Semana Santa in Quito

28/Abril/2011 | 17:39


There are a few events every year in Quito that bring hundreds of thousands of people together: Ecuadorian Independence (August 9-10th), the Founding of Quito, or Fiestas de Quito (December  6th), and Semana Santa, or Easter Holy Week,

Holy Week (happening next week, April 17th – April 24th) is a chance for visitors to witness Quito's most significant public  expression of faith.

Below we explain the significance of the celebrations and where they can be observed.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday commemorates the entrances of Jesus into Jerusalem where he was welcomed with olive and palm branches as a symbol of peace.  The tradition is notable throughout Quito.  Decorative items are woven and made of palm leaves, taken to mass where they are blessed, and then returned to the home where they remain until the following year at which time they are burned and the ashes used during the ceremonies of Ash Wednesday.

In Quito, the Wax Palm (Palma de Cera) is traditionally used as the source of leaves for making branches.  The wax palm is a natural tree found throughout Ecuador between 800-3000 meters above sea level.  Continued use and abuse of the tree has put it at risk. In recent years, conservation efforts by the city of Quito, Environmental Police and the Catholic University have emphasized the correct management of wax palm and the use of alternative plants for Palm Sunday celebrations. 

How to Observe Palm Sunday:

Event: Mass; When:  Sunday, April 17th; Where:  Mass will be celebrated at all churches throughout the city.

Arrastre de Caudas   (Miercoles Santo)

Anyone visiting Quito during Holy Week will have the unique opportunity of witnessing a ritual not practiced anywhere else in the Catholic world.  It is called the “Arrastre de Caudas” or translated to English: the “Dragging of Capes”.   It is a ritual that originates from the Roman Empire, during which time the army would pay homage to a fallen general by waving a flag over his soldiers in a symbolic act of passing his valiance and spirit to his troops. 

The tradition was adopted by the Catholic Church and at one time performed throughout the Catholic world, but is now only performed in Quito.  In place of a fallen general, the ceremony is performed in honor of Jesus.  The Archbishop waves a large flag (black with a red cross) over his followers (called canónigos) who are prostrated before him, symbolically transferring the spirit of Jesus.

How to Observe the Ceremony

Event:   Arrastre de Caudas; When:  Wednesday April 20th, 12pm; Where:  Cathedral Church, Independence Plaza, Quito

Good Friday - Procession of Jesus of Great Power (Jesus de Gran Poder)

 There is no greater spectacle that displays the importance or power of the Catholic religion for Quiteñans, than the procession of "Jesus of Great Power" on Good Friday. 

More than a quarter of a million people will descend on the Plaza of San Francisco, some to observe, others to participate.  At 12pm noon, the hour in which Pontius Pilot condemned Jesus to death, the procession begins from the San Francisco Church, and retuly 3 hours later, the hour in which Jesus was crucified.  

During the procession the image of Jesus is preceded by 800 persons dressed and veiled in purple garments.  The men are known as Cucuruchos (meaning, “cone” for their pointed headdress) and the women are called Veronicas, after the woman who is thought to have offered her veil for Christ to wipe his face.  The cones are a sign of humility; the purple, the color of penitence.   Those who wear them do so as an act of faith, between them and God, but for all to witness during the procession.

How to watch the parade:

Event:   Procession of Jesus of Great Power; When:  Friday, April 22nd, 12pm-3pm, Where:  San Francisco Church and Plaza and parade route

Ritual of the devils - Local Celebrations

If the Procession of Jesus of Great Power is the most conspicuous of all celebrations during Holy Week, then the parish celebrations, such as the procession of La Merced and the Ritual of the Devils, in Alangasí, is the most overlooked.

If you have spent Holy Week in Quito, take the final day to leave the city and drive 45 minutes into the valley of Los Chillos.

The procession of La Merced, on the night of Good Friday, follows the Mass of the Seven Words (the last seven words spoken by Christ before his death).  The procession is one of silence and sadness. 

Like the cucuruchos of Jesus de Gran Poder, the holy souls (almas santos) flank the procession in La Merced.  Their cone shaped headdress reaches as high as ten   meters in the air.  Those with black cones represent the souls in purgatory (almas en pena), who are paying for their sins, while those in white cones represent the free souls (almas puras), who entered heaven alongside Jesus.

Ten minutes away, in the Parish of Alangasí, similar celebrations get underway.  On Saturday, the Mass of Glory celebrates Jesus' rise from the dead.   During the Mass, as the word "Glory" (Gloria) is verbalized by the priest for a second time, from among the church goers a cast of devils are driven from the church. 

Literally, two dozen devils exit the church or appear from hiding in the town square, and make a scene across the street, where later they will gather at the house of the “Priosta”, the financial sponsor of the celebration.  There, they continue the celebration with food and drink and a cleansing ritual using smoke.

How to Observe the Parish Celebrations

The Metropolitan District of Quito contains 33 parishes (parroquias), each with their own traditions.  During Holy Week, many perform their own distinct processions, masses, and ceremonies, such as in La Merced and Alangasí.

Friday, April 22nd,  La Merced,  Procession de Via Crucis y Misa de las Estaciones,  7  30am – 4pm 

Saturday, April 23rd,  Alangasí,  Ritual of the Devils, 6pm-1130pm

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Tags : Ecuador  Quito  Turismo  Ecuador Tourism