Monday, March 2, 2009

Penitence, Prostrations, and Pilgrimages...

As Lent begins, so does the season of Pilgrimages and Penitence in Mexico, proving a constant reminder of the strength of ancient and religious traditions in this country, that are still so strictly and respectfully observed today. A frequent sight on the roads of Mexico right now are pilgrims on foot....

or travelling in huge convoys of highly-decorated, ancient trucks...

or even the modern family vehicle which will do the job just as well...

This particular group of pilgrims were passing through Tepoztlan last Sunday, on their way to the Sanctuary of "El Senor de Chalma" in Cholula, State of Puebla, and it is often this juxtaposition of old and new Mexico, cheek by jowl, that makes the country so fascinating. Take the Sanctuary of Atotonilco for example, which is a penitent shrine adorned with the most vibrant of folk murals, and just a ten minute ride from the upmarket shopping, gallery, and restaurant culture of hotspot San Miguel de Allende. Yet really it is a million miles away when you browse the market stalls outside with their penitent accessories of self-flagellation whips and cords...

and actual crowns of thorns to purchase...

For an atheist outsider, it can be hard to understand rituals that may appear on the surface Medieval. The pilgrimage season culminates in the traditions of Easter. On Good Friday in the grounds of the Templo de San Francisco in Tzintzuntzan, shackled, hooded, and chained penitents crawl on their knees to reach the church to pay homage to the much revered image of Christ. Devout worshippers were so convinced that they witnessed Christ's feet pushing against the end of the coffin, that a glass extension was added to the case.

The Good Friday Passion Play here at Tzintzuntzan, is extremely elaborate and realistic, and wholly convincing with a devout set of worshippers following the young man elected to play Christ for the day enduring real beatings and flagellation beneath the burden of the heavy cross..

These traditions are still the bedrock of life in modern-day Mexico, and I don't think I have ever lived in a country whereby the connections between past and present, ritual and change, old and new are so seamless ; indeed that connective thread has been severed in so many other places long ago...

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23 comments:

Sujatha said...

Your post is so evocative! The last few lines remind me of India, itself being pushed and pulled between sameness and change, between tradition and modernity.

Leanne said...

Wow what an amazing post it must be amazing to live it. My kids when to a catholic school so I was always aware of lent - giving up things for lent etc but it certainly pales to what you have shown.

Louise said...

How interesting. I can't imagine what it is like to see this/be part of this in person..

Arija said...

I am lead to wonder whether the difference between the deeply devout and the modern restaurant culture is not one of economic origin. Would a conmpany director carry the cross?

SandyCarlson said...

Such commitment, such belief, is humbling.

Greensboro Daily said...

How have I not found your blog before now? I love all the culture and history you infuse in your posts!

Jan

Cecile/DreamCreateRepeat said...

Interesting post, as ever. Hidden pockets of such "medieval" devotion occur worldwide (think Opus Dei) but are not so culturally open and available.

A Cuban In London said...

As the 'special period' kicked off in Cuba in the early 90s bringing with it shortages and mass exodus, scenes like the ones your excellent photos tell, became more frequent in my country. Fidel tried to stifle religion but the Cuban belief in both Catholic and African gods never abated. Many thanks for your short and beautiful commentary. It's a pleasure reading your snippets of life in Mexico, a nation that I would love to visit some day.

Greetings from London.

Hey Harriet said...

Wow! That's quite something! I've never witnessed anything like that, so to learn about these traditions is really fascinating. How lucky you are to experience such a culture. And how lucky we are that you share these discoveries! Thanks again for a great post :)

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Great post. Mexico is certainly a fascinating country.

Marites said...

I am Catholic and reading your post, I can't help but wonder that we have the same traditions and similar culture. We also observe Lent and there are still people who self-flagellate themselves. It seems that modern times can't change deeply rooted culture and tradition of people.

david mcmahon said...

What an interesting post, Catherine. And I really enjoyed the photo in your previous post, too.

zeal4adventure said...

I live in a country with traditions similar to yours and these scenes are still prevalent in most provinces during lent.

Fly Girl said...

Wow. Chicago is a very catholic city with remnants of traditional beliefs still visible but nothing like this! We were taught about the necessity of denial and suffering in catholic schools but I didn't think people still flagellate themselves. Love the alliteration of the title!

Joy said...

So glad I found your blog today! I typed in "Mexico City surreal" and there you were! :-) Adding you to my blog roll!

~Joy

Tarolino said...

It is such an eye opener to get aquinted to the worlds of different people around the globe. Sitting here in one's own little niche of the world it is refreshing to see how different other cultures really are and what a rich culture potpurri the world's population have been able to build up during the ages.
Great photographs too.

Catherine said...

Hi everyone...thanks so much for stopping by and leaving me such interesting comments to read....very much appreciated...

koala said...

Wish lent was so colourful here. I'm not practicing it but at least there would be something to look at.

Merisi said...

Thank you for sharing this gem of life in Mexico with us!

I once spent the week before Easter in Taranto, in the Italian South and witnessed a similar event that originated centuries ago, very moving.

Congratulations on David's Authorblog POD award!

Crystal Jigsaw said...

I admire these people incredibly for what they achieve. Their beliefs are a wonderful example of Faith.

CJ xx

imbeingheldhostage said...

wow, this was a real treat to read, thanks for sharing this post. And- congrats on your POD mention.

My {S.T.U.F.F.} :: said...

This is such an informative and poignant post.
Thanks for sharing the insight to sacred pilgrimage.

Catherine said...

Hi everyone...thank you so much for all your appreciative comments, and for so many new people stopping by...it is always a pleasure taking the best and most distinctive of Mexico to the rest of the world...