Semana Santa in Quito
The holiest week in the Catholic calendar will soon be underway in Quito. It’s a very special time. Hundreds of events take place in churches, squares and communities both in the centre of Quito and its surrounding parishes. It’s a time of reflection and faith, but also of re-affirming traditions, culture and, of course, a celebration of life.
As we know, Easter marks the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection. The events over the weeks between Carnaval, when Lent begins, and Easter Sunday, commemorate these events and the people’s faith in multifarious ways.
Perhaps the most impressive event in Quito is the Procesión del Jesús del Gran Poder (The Procession of Jesus the Almighty), which takes place on Good Friday. Here thousands of penitents process from the foreboding wooden doors of the Church of San Francisco, in the heart of the Old Town.
The male participants (although some are women), known as Cucuruchos, are highly distinctive. They are penitents, part of brotherhoods and sisterhoods whose history stretches back centuries. They wear long purple robes with tall, conical hoods, with only small holes for their eyes and mouths. The Verónicas are made up of sisterhoods. They too don purple, but instead of hoods they wear lace veils. They represent the women who came to Jesus’s aid as he struggled to carry His cross.
Joining the more than two thousand penitents who process out into San Francisco square on their route through the streets of Quito’s Old Town, tens of thousands of people come to observe and empathise with the penitents. The streets are awash with people, made all the more dramatic by Quito’s hilly geography, making the streets look like purple rivers of faith.
Beyond the huge Good Friday procession, many others take place throughout the week. Earlier, the commemorations for Easter begin on Palm Sunday, which mark Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem. This procession begins at the Basílica del Voto Nacional and makes its way downhill into the historic heart of the city, to San Francisco square where a mass is held. Participants carry palms and branches and the sight is an emotional one to behold.
One of the most beautiful and poignant procession begins at sundown on Thursday, leading from the Basílica down to the Church of Santo Domingo, the Procesión de la Luz. The faithful process through the streets, all carrying flickering candles, a haunting sight, before reaching Santo Domingo where mass is held.
Also on Thursday evening, it’s worth joining thousands of faithful Quiteños for the Recorrido de las Siete Iglesias (the Visit of the Seven Churches). There is no particular order to the visit, but some of the capital’s most beautiful temples are open for the evening (some are closed year-round and only open for special occasions since they’re part of convents) and decorated with all their finery. Many religious treasures the churches hold can only be seen on this one evening of the year.
One of the most unique events of the week takes place on Wednesday inside the Cathedral. The Arrastre de Caudas (Dragging of the Capes or Flags) involves the high cupula of the country’s religious authorities. Here, the Bishop, with much solemnity, waves a huge flag over his prostrate religious brothers. The ceremony origins date back to Roman times and signifies the swearing of vows and renewing of faith.
On Sunday, the Cathedral also hosts the Easter Sunday mass, the most important of the week.
Events don’t only happen in the historic neighbourhoods of Quito, but throughout the city. There’s a Jesus del Gran Poder procession in the southern districts, for example. Some of the most fascinating events take places in Quito’s parishes.
On Tuesday, the small town of Puéllaro, to the northeast of the capital, plays out a marvellous procession with floats. It’s called the Procesión de las Andas (Andas are religious floats), all beautifully-decorated and lit – the procession begins in the early evening.
On Good Friday, one of the more curious traditions in Quito is enacted in the parish of La Merced, to the southeast. Here, the custom is for the Devils (locals dressed as scary devils who take their work very seriously and solemnly) take over the town and church from Good Friday until Sunday. This represents the fact that Jesus or God has died and there is a small window when evil can gain ground – until Sunday when Jesus is resurrected and the devils are symbolically chased away.
A week of commemorations and colour in Quito
Arrastre de Caudas
12h00 Miércoles de Semana Santa
Recorrido por las 7 Iglesias
18h00 Jueves de Semana Santa
Capilla del Robo, Iglesia de Santa Clara, Carmen Alto, San Francisco, La Compañía de Jesús, La Catedral & San Agustín
Procesión de la luz
18h30 Jueves de Semana Santa
El recorrido inicia en la Basílica y termina en Santo Domingo
Procesión Jesús del Gran Poder
12h00 Viernes Santo
Plaza de San Francisco, calles del Centro Histórico
Procesión Jesús del Gran Poder (Sur)
12h00 Viernes Santo
El recorrido inicia en la Iglesia de la Virgen del Quinche (Barrio La Unión)
Procesión del Silencio
18h00 Viernes Santo
Iglesia de Santo Domingo
Bendición del Fuego
Parque Central de Alangasí
Misa Pontifical de la Resurrección de Cristo
Pontifical Mass of the Resurrection
La Catedral – Plaza Grande