Sawdust rugs and Stations of the Cross in Comayagua
Semana Santa is usually a wash for me. You can't get any
work done that week, so you have to take time off, but Tegucigalpa
becomes a ghost town. The only thing that interrupts the peace
and quiet is mass, on a marathon schedule. All grocery stores
close and they play Ben-Hur dubbed in Spanish several times
I hate crowds, too, so the coast is not an option. So what
is a finicky atheist to do in Honduras during Semana Santa?
The only sane answer is tourism to the "interior."
My favorite Semana Santa was spent in Copan, which is a great
destination any time of the year, but especially nice for
Semana Santa. The ruins are generally open during holidays,
there are quite a few other visitors to the town, and just
a bit of religious activity to remind you that we are honoring
the crucifixion of Jesus.
As Semana Santa rolled around this year, Copan seemed a bit
beyond my range, but I wanted to do something besides cruise
the empty streets of Tegucigalpa. I decided to make a visit
to the Good Friday processions in Comayagua.
Comayagua is one of many cities in Latin America, including
Antigua, Guatemala, that have a procession of the "Santa
Vma Crucis" or Stations of the Cross, that takes place
on sawdust rugs. In recent years there have been sawdust rugs
on the streets of Tegucigalpa, also. But the most important
and oldest celebration of the Stations of the Cross in Honduras
is in Comayagua.
Comayagua makes a very easy day trip from Tegucigalpa, but
this was the first time that I had ever visited. The central
park and the Cathedral are beautiful for a casual visit, and
there are several other important cathedrals and churches,
that are very important in the history of Comayagua as an
historical and religious center of Honduras (as well as political
Comayagua was for many decades the capital of Honduras).
But to heck with all that, I'm here for the sawdust carpets.
The drive to Comayagua was a breezy hour and a half. I left
early to allow plenty of time for traffic, but there weren't
many cars on the road. There were quite a few traveler assistance
checkpoints set up; some were National Police (who also wanted
to check license and registration) and others were Red Cross,
Firefighters and other worthy public service organizations.
I felt very safe cruising the highways by myself on Semana
Comayagua is a very easy city to navigate. It is small but
the streets are wide and straight, which is a welcome change
from Tegus. I wandered down toward the cathedral and soon
found myself in the midst of the action.
I parked on the street several blocks from the plaza, and
headed towards the crowds. I soon found the trail of the sawdust
carpets, and began to move along with a steady flow of locals,
foreign tourists, US soldiers from the base, and groups of
people working on the carpets.
The carpets are created by different groups, some of whom
are local families, local social organizations, Catholic groups,
and also "professional" sawdust carpet design groups,
often from Guatemala, who create carpets sponsored by businesses.
Stations of the Cross
The creative effort underway at 9:30 am was astounding. Most
carpets were already completed, but several still had workers
patiently stenciling the brightly colored sawdust onto cardboard
patterns. The creators have the responsibility to keep small
children and dogs from disturbing their hard work, and also
must mist the sawdust rug with water to keep the wind from
This event is a photographer's paradise, filled with beautiful
subjects that lay still while you frame them. Most carpets
have a ladder or scaffold installed so that photographers
can get the shot from above. There are lines of people with
cameras or video recorders waiting their turn to shoot the
best of the carpets.
Dedicated photographer that I am, I forgot my batteries. There
were a variety of small and medium "Mom 'n Pop"
pulpermas open (and doing their briskest business of the year),
and I found batteries, and all other essentials were available
for purchase in Comayagua on Good Friday.
I spent the next hour spellbound by the incredible amount
of artistic effort that went into all the carpets, amateur
and professional. Can you believe they are going to walk on
The procession started on time, in some distant part of Comayagua,
but I was already getting claustrophobic in the Central Park,
standing in front of the station where Jesus is getting stabbed
by a Roman with a spear. This particular event was being acted
out by children; a small Jesus, with his crown of thorns painted
on, a distraught Mary in robes, and a brutish little Roman.
The children took the stage just as the procession arrived.
In the procession, a model of Jesus in purple robes, carrying
a cross soon arrived, being carried by many strong men. A
priest led them, stopping to quote scripture into a megaphone.
The crowd was quite thick, as there are many people who accompany
the procession along its route. Some of these are women, who
dress in black mantillas, showing their mourning for Christ.
Some women also carry along their babies, who are dressed
in purple robes, with crown of thorns and drops of blood painted
on their faces, their eyes outlined with dark make-up to simulate
After the Procession
The very deep and traumatic religious symbolism at this point
makes me seek out the food booths. There are plenty of these
selling all sorts of Honduran junk food, including burgers
(?!?!) and fish sandwiches. There are also T-shirts available
from several vendors that have great pictures of carpets and
Having participated beyond the call of duty in the religious
activities of Semana Santa, I returned to the carpets only
long enough to confirm: the priest, and the devoted, and the
rest of the procession had carried Jesus right over the carpets,
leaving only a scattered spill of sawdust where the beautiful
carpets had been only minutes before. Now that is what I call
I was back in Tegucigalpa by early afternoon, and with a
stunning collection of photos and memories. Plus some T-shirts,
and some tamales purchased on the highway.
All in all, not a bad balance for a week that is usually
Melanie is originally from Kansas and currently works as a
lawyer and journalist in Tegucigalpa. She was also a stringer
for a large US/worldwide publication and wrote The Legal Forum
for Honduras This Week for years. To contact Melanie or to
read more of her work visit Honduras
Legal Services website.