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Backstage at the Good Friday Procession: an Insider's View
Backstage at the Good Friday Procession
an Insider's View

by Joseph Toone

I was invited by one of my many dance students, Lupita to participate, on Good Friday last (the day Jesus dies,) in the procession where Jesus passes his mother Mary on his way to death. It was a unique experience on many levels and one I’ll long remember, often for non-spiritual reasons.

Arriving early to the Santa Escuela (the church next to the Parroquia) I first let my inner-florist loose to arrange the great abundance of flowers. Then I had the opportunity to go exploring with two little boys who are my Friday afternoon soccer buddies. I follwed them, traipsing along the roof and climbing through the rarely seen crypts. We also explored the choir loft, pulpit and other views normally reserved for the priest.

Along with statues of Jesus there were a collection of his pals: St. John, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Veronica (with her infamous veil; “veronica” actually means veil,) St. Dimas, Gespas, the Virgin Mary, gladiators and fellow crucifixion victims. When I saw that participants in the “other victims” group got to carry a skull along with their cross I instantly wanted to be in that group, but I knew with my height and build that I’d never fit into one of the purple burlap dresses they wore. Plus, I’d have to go without shoes and my clown-sized feet are hardly my best feature nor are they one that I want to press upon hot cobblestoned streets.

I’ve done enough festivals and processions around Mexico as a danzon dancer to know that everything is determined in the last minutes. So I was not surprised when suddenly I was assigned to be a ladder carrier for the St. Veronica statue. I’m pleased, having always liked the name “Veronica” (ever since Eddie Money warbled in Take Me Home Tonight, “Listen to what Ronnie says, be my little baby.”) Also, while getting acquainted with the statue, I was taught about the secret rope that, when pulled, down bobbed her head. Basically, St. Veronica’s statue was a Muppet prototype.

But I knew I’d never stay on this assignment. I didn't fit in with the rest of the group members; I’m too beefy to be seen next to a group of women in stratospheric high heels struggling to carry a statue.

Just then one of the ladies with a lantern on a pole wanted to my prop, as mine was lighter than hers. Fine by me. I was simply hoping to avoid being in a group carrying a statue as being the tallest I'd be carrying most of the weight.

Just then the group carrying the Lord of the Column (Jesus being whipped while leaning on a column) assigned me the position in the lead (a bit like Rudolf with my red hair and nose.) Given the weight, Last Supper must have been an all-you-can-eat buffet with Jesus planted at the dessert bar.  Goodness, for a lad that always looks sinewy on the cross he weighed a ton.

When I joked about Jesus’ weight the next day to my danzon teaching partner she told me it reflected the weight of my sins. I responded, if that were true, then the eight of us men could not have lifted him. At the time, I thought she was being clever, but I later learned Mexicans do believe that if carrying a saint or Virgin is heavy for you, then it is a reflection of your need to let go of your indiscretions.

With two half-pint sized adorable angels in front of me tossing flowers for me to step upon we began the procession. Our group was assigned a leader with a complete absence of charm and exceptional, but fascist organizational skills. He barely barely tolerated me, didn’t show any fondness for anyone and God help you if you tried to cross the street in front of us. He tracked those folks down like a blood hound and publicly shunned them with an aplomb the Amish would admire.

Note: You can cross a parade line since that’s a civic affair, but don’t cross a procession, a faith-based event. Crowns of thorns, whips and crosses are sure signs of a procession.

Coming from a long Gaelic line the mid-day sun was painful for me, but I did find the experience spiritually moving. This was in contrast to my experience earlier in the day when according to custom I placed my ear on the cross from Atotonilco where Jesus’ heart lie to hear his heartbeat. I did hear vibrations, but I assumed they were from folks walking on the floor around me, thus failing Faith 101.

While in the procession I was even able to push the multiple photographers out of my mind. I’m long used to being photographed when performing in the campos where white danzoneros are as common as albino unicorns. Then, I know that I don't command much attention in a photo.

Once back at and in the church I was confused as carriers like myself picked apart the bouquets. I eventually joined in to give some lilies to my student as a thanks for inviting me not knowing she had paid for many of the bouquets. Foreigners tend to not realize these events are not Church sponsored. A person (or group) will pay for the flowers, music, priest, drinks, tamales, etc. for a saint or Virgin they are personally fond us.

When I went to leave the older men at the door asked if I enjoyed the experience. I answered honestly saying, “It was an exceptional experience I’ll not forget. Nor will I forget how hard it was getting the statue up the final set of stairs.” They laughed and invited me back next year.

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Joseph Toone is Amazon's bestselling author of the San Miguel de Allende Secrets series of books and TripAdvisor's best rated historical walking tour guide. For more information contact toone.joseph@yahoo.com or visit History and Culture Walking Tours or JosephTooneTours.com, also on FaceBook.

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