Holy Week/Palm Sunday procession, Medellin Colombia: 4/14/2019
Holy week, and Easter itself are a major part of the religious calendar in heavily Catholic Colombia. Friends invited us to go downtown Medellin to see the Palm Sunday procession, and to visit that section of town. We may have been the only four people there who were simply watching, instead of participating. Still, it was very colorful, interesting, and highly reflective of the culture. Though Colombianos observe a respectful distance between their religious and civic affairs, they do savor their holy holidays.
Catedral Basilica de la Inmaculada Concepción de Maria, Medellin
There are processions for La Semana Santa* all over Colombia, and in every part of Medellin. We chose to watch from the neighborhood of the central cathedral, in the city center.
Front entrance of Catedral Basilica Inmaculada de la Concepción de Maria
The basilica of the immaculate conception of Mary is the oldest church in Medellin, and the seat of the archdiocese. It is also the largest cathedral in South America that's made entirely of bricks! Construction began in February 1875, and was completed in 1930.
Police presence, always, even in church
The main altar of the cathedral resembles the high altar at St. Peter's in the Vatican. There is always a police presence at large gatherings in Medellin, a vestige of the bad old days of violence. Our amigos informed us that the men in green are there to discourage any improper activities. The old cathedral is in an old, careworn part of town called El Junín. It was at one time the chi-chi part of Medellin, but no longer.
The side altars are the size of some churches
I'm no good at guesstimating the size of large buildings, but I'd say this cathedral could house a football field with room left over for a few concession stands. The church is 97,000 square meters (1,038,000 SF!), ceiling is 66 meters (215 feet) above the floor, and the edifice contains 1 million, 120 thousand bricks.
El Cristo de Perdón, the Forgiving Christ
One of the most famous painters in Colombia, Francisco Antonio Cano has one of his pieces on display inside the north transept of the Cathedral.
The procession began inside the cathedral. Outside, Most Reverend Ricardo Antonio Tobón Restrepo, the archbishop of Medellin addressed the crowd, and the parade marched on. Our amigos indicated that the crowds get smaller every year, but it was still a raucously reverent event.
A young worshipper with his leaves
Colombian kids are perhaps the cutest in the world, and there were a lot of them posed just like this ninó, atop papá's shoulders. One thing to note: True palm fronds have been discouraged for the annual rite. Due to devotional use by Colombians, the palms were disappearing so fast that the diocese forbade their use. Many other leaves and branches have been substituted, yet another indication that Medellin is highly proprietary about its environment, and conscious of the status of trees in the ongoing air quality puzzle.
Statues of Saints
One of the traditions most revered for processions during Semana Santa is the task of carrying the statues of various saints. The ones featured above would be carried on the shoulders of men selected by the church. The honored individuals appeared to be all men. Our friends told us that in other countries, Guatemala for example, women are often selected for the honor.
These men are preparing to carry the statues in the procession, a high honor during Semana Santa.
And the procession begins
Christ enters Jerusalem, the first Palm Sunday
Though I left my religious affiliation behind many years ago, there is still a fascination with the rituals, the traditions, the music, and the history of the Catholic church. I'll always remember the smells and the bells, a big part of my past life. I'm happy for the Colombianos who still believe, and whose lives are enriched by this annual tradition. It's very colorful, and I'm glad it brings them comfort.
*I've changed the title and references to Holy Week in Spanish. It's officially referred to as La Semana Santa, though we hear it used either way. Thanks for reading.