The Holy Week processions in Popayan, Colombia are steeped in mysticism, history and deep religious devotion. We wanted to experience the week-long festival firsthand and have had the incredible good fortune of being guided through the experience by Fernando Maya, my brother's business partner at the coffee farm. We know him by his nickname of Fercho and have made this trip to see him carry a float or "paso." The Holy Week processions were brought to Popayan by the Spanish conquistadors in 1556 and this year marks the 461th time they have been held without interruption.
Fercho poses with the float he carries - the Resuscitated Christ
Fercho and his family wanted to show us every step of the tradition so we went to the university where he is a law student early in the week to see him and the fellow members of his "cofradia" carry their float from storage to their church half a mile away. Due to business obligations, only four of the eight carriers or "cargadores" showed up that morning. A very surprised Mark was drafted into carrying duty and got to experience firsthand how oppressively heavy the float is even without its huge statue and decorations.
Mark is on the far left with Fercho
At the church of San Jose the carriers carefully took the statue of Christ from the nook it occupies for the rest of the year. After about an hour it was secured to a stand on the float and the preliminary decorations were attached.
The paso remained at the church until Holy Saturday when it was decorated with multicolored flowers symbolic of the joy felt by the multitudes seeing the resuscitated Christ (on Holy Saturday, he breathes life again and is resuscitated before the resurrection on Easter Sunday). The priceless emeralds, rubies, gold and silver are not added to the pasos until the very last minutes before the processions start. There is a strong military and police presence in the actual processions as well as secret security units unobtrusively guarding the treasures.
The Military Police Band
The crowds line the streets with candles
The processions take place each day of Holy Week culminating with the final float that Fercho and his cousin Felipe carry on Holy Saturday, the Resuscitated Christ. Because of its special significance, that paso is met with ringing bells at each church it passes and with flowers and applause from the adoring crowds.