The city known today as La Antigua Guatemala was founded in the Panchoy Valley on March 10th, 1543 and has an impressive legacy due in large part to having once been the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala, which stretched from the southern parts of modern-day Mexico all the way to what is today Costa Rica. The city’s historical, cultural, artisanal, and religious legacy is part of the appeal that attracts visitors from around the world.
While La Antigua is widely recognized as the center of religious activities in Guatemala during Lent and Holy Week, surrounding the city are 22 aldeas (villages) – founded in the 16th and 17th centuries – that also participate in the celebrations of the season.
It’s well known that some of the aldeas – such as San Bartolomé Becerra, San Cristobal El Bajo, San Felipe de Jesús, Santa Ana, Santa Catarina Bobadilla, and Santa Inés del Monte Pulciano – are renowned for their holy vigils and processions; however, other villages – San Pedro Las Huertas and San Juan del Obispo, for example – also conduct Lenten activities which, although they don’t receive as much publicity, are definitely worth seeing.
Getting to the villages surrounding La Antigua is easy because most of them are easily accessed by public transport or are close enough that you can walk there. On your way, you’ll be able to enjoy the scenery, and upon arriving you’ll discover postcard-like scenes of traditional, everyday life – scenes that are not always as easy to find in urban areas. If you prefer to take a taxi, in La Antigua you’ll find several – at Parque Central and at the Municipal Market – or, of you’re staying at a hotel, you can check with the staff to see if they can recommend one for you.
The villages’ churches, some very simple and some very old, have a unique beauty that skillfully combines Spanish colonial designs with elements that perpetuate the identity of the people who live there. At the holy vigil (velación) at each aldea‘s church, it’s quite common to see some of the village’s own agricultural products used to decorate the altar and to create huertos (elaborate and artistic “gardens” of fruit and vegetable offerings that decorate the floor in front of the church’s altar during velaciones). For example, it’s not unusual to see nísperos (a kind of fruit) used in the huerto at the church in San Juan del Obispo, a town known for its nísperos, or to see lush exofilia plants, grown at the foot of Volcán de Agua, in the huerto in the nearby church at San Pedro Las Huertas.
In addition to the ones in La Antigua’s surrounding villages, holy vigils, processions, and other Lenten events are celebrated to commemorate the season in the other municipalities in the department of Sacatepéquez (and in those municipalities’ villages, as well).
On Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, there are some velaciones that you should not miss. These include:
- Holy Tuesday, March 31st – Holy vigil at the church in San Pedro Las Huertas
- Holy Tuesday, March 31st – Holy vigil at the church in San Miguel Escobar
- Holy Wednesday, April 1st – Holy vigil at the church in San Lorenzo El Cubo
The processions that are celebrated on Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week include:
Holy Tuesday, March 31st – Procession in San Antonio Aguas Calientes
- Holy Tuesday, March 31st – Procession in San Juan Alotenango
- Holy Wednesday, April 1st – Procession in San Miguel Dueñas
- Holy Wednesday, April 1st – Procession in San Antonio Aguas Calientes
- Holy Wednesday, April 1st – Procession in San Lorenzo El Cubo
Visiting these places and observing how the local communities express their piety and devotion will surprise you. It’s a good opportunity to get to know these out-of-the-way corners of La Antigua and the department of Sacatepéquez. Although they’re not much mentioned or publicized, they nevertheless contribute to the rich tapestry of Guatemalan identity and culture.
Written by: Sofia Letona