Huertos (which in Spanish means “gardens”) are a special kind of altar display that are designed to accompany a velación (holy vigil) in which a biblical passage, a parable, or the Passion of Christ is celebrated. The symbolism of the garden speaks of abundance and redemption, using fruits and vegetables to decorate the story being told.
Holy vigils (velaciones) are a traditional part of Lent and Holy Week. A velación is a representation inside a church of a biblical passage or a parable, elements of which will later be carried during a procession.
As part of the preparations for holy vigils, churches put their finery on display, using curtain backdrops and special decorations, as well as adorning the church with flower arrangements, candles, and offerings for the religious statues (imágenes).
The history of processions in Guatemala goes back to the period after the Spanish conquest, when the first religious brotherhoods were established. These cofradías would display religious statues (or imágenes) – usually made by Guatemalan artists and artisans – carried on small wooden platforms. The first procession was held in Antigua took to the streets on March 10th, 1543, and since then a colorful and creative tradition of devotion has grown and developed.
Ash Wednesday is highly important for Christians because it marks the beginning of an important spiritual season. With the marking of the faithful’s foreheads with ashes, 40 days of preparation begins before the reliving of the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
For those who anxiously await the arrival of Lent, there are calendars as well as other methods to ascertain the dates when each of the activities will take place. For those who enjoy learning all the little details that enrich any story, there are some symbolic elements that herald the imminent arrival of the season.
During the Spanish colonial period, cofradías or religious brotherhoods were organized in Guatemala by priests who came to Central America from Spain to evangelize the Indigenous inhabitants. Four cofradías were founded among those living in the Spanish-ruled Kingdom of Guatemala; these were responsible for the upkeep, artistic decoration, and maintenance of the kingdom’s chapels.
An hermandad is another type of brotherhood association; it’s composed of Catholic parishioners who join together to perform religious works and whose membership is based on the veneration of a particular religious statue (imagen) or on membership in a particular parish church.
These brotherhoods – both cofradías and hermandades – work with parish churches and conduct activities that allow them to raise funds in order to carry out activities related to the preservation of the church’s traditions and celebrations.
During Lent and Holy Week, the planning and celebrating of holy vigils, processions, and concerts of seasonal music is done by the church’s hermandad and the cofradía. These brotherhoods also keep parishioners and others informed about processions, holy vigils, and other events, as well as all the attendant details and planning related to those celebrations.
Members of the hermandad ensure that each activity is conducted with order and respect for both the church and the imágenes that are venerated there. In addition, members of the brotherhoods, along with church authorities, control the order of the processions’ elements, the bands and the dirges they play, the processional routes, and other details.
Brotherhood members must at all times be worthy representatives of the church and its principles and have love and respect for the imagen they venerate.
Written by: Sofía Letona
Photos by: Raul Armas