Semana Santa in Santiago: Maximon Meets Jesus on Good Friday
In Santiago, Lake Atltlan, Good Friday is the biggest day of the year for Maximon , the wooden-masked icon that is the center of certain Maya cults in Mexico and Guatemala as well as one of Santiago’s top tourist attractions all year long as well as during Semana Santa.
That’s because Good Friday is the day Maximon gets to go outside and hang out with the people for a while during Semana Santa. Having rested since Holy Wednesday in his little temple in the plaza of the Catholic cathedral, which was built over 500 years ago by Franciscan monks, Maximon is moved to the sidewalk in front of his temporary shrine to await the arrival of Jesus. (For events on the day he enters his temple, see Maximon on Holy Wednesday.)
Maya shamans stand around the wooden figure. One carries the rope that will be used to hang him in his role as Judas Iscariot, one of his several faces. A crowd of Maya, tourists and ice cream peddlers gathers around Maximon, and young boys rattle the group with noisemakers attached to long poles.
Maximon Hits the Street
On the sidewalk, Maximon looks like a wooden cigar store Indian. He stares across the plaza as a bizarre mix of Catholic clergy and Maya shamans gather on the cathedral steps. Four wear pointy hats and fake white beards that are reminiscent of Monty Python.
Next the giant wooden float bearing the coffin of Jesus reaches the church door, to the tune of a New Orleans-style band with a bass drum of leather, snare drums and clouds of incense.
The entire procession is like a fusion of New Orleans’ Mardis Gras, Little Italy’s San Jenaro Festival, and Python’s The Holy Grail.
As the coffin reaches the plaza, the crowd turns away from Maximon and moves toward the church. Faces of the shamans—forlorn and abandoned—show their anguish at being spurned by the crowd as more than 25 men bear the huge float/coffin with Jesus down the steps and along the wide flower carpet extending directly in front of the church.
Maximon, Meet Jesus. Hello, Rope
A shaman picks up the figure of Maximon and joins the procession behind the coffin of Jesus. Then Maximon, in his role as Judas, is hung. It is clear that this confrontation between the ancient Maya worship of Mam, the original manifestation of Maximon, and Catholicism, has been won by Jesus.
Travel tips: The ceremony starts around 3 PM and lasts until after dark. To witness the entire event, you will have to spend the night at a hotel such as Posada de Santiago or take a private boat back. Carry a sweater, long-sleeve shirt or jacket for the evening.
Getting There: It’s a 30-minute boat ride from Panajachel or San Pedro. You can get there by car on the InterAmerican Highway by going through the town of San Lucas.