Photos: Antigua’s Alfombras, the Beautiful Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

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Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

No one celebrates Easter quite like they do in Antigua. For the month of Lent, processions march through the streets each Sunday, carrying massive platform with statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary. But the real fun begins the Sunday before Easter, when local families and business begin creating alfombras, intricate carpets made out of dyed sawdust, grass, flowers and vegetables. It’s an incredible (and fleeting) sight.

 

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa
For days and days, people are busy dyeing sawdust — first it’s run through a screen to weed out the rough bits. Then small bags of dye are added and it’s stirred by hand. The color is adjusted as needed and this takes some skill — a seemingly green dye was added to a fresh batch and the mixer explained that the final product would be purple. I was doubtful but he proved right in the end.

 

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

The majority of alfombras are created with the use of intricately-carved plywood stencils. I asked the manager of my hotel, Yellow House, whether these were traditional patterns passed down through the family or if each alfombra was different. She explained that they save the stencils each year but that each carpet is unique, mixing and matching designs from the past or being created entirely from scratch.

I do have to give a hearty recommendation for Yellow House in Antigua — I stayed there two weeks over two visits and found it to be the friendliest, cleanest place I stayed in all of Guatemala. The free breakfast was great, showers hot (without being deadly) and the patio had a view of all the volcanos. [Full disclosure -- they did trade me three nights stay for a mention, but I wouldn't have stayed there 2 weeks if I didn't think it was a good value.] I can’t wait to go back.

 

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

The amount of detail that people managed to coax from sawdust and sand was stunning. I especially like the one with tiny penitents carrying an anda (wooden platform) and about to walk across an alfrombra of their own.

And that’s their fate — these beautiful, amazingly-detailed carpets have life spans of just a few hours. After being finished, cared for and admired by the crowds, they will soon be trod upon by a procession of thousands of worshipers.

 

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

Sawdust wasn’t the only material of choice, however. Many alfrombas were created from large blankets of grass, covered in flowers, fruits and other natural goodies. Some of the most popular carpets, judging from the huge crowds that hovered nearby, where made entirely of fruits and vegetables. The one you see here was at least 50 feet long and 10 feet wide — 500 square feet of fresh produce, stacked high and awaiting destruction.

 

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

This goes on for days and most groups will build several alfrombas over the course of the week. But the big night is the Thursday before Good Friday, when everyone stays up most of the night to assemble the most intricate, flamboyant carpets you can imagine. They race through the night to finish their creations before the procession rolls through in the early morning and destroys it all. Thankfully, the hotel provided snacks, coffee and rum to keep us going through the night.

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

And when the procession rolls through, you’d best step away. Thousands of hooded penitents roam the street with 80 of them carrying a 5,000 pound anda, moving lock-step through the cobblestone streets. A band follows close behind and more thousands of pilgrims, penitents, families and tourists follow in their wake. It’s a wave of humanity.

 

Photos: Antigua's Alfombras, the Sacred Carpets of Semana Santa

And after they’ve all passed by, a small crew of men scrape up the remains and shovel them into a small bulldozer that follows the procession. Within moments, the street is clean with only a few splashes of colorful dye showing that anything happened here at all.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather Stearns April 20, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Hi,

This is incredible and I love learning about the variety of ways people celebrate Easter around the world. I was in New Orleans for the holiday and while I don’t officially celebrate it, I enjoyed myself by taking part in the parades and watching the costume contests. It’s refreshing to see so many people come together for celebrations!

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Maria April 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm

The colors hit me immediately, then I noticed the detail in the patterns… I’m still there; scrolling up and down, exclaiming “ooooh!” and “ahhh!” – don’t think much else will be done today

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Andi of My Beautiful Adventures April 20, 2012 at 3:40 pm

You photographed these SO beautifully!!!!! I couldn’t believe these works of art when I was there for SS years ago.

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The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) April 20, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Wow, those colors are incredible! I’m not sure I would have the patience to create one of these :) What a great celebration, thanks for sharing!

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Ayngelina April 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Wow that is so beautiful, Antigua really does have the best semana santa.

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wes April 21, 2012 at 8:10 am

They do it right, for sure. It’s a bit overwhelming if you’re there for the whole week…

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Lauren April 20, 2012 at 7:03 pm

And even one alfombra depicting a QR code! That’s quite the blend of tradition and technology.

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wes April 21, 2012 at 8:10 am

Yeah! I had to add that shot in — thought it was so cool. Digital sawdust.

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James @ Fly, Icarus, Fly April 20, 2012 at 8:29 pm

That is one serious work of devotion. Too bad they can’t just play a huge piece of plexiglass over it to preserve it for just a wee bit longer! But what a spectacular form of “street art”!

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Kristin April 21, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Love your Semana Santa photos: I recognised my hands in the yellow gloves! We’re dividing Semana Santa / Lent in Antigua into two: the carpets and then the processions. I think we put the carpets blog online just a few hours before your post (there’s one shot of the gloves handling the sawdust as well as some of the same carpets – although the shots aren’t as good as yours :-(. The processions blog is ready but the internet connection here in Nicaragua is a bit hit and miss so we might have to wait until we get back to Antigua in a few days time. Hope you’re having a great time in Chiapas!

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Sophie April 22, 2012 at 4:04 am

Wow, gorgeous! Looks like Antigua is the place to be during Easter.

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Mike from Irie Bean April 22, 2012 at 5:25 pm

This IS impressive.

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Natasha von Geldern April 22, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Wow absolutely stunning and I’ve never heard of this before. Incredible photos – thanks for sharing!

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Matthew Karsten April 22, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Impressive images Wes. The amount of work that goes into the carpets is amazing. Love how you captured the whole process.

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Laura @Travelocafe April 29, 2012 at 11:59 am

Sacred carpets that are not really carpets. How interesting! So many amazing things to discover in this world!

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Eric @ Trans-Americas Journey April 29, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Great photos. Semana Santa in Antigua is AMAZING.

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Amanda May 6, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Wow, it’s so colorful! Beautiful shots!

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Carpets in Kuala Lumpur February 6, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Wow, I have no words in appreciation of this wonderful carpet, which is pure natural. I love this and it’s amazing also. I would like to say that your blog gives inspiration to us about the nature. I know in making of this carpet you did lots of work hard. Even¬† I am thinking that I’ll also try to make this for my temple and I wish I get success.

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