On Good Friday, the day Jesus dies, I was invited by one of my many dance students named Lupita to participate 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 (church next to the Parroquia), and after letting my inner-florist loose to arrange flowers, I had the opportunity to go exploring with two little boys that are my Friday afternoon soccer buddies. Following traipsing along the roof and climbing through the rarely seen crypts, we explored the choir loft, pulpit and other views normally reserved for the priest.
Along with statues of Jesus there are his pals St. John, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Veronica (with her infamous veil, Veronica actually means veil), St. Dimas, Gespas plus the Virgin Mary along with gladiators and fellow crucifixion victims. When I saw that the other victims got to carry a skull along with their cross I instantly wanted to be in their group but knew with my height and build 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 one I want to press upon hot cobblestoned streets.
I’ve done enough festivals and processions around Mexico as a danzon dancer to know everything happens in the last minutes so I’m not surprised when suddenly 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.” Plus 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 an ancient Muppet prototype.
But I knew I’d never stay on this assignment. I’m too beefy to be seen next to a group of women in stratospheric high heels struggle carrying a statue.
Just then one of the ladies with a lantern on a pole wanted to switch props as mine is lighter. Fine by me. I was simply hoping to avoid being a lad in group carrying a statue as I’d be the tallest which makes me carry most of the weight.
Just then the lads carrying the Lord of the Column (Jesus being whipped while leaning on a column) assign me Rudolph’s position in the lead (red hair, red nose, close enough). Suffice to say the Last Supper was obviously an all-you-can-eat buffet and Jesus was planted at the dessert bar. Goodness, for a lad that always looks sinewy on the cross he weighs 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, 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 if carrying a saint or Virgin is heavy 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 begin the procession. Our statue is assigned a leader with all the absence of charm, and exceptional organizational skills, of a Nazi. The lad barely seemed to tolerate me, but he 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.
Sidebar: You can cross a parade line since that’s a civic affair, but don’t cross a procession, a faith-based event. The crowns of thorns, whips and crosses are sure signs of a procession.
Coming from a long line of Gaelic vampires the mid-day sun was painful but I did find the experience spiritually moving. More so than earlier in the morning placing my ear on the cross from Atotonilco where Jesus’ heart lie to hear his heart beat. I did hear vibrations but assumed it was folks walking on the floor around me thus failing Faith 101.
While in the procession I was even able to turn off the multiple photographers in my mind. I’m long use to being photographed when performing in the campos where white danzoneros are as commonly seen as albino unicorns. Plus I’ve seen me in photos and Cindy Crawford rests easy no matter how many lenses capture me.
Once back 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.