Sunday, January 21, 2007

La Virgen de la O

Every year on Christmas Day this little procession makes its way across Antigua from the colonia Candelario to the Escuela de Cristo. Aside from the umpteen fajas tossed on the cobbles in its path, the entry of the Virgen de la O into the church is marked by a lively, if somewhat uncoordinated firing of morteros. This is how they looked in their box before the procession arrived. And this is how they looked after their fuses were lit:

Just under a week ago on January 15th, many thousands of pilgrims from around the region made their way to the Guatemalan town of Esquipulas, proclaimed by the last Pope "the spiritual centre of Central America". The focus of the annual pilgrimage, the Black Christ carved from dark balsam, dates to March 1595 when it was presented to the mayor by Portuguese sculptor Quirio Catano.

Yzquipulas was the name of the local Indian chieftain that surrendered to the Spanish captains Juan Pérez Dardón, Sancho de Barahona y Bartolomé Becerra in 1525, apparently without a fight. The area already housed an important pre-Colombian shrine (perhaps associated with the then abandoned ceremonial centre of Copán) and ancient Maya devotion featured 'black' deities such as Ek Ahau, "the black captain", God of War, and Ek'Chuach, protector of merchants.

In 1934 Aldous Huxley wrote that "what draws worshippers is probably less the saintliness of the historic Jesus than the magical sootiness of his image. Numinosity is in inverse ratio to luminosity."

Scott and I recently debated whether it was Huxley that (originally) observed that Atitlán is "the most beautiful lake in the world". The remark is sometimes attributed to Hemingway (amongst others) but we're not sure that that particular author ever came to the Guatemalan highlands.

No comments: