A Passion Play in Purple: Quito’s Good Friday Procession – Notebook and Image Gallery

A man, tired from carrying a cross during the Good Friday procession in Quito, Ecuador, takes a brief break.

There really are no limits to the ways one can illustrate devotion to one’s faith.

At yesterday’s annual Good Friday Procession in Quito, that devotion took on a multitude of forms I’ve never witnessed: dozens carried or pulled heavy crosses, others marched with shackles wrapped around their bruised ankles, and still others, bleeding from the barbed wire they wrapped themselves in, self-flagellated with ropes and sticks as prayers and hymns hummed through scratchy speakers that lined the procession route through the Ecuadorean capital’s historical city center.

A boy wearing a purple headdress and veil carries a cross during the Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.
A boy wearing a purple headdress and veil carries a cross during the Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.
Several thousand people, some carrying crosses, participate in the annual Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.
Several thousand people, some carrying crosses, participate in the annual Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.

It was a profession of faith for the several thousand who walked, many of them barefoot, and day-off entertainment for some 250,000 others, according to organizers’ estimates, who lined the streets to watch.

This was the 54th edition of Jesús del Gran Poder, or “Jesus of Great Power”, which in those five decades has grown into one of the largest and most colorful Roman Catholic Holy Week events in Latin America. More than ninety percent of Ecuadoreans consider themselves Roman Catholic, who collectively help make this one of the country’s largest annual gatherings, second in size only to Ecuador’s National Day celebrations.

A man wrapped in barbed wire and wearing a Cucurucho, a pointed cone headdress, participates in the annual Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.
A man wrapped in barbed wire and wearing a Cucurucho, a pointed cone headdress, participates in the annual Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.

Beginning at the large Plaza de San Francisco in the heart of Quito’s historical center district, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the route worms its way some 20 blocks north through the city’s narrow and steep cobblestone streets, pauses at the grand Basilica del Voto Nacional, the largest neo-gothic Basilica in the Americas, before circling back to the plaza, one built atop a destroyed Incan temple, where a closing mass is celebrated.

The start and finish times are set to coincide with the hour Jesus was condemned to death (noon) and the hour in which he was crucified (3pm). That was the plan, announced and advertised. But things changed.

When I arrived at the sprawling plaza at 11, the procession was already underway. I was told that the volume of those joining the procession was so large that an earlier start was required. “That usually happens,” I was also told. So I followed the sea of purple cones.

There’s a strong theatrical element to the procession, one built upon a foundation of Old World Catholic traditions that date back several centuries.

A man with an artificial leg carries a cross through the streets of Quito, Ecuador during the city's annual Good Friday Procession.
A man with an artificial leg carries a cross through the streets of Quito, Ecuador during the city’s annual Good Friday Procession.

The central role is played by the Cucuruchos and Veronicas, both garbed, head to toe, in shades of purple. The former (mostly) men, their faces hidden, wear tall cone-shaped headdresses; the latter, named for the woman thought to have offered her veil to Jesus so he could wipe blood and sweat from his brow, are women, their face covered by thin lace veils.

Purple is the color of penitence, and the cones are said to symbolize humility. I have a slightly hard time with the latter; in my experience the only people who hid their faces and wore cones were members of the Ku Klux Klan.

A woman dressed in purple representing Veronica, the woman thought to have offered her veil to Jesus to wipe his face, participates in the annual Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.
A woman dressed in purple representing Veronica, the woman thought to have offered her veil to Jesus to wipe his face, participates in the annual Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.

The daily El Comercio estimates that 1500 Cucuruchos and about 300 Veronicas participated. I think those numbers veer to the conservative side.

Real blood does flow from the cuts caused by the heavy chains and barbed wire that some penitents are bound with, just as real as the pulpy welts on the backs of those who choose self-flagellation as their penance of choice. But much of it is make-up, painted on the faces, chests and backs of young and old who participate in this passion play before an audience of thousands.

Self-flagellation. Good Friday procession in Quito, Ecuador
Self-flagellation. Good Friday procession in Quito, Ecuador
A man with shackles around his ankles pulls a cross through the streets of Quito, Ecuador during the city's annual Good Friday Procession.
A man with shackles around his ankles pulls a cross through the streets of Quito, Ecuador during the city’s annual Good Friday Procession.

There were Roman soldiers, dozens of Jesuses with really bad fake beards and lots of vendors, too, hawking fruit salads, Jesus portraits, popsicles and water, sweet espumillas, knitted children’s socks, umbrellas and even small plastic chairs — two for five dollars for the latter.

I didn’t buy a chair, but I wanted to get one for a young boy who was visibly struggling with a cross that was his to carry but not his to bear. He looked out of place. There was nothing theatrical about the strained look on his face.

A young boy strains under the weight of a cross he's carried in the annual Good Friday procession in Quito, Ecuador
A young boy strains under the weight of a cross he’s carried in the annual Good Friday procession in Quito, Ecuador

Several more images below, twenty in all. If that’s not enough, I also put together a longer slide show comprised of 66 images.

The soundtrack? Fuath by Fields of Ohio from the album “Without Love We Are Dangerous”.

Enjoy!

 

A man with blood painted on his face and wearing a thorn crown carries a cross during the annual Good Friday procession in Quito, Ecuador.
A man with blood painted on his face and wearing a thorn crown carries a cross during the annual Good Friday procession in Quito, Ecuador.
A quick pause after a long walk: a young boy marching in the annual Good Friday procession in Quito, Ecuador
A quick pause after a long walk: a young boy marching in the annual Good Friday procession in Quito, Ecuador
A young boy carries a statue of Jesus carrying a cross during the Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.
A young boy carries a statue of Jesus carrying a cross during the Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.

A young boy carries a cross through the streets of Quito, Ecuador during the city's annual Good Friday procession.

The bare feet of a woman marching in the Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador
The bare feet of a woman marching in the Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador

A man carrying a cross dressed like Jesus takes a break during the annual Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.

Several police officers carry a statue of Jesus during the Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.
Several police officers carry a statue of Jesus during the Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.
A man wrapped in barbed wire and wearing a purple cone headdress participates in the annual Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.
A man wrapped in barbed wire and wearing a purple cone headdress participates in the annual Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.
A woman wearing a cucurucho, a purple pointed cone headdress, participates in the annual Good Friday procession in the historical center of Quito, Ecuador.
A woman wearing a cucurucho, a purple pointed cone headdress, participates in the annual Good Friday procession in the historical center of Quito, Ecuador.
A man wearing a crown of thorns kisses the cross he's carrying during the Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.
A man wearing a crown of thorns kisses the cross he’s carrying during the Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.
A man carries a cross while another, dressed like a Roman Gladiator, looks on during the Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.
A man carries a cross while another, dressed like a Roman Gladiator, looks on during the Good Friday Procession in Quito, Ecuador.
All images © Bob Ramsak 2015. All rights reserved. High resolution images available.
For stock or editorial use please check out the 24 images filed for Corbis, or get in touch.
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A Passion Play in Purple: Quito’s Good Friday Procession - A Notebook and Image Gallery

A Passion Play in Purple: Quito’s Good Friday Procession - A Notebook and Image Gallery

 

 

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  1. Emilie Vardaman says

    Amazing pageantry!

    1. Bob R says

      Definitely unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. 🙂

  2. Muza-chan says

    Great photos…

  3. Suzanne Fluhr says

    I’ve witnessed “posadas” (processions) at Easter in Mexico and Spain, but nothing as graphic and bloody as what you witnessed. In the ones I attended, the church statues of Christ, saints and the Virgin Mary were carried through the streets. There were some people in costumes representing the key figures and some purple, but no KKK cone hats. You got some great photos. Check out the Travel Photo Roulette contest for this week. They are looking for photos illustrating the theme “faith”. It looks like you have a few to choose from. 😉

    1. Bob R says

      There was plenty of that here, too. Many statues were being carried, some quite large requiring upwards of a dozen or more to carry them. Thanks also for the Travel Photo Roulette tip — I tend to lose track of it from time to time.

  4. Shellie Troy Anderson says

    what a great series of potent photographs. all that devotion to suffering. i once saw a similar, though smaller, procession in antigua, guatemala. did they also make alfumbras? in advance of the procession passing their homes, people made these intricate sand murals on the cobblestone roads just so they’d be trampled. really quite extraordinary. and thanks for the link to the Free Music Archive and some excellent music to go along with the experience. your blog rocks. 🙂

    1. Bob R says

      No, I didn’t see anything like that. It does sound pretty amazing. Glad you like FMA — be warned though, you could spend hours there. And hours and hours. 🙂

      1. Shellie Troy Anderson says

        too late, already spent many hypnotic hours there, pretty hooked on Without Love We Are Dangerous. it’s perfect for working at my desk. thanks again for the link. 🙂

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