The Friday before Good Friday is for Our Lady of Sorrows. It acknowledges Mary’s seven sorrows stretching from Jesus’ presentation at the temple to her pain at losing her only child.
Normally it is a night of public altars featuring music made just for this day in San Miguel centuries ago. Today public altars aren’t possible but if you receive an invite to visit a private altar, inside a home practicing social distancing, it is important to know what you experience.
Altars contain symbolic elements of mourning such as sour oranges, chamomile, wheat and purple cloth. Bitter oranges represent Mary’s sorrow and gold is placed on the oranges representing Mary’s tears. The wheat (grown in darkness and light gold of color) represent Jesus’ secret of knowing a horrible death awaited him and is what communion bread is made from. Chamomile is for humility. Purple, in addition to mourning, represents royalty since Mary is Queen of Heaven. The white clothes and flowers are for Mary’s purity.
Pity all the nearby farmers in town plus nearby Comonfort and Escobedo that have grown fields of chamomile just for this occasion. Without public altars those flowers are withering on the vine decimating many a livelihood.
Also you’ll find chilacayote, a kind of sweet pumpkin, representing the sweetness of Mary’s maternal love for Jesus. Along with other flavored waters the chilacayote is frozen into popsicles representing Mary’s tears changed into gifts providing joy. It is also the motivation for children, and the childish at heart, to view as many altars and receive as many popsicles as possible! Normally.
Many altars will play the music of the Tenebrae. This haunting composition was by Juan Gutierrez de Padilla especially for San Miguel’s Easter season in the mid 1600’s.
In Colonial times there were 300 factories run by the indigenous and 50 by the Spanish making fabrics like we see today in multicolored napkins for sale in in the Artists’ Market. Our Lady of Sorrows was the patroness of these workers whose work was centered around the street called Baranca. Near there, on Piedras Chinas, a small chapel was built in honor of Mary’s seven sorrows. Normally the chapel was open with street vendors providing food and drink. Fingers crossed next year will be better.
Several of the images of Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows featured in local churches (Santa Escuela, San Juan de Dios and San Francisco) are strikingly similar in appearance and are thought to have been created by the same artist. However, it was customary to not to sign religious art (an act of vanity) so the artists remain unknown.
After Vatican Two the observed day of Our Lady of Sorrows was moved to September 15th, a day before Mexican Independence Day. However, San Miguel retains the original date during the Easter season.
In recent history the local government desired a competition among the altars but the public did not like the idea of competing for Mary’s love. Instead customs nostalgic of their ancestors continued until this year.
This year the altars will all be in private homes for private viewings. Even if you can’t experience them, it is always beneficial to know what is going on around you!
Learn more with the best-selling book, San Miguel de Allende Secrets: Easter, the go-to source for this time of year in town!
by Joseph Toone
- TripAdvisor’s top tour guide in San Miguel de Allende with History and Culture Walking Tours and Joseph Toone Tours.
- Amazon’s best selling author of the San Miguel de Allende’s Secrets book series on history, holidays, tours and living in San Miguel.
DISCLAIMER: The opinions exressed herby re those of the auther and not necessarily those of the San Miguel Times.