Día de Ceremonias en Chichicastenango
(Day of Ceremonies in Chichcicastenango)
Dia de Ceremonias en Chichicastenango shows men, members of the cofradias, performing rituals on the steps. The members of the cofradias wear the purple traje signifying the office. These ceremonies may include pom [incense], colored candles, flowers and alcohol. They may be simple—prayers for the well-being of a family member—or they may be elaborate rituals with deep significance for fiestas and holy days. In the plaza in front of these stairs the famous market of Chichicastenango takes place on Thursdays and Sundays but the candles, flowers and incense are sold on a daily basis in stalls situated nearby.
The steps of the Church of Santo Tomás in Chichicastenango are an important line of demarcation between the ancient Mayan religion and the Christian church. The Mayan rituals performed by the cofradia members on the steps are not permitted inside the church. The Church of Santo Tomás is one of the most active in the western hemisphere. A constant flow of pilgrims, the vast majority of whom are Mayans, enter, light candles and pray. The Church of Santo Tomás has witnessed perpetual prayers both Christian and Mayan over the centuries and a sacredness pervades the space touching everyone who enters. The steps where the ancient Mayan customs mix with the Christian traditions form a grey area which is neither truly Christian or completely Mayan. On a nearby hilltop Mayans still visit a sacred Mayan rock with a carved face called Pascual Abaj. There the pilgrims perform long forbidden rituals of the traditional Mayan religion.
Most Mayan artists because of the marginal nature of their finances have not traveled to many well known areas of Guatemala unless they have specific business there. Pedro Rafael spoke to me about doing a large painting of the palo volador. This traditional Mayan performance is only still done in a few communities, one of them is in Chichicastenango in front of the Church of Santo Tomás. I suspected that he had never been to Chichicastenango (less than two hours away) so I asked him. No, he hadn’t because he couldn’t justify the time or expense. I told him an artist couldn’t afford not to go, not to know from experience what it was like, especially before spending months on a major painting. I told him that artistic license meant he could paint the subject anyway he wanted, but I thought he should at least see the reality of it before he did. So he went. He returned transfigured, totally inspired by the ceremonies that the cofrades did in front of the church. He completely forgot about doing the palo volador as a theme.