One of the big reasons we chose to visit Guatemala this time of year was to be in Antigua for Semana Santa. They do some amazing things for Holy Week here. Some of the festivities were cancelled by the Catholic Church because of covid, but some of the traditions lived on. One of the most famous is the tradition of creating beautiful “carpets” out of colored sawdust.
The artists work through the night to create these works of art that don’t even last through the day.
We got to participate in creating one inside the ruins of the cathedral behind the church on the main square. It was fascinating to see how much work is required to build these carpets. You start by filling in all the gaps in the cobblestone streets with sawdust. Then you add on to that with a layer of sawdust to level the whole area where you will be working. After it’s level, you build the main layout elements with long straight forms. Then you start laying down the base colors. When those are done, you bring over some stencils and carefully layer them on top of the base colors. You carefully sprinkle colored sawdust in the holes of the stencils to create the designs and pictures on the carpet.
Right away you realize there is no undo button. If you drop too much color, or put the wrong color in the hole… you can’t really fix it. You just live with it and move on.
The night before Good Friday, they close all the roads in the middle of Antigua. Artists work through the night, transforming the cobbled streets into beautiful works of art. We got up early that morning to be the first to see the carpets. It was really nice to see each one before the crowds and wind combined to blur and scar them. There was a dog or two making trouble, but for the most part they looked perfect.
By nine or ten in the morning the crowds were gathering. At lunch the streets were packed. Just a few hours later, the carpets were destroyed. I’m glad we had the chance to see and understand them.