If you have not yet read Part One of Mexico Cooks! visit to San Lorenzo Zinacantán, Chiapas, please see the article dated June 23, 2012. This three-part series was originally published during March 2008.
As we drove into Zinacantán, we noticed many large invernaderos (greenhouses) here and there on the mountain slopes. In addition to the work of artesanía (arts and crafts), there is a large flower-growing industry in the town. Roses, daisies, chrysanthemums and other flowers grow profusely in the greenhouses that dot the hillsides around this tiny town in a valley. The flowers are produced for use in the town as well as for export.
When Mexico Cooks! arrived in the town center, the parish church bells were ringing over and over again--Clang! Ca-CLANG! Clang! Clang! Ca-clang!--in a pattern that was neither the usual call to Mass nor the clamor (the mournful ring that indicates a parishioner has died). Although the Centros de Artesanía (crafts centers) beckoned and we had really come to shop, we decided to answer the call of the bells and visit the church first. Many villagers crowded the entryway, watching one of the most beautiful processions I've seen in Mexico. No photographs are permitted in either the church atrium or the church itself, and I wished so deeply that I had the talent to draw what we were watching.
Young men wearing white cotton shorts embroidered along the hems, thickly furry woven wool cotones, beribboned pañuelos and straw hats processed from a shadowy side chapel carrying huge wicker baskets filled to overflowing with every color rose petal. The procession came slowly, these young zinacantecos scattering thousands and thousands of petals throughout the candlelit main part of the church. The wooden floor disappeared under a pink, yellow, red, and white carpet. Other men wearing ritual black or white woolen cotones followed, stepping reverently on the rose petals, releasing their scent into the air along with the scent of copal burning in the clay incensarios (incense burners) they waved high above their heads.
Then followed twelve highly honored town elders dressed in even more elaborate ritual clothing bearing three life-size statues on their shoulders. The statues, each dressed in the finest ropa típica zinacanteca, represented the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and San Lorenzo, the patron of Zinacantán. The tremendous statues processed, crowned with gold and surrounded by candles and artfully arranged flowers of every description. The three saints gently tipped this way and that on the shoulders of their bearers as they moved through the nave of the church.
The first young men of the procession rained thousands more rose petals on the statues as they wended their way slowly through the small church and back into the half-light of the side chapel, where the saints were situated in places of honor in front of the communion rail and altar.
Beneath swooping banners, strings of brightly colored metal ornaments, and tired-out balloons from prior fiestas, church elders lit hundreds of candles to honor the three saints. Men clad in garments resembling ribbon-festooned woolly black or white sheep hurried back and forth placing candles in large stands, stopping to kneel and pray aloud in Tzotzil. Meantime, women elders clad in brilliant blue and teal embroidered chales (shawls) crouched on the church floor. Ritual white cotton rebozos covered their heads and faces, leaving only their black eyes visible, watching the men. The men lit candles and more candles. Young boys left greenery around the statues. In the dimness, a solemn father pinched his laughing son's ear to remind him to respect the ceremony and the saints.
When we could tell that the ceremony was drawing to a close, I asked one of the elders to tell me its significance. "This is the first Friday of Lent," he replied. "We'll have this procession the first Friday of every month from now until All Saints Day in November." He smiled, bowed briefly, and moved away from me. My partner and I walked slowly out of the church and back into the brilliant Zinacantán afternoon light. We felt that we had been centuries and huge distances away from this millennium. And of course, after that much mystical time and space travel, we were starving. Lunch! Where would we have lunch?
Next week, read Part Three as Mexico Cooks! continues its visit to San Lorenzo Zinacantán, Chiapas.
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Mexico Cooks! is traveling. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming in mid-July.