By Brian Snyder
The high desert of northern New Mexico, with Taos as its unofficial capital, is a confluence of cultures and eras. Native American, Spanish, Mexican and American cultures co-exist and show themselves in both modern and old ways. Holy Week in this area is celebrated in a very public manner within the safety of the region, beyond the notice of much of the rest of the United States. The rites and customs are very much of the place and cultures found there.
On Holy Thursday a youth group re-enacted the Stations of the Cross at the Sanctuario de Chimayo. The Sanctuary is a church built over a source of sacred dirt that is believed to have healing powers. It is also the destination for thousands of pilgrims from all over during Holy Week. The youth group from Our Lady of Sorrows church in nearby Bernalillo has been doing the performance for years, with new teenagers replacing the previous year’s every year or two. The whips hitting the man playing the role of Jesus are real (though the blood is make-up) and the teens are convincing in their roles as Mary, the women of Jerusalem, Veronica and Roman soldiers.
If the pilgrimage at Chimayo is well-known and better publicized, the pilgrimage in Ranchos de Taos and Talpa on Good Friday is a very local, traditional and communal activity. The several mile walk begins at the famous San Francisco de Asis church in Ranchos and from there the Stations of the Cross are marked in various fields, front yards, moradas, and capillas along the route. Four men carry a large cross and lead the procession, with several hundred believers following behind. In many ways Good Friday is the apex of Holy Week. Worshipers, including many young people, pray out loud, sing, and even chat and laugh with one another as they make their way through the countryside.
The moradas, which are unsanctified chapels, are the spiritual home of the Hermanos, a private, secretive, lay group of Catholic men with a history dating back hundreds of years. During Holy Week the Hermanos worship at the moradas and welcome the pilgrims as they pass by on their walk. With the Hermanos are a group of girls dressed all in black, including black veils, representing Veronica (who in the Bible wipes Jesus’s face).
The Hermanos are also parishioners at the local Catholic Churches and share rites with the church, including an Adoration of the Cross on the evening of Good Friday in Santa Cruz.