You Won't Believe the Way This Mexican Town Celebrates Easter

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The residents of Taxco, Mexico celebrate Semana Santa (or Holy Week) with a series of unique rituals and traditions. Some of the traditions are more or less typical, such as vendors setting up in the town square on Palm Sunday to sell palm leaves and weavings.  But at certain points during the week, all the town gathers along the streets to watch one of the most unsettling traditions of Semana Santa: the processions.

Raul Espinosa is a graphic designer here at Guff. About ten years ago, he traveled to Taxco and saw one of these processions in person. He was able to take some stunning photographs and share them with us just in time for Easter.

Here's a little bit more about what Raul saw during Semana Santa in the town of Taxco.

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1. The Sound of Chains

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The colonial town of Taxco is truly a place out of time. Its narrow cobblestone streets wind throughout the city which is itself located at the top of the mountain. Raul Espinosa had heard that the events of Semana Santa (or Holy Week) were a big tourist attraction, so he made his way there by bus and brought his camera along to capture the scenery.

"I knew it was Holy Week, and I kinda figured it was going to be some kind of outdoor party or outdoor celebration, or even just a normal parade," he said. But when he arrived at Taxco, he was not greeted with the sounds of a typical outdoor celebration. Instead, he heard the sounds of chains dragging across the cobblestone streets. He had walked right into one of Taxco's Semana Santa processions.

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2. Eerie Silence

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"I immediately took my camera out and started taking pictures because it was really crazy looking," Raul said. Many people lined the streets, watching the procession. "People were on their rooftops and patios...literally the entire town was out."

But despite the large crowds, the streets were, for the most part, eerily quiet ”” except for the sounds made by those taking part in the procession.

"Some of the men have chains on their feet, so you could hear those dragging along the cobblestones. You could also hear a lot of grunting and a lot of people were praying out loud."

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3. Animas

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During these processions, the streets are filled with penitentes (or "the penitent ones"). There are three types of penitentes. First, the Animas or The Bent Ones. These individuals have chains around their ankles and walk with their waists bent at a 90-degree angle. They also hold lit candles so the hot wax drips onto their hands. If the procession stops at any point, the Animas are only allowed to rest by going down on their hands and knees.

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4. Flagelentes

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Other penitentes are called Flagelantes. These men carry large wooden crosses which can weigh over 100 pounds in the crook of their arms. They also carry whips with metal spikes on the end. At certain points during the processions, the Flagelantes hand their crosses to attendants and whip themselves on the back.

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5. Whipping Wounds

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The whipping creates two large, bloody wounds on their backs. According to Raul, "they're not whipping themselves very hard, but the whips drag over their backs and pull at their skin...it's very, very disturbing."

The penitentes participate in these processions every night during Holy Week, so their wounds don't have a chance to fully heal before being ripped open again during the next procession.

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6. Encruzados

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Perhaps the most striking penitentes are the Encruzados. These men walk with a bundle of blackberry canes tied across their backs and outstretched arms. The canes are covered in thorns and the bundles weigh between 80 and 110 pounds. The Encruzados also carry lit candles which drip hot wax onto their hands. 

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7. A Brief Rest

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The Encruzados must carry their thorny bundles throughout the entire procession, which lasts for hours. Their only relief comes during the brief periods that the procession stops for a moment, and the attendants lift the bundle off of the Encruzados' shoulders.

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8. Hiding Their True Identities

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All of the penitentes wear horsehair belts cinched tightly around their waist as well as black fabric hoods to hide their identity. According to Raul, the reason the men choose to remain anonymous is so that the attention is not focused on the individuals but rather on the act of penitence itself. "It's more like, 'I'm doing this and it's a personal thing between me and God.'"

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9. Complete Silence

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For the last part of the procession that Raul witnessed, the streets became silent. 

"The very last [part of the] procession...was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and [there was] a moment of silence to honor the pain she felt watching her son get crucified. It was very silent...very silent." Even the tiny sound of Raul's camera shutter clicking seemed loud compared to the surrounding heavy silence.

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10. Beautiful Culture

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About his experience, Raul says "it was very eerie, but also kind of beautiful to see this untouched cultural thing that isn't common to a lot of places." The events of Semana Santa in Taxco have also definitely stuck with him over the years. "Whenever someone asks about how I celebrate Easter, this always comes up in conversation. I always end up thinking about it this time of year."

Thanks to Raul for sharing this fascinating cultural celebration with us!


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