Third in a series
One of the reasons we wanted to travel to San Luis Potosí was the famous Procession in Silence, which recreates the Via Crucis, or Christ’s final walk to the crucifixion. While a number of towns in Mexico reenact the crucifixion and the procession, few do it in silence or at night. The one in SLP is quite dramatic, taking place just after nightfall, and the city dims or extinguishes many streetlights to enhance the drama of the marchers with candles.
This tradition just celebrated its sixtieth year in SLP, and about two thousand people from twenty eight different cofradías (Catholic religious brotherhoods) meet in the Plaza del Carmen to participate in the procession. Each of the cofradías carries a representative figure or sculpture from the Via Crucis of Jesus Christ and each has its own colorful and dramatic livery, many of which are characterized by a pointed hat with a drape that covers the face and neck, called a capirote.
The capirotes have an interesting tradition, well away from anything cooked up by the KKK. In the middle ages in Spain, those condemned to death were dressed in robes with a capirote on their heads, and then led to the gallows thusly dressed. During the Spanish Inquisition, those condemned for religious crimes were also similarly dressed before executions, with the addition of a sign hung around their necks detailing their crimes. For those reasons, in Spain and in Spanish-speaking countries, a capirote has become associated with disdain, disapproval, mockery, and derision. Incidentally, we also have shades of that in the Anglo world with the dunce cap. In the Procession of Silence, by wearing such a hood the penitents are attempting to put themselves into Jesus’ position as he was marched to Calvary, lugging the cross on his back, mocked and jeered by the crowd. It’s an interesting mode of penitence, and of course adds a certain drama to the procession as well.
The procession starts at dusk on Good Friday, when the leaders sound a trumpet call, and then the groups proceed silently into the street mourning the Passion and Death of Christ. The lowered lighting in the streets makes way for the faithful carrying candles and only a drumbeat marks the pace. Remarkably, the audience stays pretty quiet too and the overall effect is one of great solemnity and tradition.
The first cofradía is the Brotherhood of Carmen with the figure of the Virgin of Our Lady of Solitude, also called “La Dolorosa” due to the sad expression on her face at the impending death of her son. This figure or float, weighing over a ton, is carried by 40 men on their shoulders. The floats all have long legs, so the men can rest when the march comes to a stop. Most of the figures carried are large, and heavy, and this, combined with the length of the procession (a smidgen more than a mile), causes many stops, so the float bearers can regain their strength to continue.
The march lasts a couple of hours and wends around the Centro Historico. (To download a map with the route (highlighted in purple), click here.) At times during the procession the “Saeta,” a short, plaintive verse that breaks the rigidity of drums is heard. The last cofradía making the route is “La Soledad,” and its return to the Temple of Carmen marks the end of the commemoration.
As you can see from the photos, this is a VERY well-attended event. In fact, everyone warned us that Good Friday and Saturday were crazy in SLP’s Centro Historico, and we were actually glad to have moved to a hotel farther out of the Centro as we’d have to leave the next day, and we didn’t want to get stuck in a giant traffic jam. The night of the Procession, we were EXTREMELY fortunate to find a second-floor restaurant on the Procession route with a balcony. Even more lucky for us was the fact that the restaurant was fairly small, with maybe eight tables, so we could pretty much go to the balcony to see whenever we wanted to. Since the menu was prix fixe for the evening (and not very expensive at that), we felt no pressure to leave. So we spent a bit more than two hours in this restaurant, drinking beers, eating dinner, and watching the procession. It was a magical evening.
Next up on the Magical Mexican Mountain Town Tour is Zacatecas, a beautiful eighteenth century town built of pink cantera and funded by abundant silver mines.