with one of the 1,000+ police officers on hand clearing the way on a motorbike.
And then came the penitentes walking a three-mile route through the hills of Old Town Quito. First we see folks in purple robes with pointy hoods and eyehole cutouts. Remind you of anything? Believe it or not, the garb has nothing to do with the KKK. These are costumes called capirotes and they date back medieval times in Europe and are still used during Holy Week in Spain and parts of Latin America.
And then came the cross-carriers. There were crosses of all sizes and lengths being carried through the route. Most of those who carried them were dressed as Jesus and some were even surrounded by “Roman soldiers.”
Some of the crosses were so heavy that the carriers had to periodically set them down and take a rest. Or at times be replaces by someone else. Imagine carrying this enormous thing for miles up and down hills. That must take some true devotion.
But there were far more ways to suffer for Jesus. For example, the barbed wire wrapped around bare skin….
….or heavy chain shackles fastened to ankles…
….or a cactus strapped on their back. Ouch!
And finally the procession finished up with a few religious icons carried on the shoulders of believers.
The entire thing took well over four hours, though it only took two to finish passing our spot on the street. While we waited for it to finish Suzan and I made our way back to San Francisco church plaza where it would end. We sampled delicious bowls of fanesca, met a new friend from California who was wrapping up a multi-month visit to Ecuador along with her husband, and were treated to music from the sound system set up for the post-procession mass.
If you find yourself in Quito during Holy Week, definitely make the trek to Old Town for Good Friday and its festivities. It’s a little taste of Ecuadorean culture that you won’t see anywhere else or at any other time. But be sure to get there early if you want a good view of the happenings.