19.04.2011 - 24.04.2011
One of the best things about travelling is meeting people and one of the best things about meeting people are recommendations of places to visit, hostels to stay and things to do. Some of our greatest experiences have been thanks to the tips and information we’ve received from other people. Of course there are also some recommendations that turn out to be complete disasters, “What were they thinking?” moments but that’s all part of the fun of travelling.
One such piece of advice was to spend Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Quito, in a hostel on Plaza de San Fransisco. We chose a different hostel to the one recommended but this one had a roof terrace that overlooked the plaza, which was perfect for watching the elaborate Easter procession on Good Friday. It really made our stay in Quito unique visiting during Holy Week; there was a really good atmosphere that week and I think celebrations elsewhere wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.
We arrived on the Tuesday and didn’t have much of the day left except to get our bearings in the Old Town. On Wednesday when we went for a more extensive walk around the historical area we came across the cathedral filling up with people. I’d read previously about an important Roman Catholic service that takes place on the Wednesday of Holy Week in Quito cathedral but thought nothing more of it until then. The service is called “Ceremonia de Reseña o Vísperas” or “The Dragging of the Robes” and is only allowed in three churches in the world –Seville (where it originated), Lima (as Seville’s historical underling in South America), and Quito (who answered to Lima).
I went into the cathedral for a closer look and the service hadn’t started yet so I decided to stand by a pillar at the back and watch. The cathedral filled up to the hilt with many people crammed around me. Looking around, the cathedral was an impressive building in itself. Then the bishops and priests took their places and a speaker began the service from the ornate lectern.
As part of the service the bishops processed around the cathedral followed by the Archbishop under a cloth tent held up by altar boys. The bishops were dressed all in black, representing the darkness caused by the sin of man, and the Archbishop was in purple, the colour of penance. The Archbishop carried an ornate gold cross, said to include fragments of the real cross, and the tent above him represented the protection of the Church from evil. Leading the Archbishop’s group was a large black flag with a red cross on it, red for the blood of Christ.
After the procession, during a hymn the Archbishop waved the flag over the altar, symbolising the body of Christ, then over the bishops as they knelt on the ground creating a circle of darkness. As the Archbishop finished, hitting the flag to the ground three times, the bishops rose, signifying the resurrection of Jesus.
Throughout the service everyone had their cameras out taking pictures of everything that was going on. It was interesting how much of an attraction the service was rather than just a service, if that makes sense. Most of the people there didn’t seem to be there simply for the worship but more for the spectacle.
Without a doubt though, Quito’s people are highly religious. As I said on Good Friday there was a procession through the streets with hundreds of people taking part and even more were there to watch. Many people in the procession were dressed in purple robes with pointed hooded hats (as locals protest they were pre the ku klux klan) and others were dressed as Jesus carrying crosses. There were marching bands and speakers with music all the way around.
We were on the streets for a while and trying to get back to the hotel was near impossible. By the time we got up to the roof of our hotel El Gran Poder was coming out of San Francisco church and making his procession, finishing the line. People were throwing confetti and flowers at the “float” as it went by and the army/police were holding the line behind it as best they could as people pushed to file in behind it and follow its path around the city.
In contrast to all the Semana Santa celebrations in the Old Town, when we came back to Quito a week or so later we decided to stay in Mariscal, in the New Town. Full of bars and restaurants, young hostels and tour agencies it’s a lot more modern but without the character of the Old Town. It was fun place to hang out for a few days but not somewhere I’d stay a while.
So where were we in between our visits to Quito…..the Galapagos Islands!!!