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Medieval pageantry in Colombia - part two off the beaten path


The Holy Week processions in Popayan are certainly unique enough to merit another mention. They are, in fact, on the Unesco list of "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity." We were especially struck by the passion of young people in continuing the tradition that goes back to 1556. Our guides were not older ladies or gentlemen with time on their hands as might be expected. We were introduced to the Holy Week or Semana Santa processions by two handsome and gracious men in their 30s who were born into the tradition, second cousins Fernando Maya and Felipe Duran. Fernando is a law student and my brother's business partner at the coffee farm. Felipe is an orthodontist with a busy clinic in the heart of the city. But for Holy Week each year, they drop out of their modern lives and take on the roles that their ancestors have passed down for centuries.

Fernando Maya, left, and Felipe Duran carefully remove the statue they carry from its nook at the Church of San Jose.

The family heritage includes not only carrying a float in the processions, but also woodworking and sculpture. Their grandfathers had learned the artistry from their fathers who had learned from their own fathers. Although Fernando doesn't consider himself an artist, one of the floats includes a decorative ladder that his grandfather taught him to construct several years ago. The statues that are carried nowadays go back in inspiration to the original ones crafted in Spain in the 1500s and in Quito, Ecuador, the artistic center of the Spanish realm in the New World. Dressing for the evening of the procession is also a serious matter overseen by Felipe's mother, Cristina, who became an expert helping to dress her own father when she was just a child. The clothing is just like the garbs worn in the 1500s from the caps down to the sandals.

Cristina helps dress Felipe while his aunt and wife look on.

Fernando is assisted by his Aunt Cristina

Jessica, Fernando, Susana and Felipe are ready for the procession to begin

The float that Fernando and Felipe carry is the final one in the procession

Even at midnight Fernando is still smiling

It was a stunningly beautiful evening

Among the treasures of the Cathedral of Popayan is a statue of the Virgin ascending to heaven from a globe of the earth. The statue used to be a centerpiece of the Easter Week processions when it was adorned with a golden crown covered with emeralds. The crown was sold to a private collector in the early 1900s and was recently bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The "Crown of the Andes," as it is known, went on display at the museum last year. You can experience a bit of Popayan's Holy Week right in New York City.

The Crown of the Andes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

The Virgin at the Popayan Cathedral wearing a less impressive crown

#HolyWeek #Colombia #SemanaSanta #Popayan

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