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The Thursday before Ash Wednesday

by sanmigueltimes
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The Thursday before Ash Wednesday (start of Lent, or the 40 days leading up to Easter) is called the Santo Viaje, or Sacred Trip.  Pilgrims meet at 5AM in the Chapel of Good Health to recreate a pilgrimage started by the founder of the Oratorio order, St. Felipe Neri, back in 1500s Rome visiting seven churches and a graveyard.  The point of the pilgrimage is to pray and ready oneself for Lent in a more serious way than cracking confetti filled eggs on each other in the jardin.

Our Lady of Good Health was standing room early with about fifty folks of a 80/20 male/female ratio.  That surprised me as pilgrimages are often more female heavy.  Also the men present were largely under thirty.  It made think of my twenty-something daughter who is looking for a lad to build her life around.  She should cast her net here as there are plenty of fish.

It reminded me of teaching English and it wasn’t unusual for a teen boy to invite a lass to a mass or pilgrimage.  The ladies likey as it shows the suitor has an interior life which is appealing.

The pilgrimage starts with a mass and I wished I had known that as I would have slept an extra hour and slid into the standing room only chapel at the end.  Much like I did as a teen to grab a bulletin I’d leave in the car so my parents “knew” I went to mass.

Next we gamboled through the darkness to the chapel of St. Dominic’s which gave me concern.  The one and only time I was in this church (it’s not often open) the Dominican nuns there were having none of me.  I don’t know if it was because I was a foreigner, or a man, but they shooed me right out.  Surprising, since the Brides of Christ normally like me.

Again, with standing room only, the nuns didn’t notice me and we quickly sashayed down to the Franciscans’ Third Order temple.  Another rarely open church it hosts an extensive collection of Colonial era paintings.

Next was sunrise and the Santa Escuela, or St. Raphael’s, next to the Parroquia, arguably my least favorite church.  Built by a priest obsessed with pain and suffering bringing one closer to God, the church is all about the Crucifixion (excluding the Resurrection’s happy ending).

Unfortunately, this visit was a long one as a rosary got said.  Lucky for me I wear a rosary and am frequently surprised how often in Mexico saying a rosary pops out of thin air so it’s good to have one on hand.

The length of the rosary gave me time to study all the players in the Crucifixion dioramas.  There is Gespas, the bad thief, modeled after a local butcher.  I can only hope his meat showed better as Gespas in art is not a looker.  Unlike the handsome Dimas, the good thief, on the other side of Jesus.  Knew a man that when ill and escorted by his two daughters would exclaim “Here I am again, stuck between Dimas and Gespas.”

Then there is Saint Mary Magdalene, arguably one of the most famous and famously misunderstood women in history in her signature red, but not for being a scarlet woman.  For centuries Mary Magdalene was presented as the whore Jesus befriends versus what she was, a wealthy and politically connected woman.  Also Mary Magdalene was whom Jesus first appeared to after his resurrection.  Nope, not his Mom or an apostle, it was Mary from Magdala he was most anxious to get in contact with following death.  Obviously she was important to him.

Following the crucifixion, the Roman emperor made clear he’d believe Jesus came back from the dead if an egg Mary presented him turned red.  Mary picked up the egg and it turned red convincing the emperor and starting the tradition of coloring Easter eggs.

Suddenly at 8AM we were given a breakfast break for two hours.  I was surprised, assuming the pilgrimage was continuous and would include a bagel with smear as we were walking.

Meeting back at the Parroquia that was actively preparing for the next day’s Lord of the Conquest celebrations, led to much sunnier and warmer walk to the Immaculate Conception.  Here I admired both how the young lads from the choir were each given parts to lead the service and their version of Ave Maria, the only church song I ever liked, though I still prefer Whoopi’s version from Sister Act.

Next were the St. John of God church and graveyard.  Frankly, it was nice to have a change of venue before, I thought, heading home to the Oratorio.  But the group took a surprise left into the Saint Ann church, the eighth of seven churches.  Frankly, I’ve never understood counting here.  “See you in eight.” Means a week from now, which I think would be “See you in seven.”

That’s OK though as I got to view the boys’ choir walk down the aisle again and the one lad just cracked me up every time.  He was a human bumper car hell-bent on running into the other boys and making them laugh.  I thought he’ll grow up to be a grand politician or, if nothing else, a fun Dad.

While on the pilgrimage I learned of another that takes place on Good Friday.  Normally I’m carrying a statue in the main procession and sleep through the late afternoon following all that time in the sun.  (Coming from of long line of intermarrying Gaelic vampires, I find daylight exhausting.)

Here I’ve been enjoying a siesta while Mary is taken from the Calvario chapel (named for the hill Jesus dies on) to her chapel modeled after her home in the Oratorio symbolizing Mary’s walk home alone after Jesus’ death.  Saturday then starts the processions for Mary of Solitude, or Mary being left alone on this plane between Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Here I had lived a lifetime and never once pondered how Mary got home after Jesus’ death.

Even after authoring six best-selling books on San Miguel’s history and culture I’m still learning new stuff every day and it is part of the fun of living here!


Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series.  All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays.  Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA.  Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkingTours.com, and JosephTooneTours.com.

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