Last night, being Good Friday, the main pedestrian street was lined with people for an annual tradition known as the Procesión del Silencio or the Procession of Silence. Now in its 28th year, the parade winds its way through the downtown streets of Oaxaca de Juarez, watched by thousands of people who line the route.
Easter – or semana santa is one of the largest and most important religious holidays in Mexico. Hundreds of people from all over Mexico visit Oaxaca de Juarez to take part in traditional celebrations in the cobblestoned UNESCO city. The parade is a solemn and important event, commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion and as such, even those watching are also asked to be silent – something that everyone present obeys and enforces (ask the girl who laughed loudly in the nearby bar).
The parade commenced at 7pm after an address and shared prayer to the assembled crowd from the local bishop. Marchers set off from the church of Carmen Alto and slowly wound their way through downtown streets to the zocalo before returning some hours later.
The parade is entirely done in silence, except for solemn banging of drums by the marchers. Penitents anonymous in hooded cowls walk barefoot, some dragging large heavy wooden crosses. As they come past you can hear the rasp of the bottom of the cross across the cobblestones, and although it is not a particularly hot night, some are already drenched in sweat.
Statues and large banners from some of Oaxaca’s churches are carried by parishioners, whilst other marchers re-enact other events – such as men carrying a large coffin, and women in mourning.
Churches, individuals and families had prepared for this procession for months, and children had wet-slicked hair and shirts tucked in, and parishioners were uniform in newly screen-printed shirts for the occasion.
Sunday, being the commemoration of the resurrection is a completely different event, one full of joy and laughter; but last night the atmosphere was one of shared silent sorrow and pain. After the parade had passed, people moved from their positions, and fell quietly into step to walk together into the evening.