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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Taxco, Mexico

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

Ever since learning about the ornate and unique Holy Week celebrations preceding Easter in Spain and other Hispanic countries, it has been a cultural and religious experience that I wanted to be able to witness in person. The preparations and processions that happen during Holy week are often a re-enactment of Christ’s experiences leading up to Easter Sunday, which make Semana Santa almost a bigger event than Easter itself. While not all Mexican cities celebrate Semana Santa the same, the Puebla Magico of Taxco de Alarcon is one of the most interesting and well-known Holy Week celebrations in all of Mexico. While many visitors come to Taxco for just a day or two towards the end of Holy Week, we stayed for the entire week to witness as many of the processions and events as possible. This is a brief guide to help make the most of the entire Semana Santa experience.

Good Friday Procession during Semana Santa in Taxco, Mexico
Good Friday Procession of Penitents as part of Semana Santa in Taxco, Mexico.

Brief History of Semana Santa in Taxco, Mexico

Semana Santa traditions were brought to Mexico by the Spanish during colonization over 500 years ago. A major part of these first celebrations was the emphasis on penitence, or showing sorrow or regret for wrongs by enduring pain. While emphasis on physical pain penitence has gone away in many places, it still plays a significant part in the traditions in Taxco.

Within Taxco there are three different brotherhoods represented – Crossed (Encruzados), Flagellants and Souls. Each group puts their body through some pretty difficult conditions. The Souls go barefoot and drag chains and either carry crosses, lighted candles or rosaries. The Crossed penitents carry a roll of 144 thorned bramble rods that weigh 50 kg which is carried across the neck and shoulders. The Flagellants carry a wooden cross and carry a ‘whip-like’ piece, which the end is made of sharp metal bits, and whip their backs at certain times during the procession. (You can see the open and bleeding wounds on individuals within this brotherhood.) All participants are to remain anonymous and have to apply a year in advance to participate. In preparation they take part in several reflective exercises leading up to Semana Santa. Some individuals do it to expiate their faults, some might do it for personal reasons or to ask for well-being of themselves or their relatives (you might notice some carrying photos of those family members).

Semana Santa statue in front of Santa Prisca during Holy Week in Taxco, Mexico
Statue in front of Santa Prisca Cathedral represents the three different penitents during Semana Santa.

Where to Stay in Taxco for Semana Santa

I would argue that location is key for experiencing Semana Santa in Taxco, especially if you’re traveling with children. Everyday of Semana Santa there is at least once procession, and later in the week a couple per day – many of them can last for hours late into the night. While you can easily get to the procession from anywhere in the Old Town, having accommodation located near the events was a key aspect that made our experience much better. This was especially true since Monday through Thursday, when all the processions started no earlier than 9 or 10 p.m., which can make for some late nights for young kids.

Viewing Semana Santa Processions in Taxco, Mexico from balcony
Having accommodation with a balcony really helped make the Semana Santa experience more doable, especially with children.

Therefore, I would highly recommend finding accommodation that is along the procession route and more specifically with a viewing balcony. This turned out to be perfect option, as the kids could go to bed on time but we could still watch the processions. (OR they could go back and forth from doing things inside to viewing the procession as it went by, as they tended to lose interest after a while.) The Airbnb we stayed at was on Camino Don Miguel Hidalgo and this provided views of the procession every evening. The Plazuela de San Nicolas is a main focal point for the start of many processions and therefore, it was also great to be able to view the start of the processions versus having to stay up past midnight to catch the end of them. Prior to booking your accommodation, I would highly recommend checking out the procession routes that are on the Taxco website to make sure that your accommodation is in a good spot. This website will also give you the specific times of the events for that particular year's celebrations.

Is Taxco's Semana Santa Appropriate for Young Children?

Ultimately you know your child the best and what things might be a trigger or bothersome for them to see in person, especially if they are a highly sensitive child. However, for the locals it was very much a family event and we saw many children witnessing the processions and event. Some of them participated by dressing as angels in black or white.

Our children were 9 years old and 6 years at the time when we took them to see Semana Santa, but a good explanation as to what they are seeing helps them comprehend the situation. We made sure to explain that these actions were the choices of the people who were doing them and a way for them to show reverence and respect for the pain that Jesus endured when dying on the cross. They were both understanding of that point and definitely approached it from the eyes of an observer. (Later in the week our daughter got sick and wasn’t able to view the processions; but our 6-year-old son viewed the Good Friday ones.)

Semana Santa Schedule in Taxco

Palm Sunday

This is the start of the Holy Week celebrations and the Zocolo (Town Center) is abuzz. Within the Zocolo there are endless vendors making and selling ornamental palm branches – some of them even looking like Jesus on the cross. Vendors spread out across the city selling them (for about $1 USD each) and almost everyone you come across on Palm Sunday is carrying one. They are even affixed to the grills of the buses and cars, as well as over doorways.

The main event of the day is the procession which starts from the nearby community Tehuilotepec, about 6.5 km away. The procession passes by several churches and receives several blessings along the way, but eventually arrives in the Zocolo in front of Santa Prisca Cathedral to represent Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem. The procession includes people carrying a statue of Jesus riding on a donkey as well as 12 men dressed up as the disciples accompanying him. There are priests at the front of the procession splashing the holy water and all the people wave their palm branches to replicate Jesus’ arrival on the first Palm Sunday.

Holy Monday – “The Procession of the Virgins”

This procession starts at 9 p.m. from the Plazuela de San Nicolas and takes the short route around the Old Town. Here each church has a statue of the Virgin Mary that they decorate with flowers and then it is carried on the shoulders of several parish women during the procession – some of them even walking with bare feet on the rough cobblestone. There are also many children dressed as angels participating in the procession. There is a melody and beat of the drums that accompany many of the groups and is the consistent tune for the rest of the week during all processions.

The specifics of each group of women slightly varied by church. Some women wore black, some wore white; some wore veils and others did not. Some of the groups also burned incense and dispersed the smoke ahead of the virgin statues.

Each church joins either at the beginning of the route or as the procession passes by their church. Over 4 hours later – at 1:25 a.m. - the groups from the church across the street returned.

Tuesday – “Procession of the Souls”

This is the first day of Holy Week we witness the penitents, who are a mix of both male & female “Souls”. They all wear black hoods to keep their identity anonymous. They go barefoot and drag chains, which are either tied amongst a large group of other “souls” or in a smaller group. The women participating also have chains tied between their barefoot feet as they participate in the procession. The men and women either carry crosses or candles as they walk bent over for the duration of the route. (We personally didn’t see any flagellants or crossed penitents in this procession.) There are some statues being carried – mostly being crucifixes with Jesus on them.

Soul penitents as part of Semana Santa processions in Taxco, Mexico
Group of women "Soul" penitents prepare to start the procession with chains tied to their feet & carrying lighted candles.

This procession also started at 9 p.m. from Plazuela de San Nicolas and takes the short procession around the Old Town.

Wednesday – “Procession of the Holy Trinity”

During the day, the atrium of the Santa Prisca Cathedral becomes “Huerto de los Olivos” to represent the Garden of Gethsemane. In the evening the fourth procession of the week starts at 10 p.m. from Plazuela de San Nicolas and takes the shorter route. Each of the churches carries some of the statues – some of them being crucifixes of Jesus on the cross, some are saints and some are the Virgin Mary mourning the death of Jesus. Each of the churches have groups of penitents participating as well.

Semana Santa Processions in Taxco, Mexico
Procession of the Holy Trinity on Wednesday evening with many Flagellant penitents carrying the bundles of bramble.

Wednesday is the first night we witness the ‘Crossed’ penitents. They are lined up and carrying the bundles of thorn brambles. There are also several Soul penitents participating as well. (There is even a group of men dressed as the 12 disciples who join the procession this night). The crowds are even larger and many people watch from their balconies from above.

Thursday – “Holy Thursday”

Thursday and Friday are the main highlights of the week and there is lots happening throughout the day to re-enact the stations of the cross and the Passion of Jesus. As our daughter was sick this day and we changed accommodation to one that didn’t have a view of the procession route, we didn’t witness as much. However, there is truly lots happening throughout the day.

In the morning around 9 a.m., the image of Jesus appears in the atrium outside the Santa Prisca Cathedral, which represents the Garden of Gethsemane. Many people line up to offer offerings, prayers, etc.

Garden of Gethsemane in Santa Prisca atrium as part of Semana Santa in Taxco, Mexico
Garden of Gethsemane out front of Santa Prisca on Maundy Thursday.

At 10 a.m. in the in the nearby community of Xochula a special mass is held. After the service, the Christ statue from this community is transported to Taxco in a dump truck and arrives at the Santa Veracruz church, where there is a large gathering of all the different Christ statues from the various parishes across the city. These all take part in the procession that evening.

Around 6 p.m., the Last Supper and the washing of the disciples’ feet is staged by local actors in Santa Prisca Cathedral. In the late afternoon/early evening there are processions led by the character of Judas Iscariot which leads Roman soldiers to Jesus where the “kiss of Judas” is staged in the Garden of Gethsemane outside of Santa Prisca. (The return route happening approximately around 7 p.m.)

March of Roman Soldiers on Maundy Thursday during Semana Santa in Taxco, Mexico
Marching of the Roman Soldiers being led by Judas Iscariot character.

There is also the story of “Pedro” the fisherman portrayed and how he denied Jesus on 3 occasions. This small procession, called the Prehendimiento Procession, begins around 8 p.m. at the Ex-Convent of San Bernardino ends at the Chapel of San Nicolas Tolentino, which represents the prison. It is here at this “prison” the Jesus statue is placed behind bars around 9:30 p.m.

That evening “The Procession of the Christs” starts at 10:30-10:45 p.m. and it is the longest procession of the week. It starts the Templo de Santa Veracruz and takes the longest route of the week. The Christ statues – supposedly around 50 of them – are accompanied by many penitents from each of the different parishes and the route leads them by each parish where the Christ statue is returned. Information online says it takes about 4 hours, but our accommodation was towards the end of the route and I heard the processional music around 3-4 a.m., which is 5-6 hours after it started.

Friday – “Good Friday”

There is a flurry of activities on Friday and it was one of the busiest days we experienced in Taxco with many tourists coming to town to witness the events. This is the biggest day of the week and there are three different processions throughout the day.

Just a couple of hours after the previous night’s procession ended, the sermon on the condemnation of Jesus takes place in the Chapel of San Nicolas Tolentino and Pontius Pilate announces the Crucifixion sentence at 6 a.m.

The first of the processions is the “Procession of the Three Falls” which starts from Tempo de San Nicolas at 11 a.m. and follows the route to the Ex-convent de San Bernardino. The procession includes all three groups of penitents and the Roman Soldiers who accompany the statue of Jesus as it is carried to the Zocalo where the three falls of Jesus are staged. After this part of the story of the passion is done, they proceed onto the Temple of the Ex-Convent. As the procession takes place mid-day, it is definitely the hottest procession of the week. You can see that the street stones are hot on the penitents’ bare feet, as they often lift them up to get some relief. There are also many helpers misting them to try to keep cooler with a spray bottle.

At 1 p.m. outside of the Temple of the Ex-Convent of San Bernardino, Jesus is crucified. For the next few hours you can view Jesus and the two thieves crucified on the three crosses. Around 4:30 p.m. the body is removed from the cross and the Christ statue is put in a glass/crystal coffin.

Crucifixion set up during Semana Santa in Taxco, Mexico
The crucifixion takes places outside of the Temple of the Ex-Convent of San Bernardino on early Friday afternoon.

At 5 p.m. the “Procession of the Holy Burial” starts, which includes all the different penitents groups and the body of Christ in the crystal coffin and followed by many congregation members. This procession begins and ends at the Ex-convent de San Bernardino; we viewed is right along Camino Don Miguel Hidalgo, just past the Plaza de San Nicolas.

Flagellant carrying cross during Good Friday Semana Santa procession in Taxco, Mexico
Flagellants carrying their cross on Good Friday evening procession.

The final procession of Good Friday is the “Procession of Silence”, which begins at 11:59 p.m. from the Ex-convent. The only statue that takes part in this small procession is the Virgin of Dolores, which is carried on the shoulders of ladies. It is a much shorter route mainly going between the Ex-convent and the church of Santa Veracruz.

Holy/Glory Saturday

Saturday is an official day of mourning. There are no parts of the story acted out and supposedly there is silence across the city to demonstrate this deep mourning. We had to leave early on Saturday morning to return to Mexico City, so I was unable to see “how silent” it actually felt. However, as we were departing to the bus station, there were what appeared to be city workers coming down the street pouring some type of fire starter and burning what I’m assuming was the wax droppings from the processions throughout the week.

At 10 p.m., the Solemn Easter Vigil Mass is held in the Santa Prisca Cathedral. Here the priest blesses either holy water or coins of the townspeople.

Easter Sunday

At the strike of midnight the Resurrection of the Lord is celebrated and the image of Jesus in a white tunic appears in Santa Prisca signaling his resurrection. Upon seeing him, actor soldiers drop to the ground and the bells are rung in joy to be hard across Taxco. Supposedly after the mass at midnight, the Judas Iscariot pinata is burned at the atrium of Santa Prisca as well.

At 5 p.m. on Easter Sunday, the last procession of Holy Week happens. This is a joyous one where the children are the main participants. It starts at the Temple of the Ex-convent and they make their way to Santa Prisca and the Chapel of the Holy Trinity. Along with the children, there is a Christ the Redeemer statue carried showcasing Jesus’ crucifixion wounds. There are a few other statues/images that are part of the procession as well. From other accounts I read the children ride bikes and decorate them to bring a truly festive and joyous feel to the cumulation of Holy Week.

After witnessing Semana Santa in Taxco in 2023, I would argue that it will be one of the most unique and cultural experiences that you’re likely to find during Holy Week around the globe. Therefore, if you’re looking for culturally enlightening travel experiences, make sure to put Taxco, Mexico on your list! Check out the post Taxco, Mexico | Things to Do in This Off-the-Beaten Path Pueblo Magico to know what else this town has to offer outside of Semana Santa.

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