Through the fug of spray, wisps of copal incense and blockade of human-sized candles, the band at the back of the church crept into life with the Pink Panther theme tune. I grinned widely. The locals clearly had a sense of humour on this, the most solemn day in the Catholic calendar.
I was in Santiago Apóstol church, Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, on Good Friday and what was to happen next seemed to be an extraordinary turn of events.
Santiago lies on the shores of Lake Atitlán, a crater lake formed by the mega eruption of a super volcano. The Tz'utujil Maya, who live in Santiago, believe the world was delivered from its primordial waters. Every year, a man dressed in a poncho of silk scarves, a cowboy hat and boots, and with a cigar perched on his lips, moves house. Maximó*is a Janus-faced wooden idol; he is petitioned for success but possesses the powers to inflict ill fortune.
While Christians mourned the death of Christ at noon on Good Friday, Maximó*was prepared in a side chapel on the church's plaza for another year of office.
The rigmarole of religious ritual took some time. The statue of the crucified Christ was placed in a coffin amid a fumble of soft furnishings – a green cushion embellished with gold was carefully placed in the glass coffin but then a blanket, imprinted with a tiger image, was quickly stuffed in followed by a flutter of coloured paper shreds.
The flashing bulbs were turned off and the lid snapped down. Christ was processed out of the church and on to a carpet of flowers and dyed wood shavings. As his coffin passed Maximón's chapel, Maximón, dressed in an embarrassment of scarves, was hoisted up by a cavalcade of worshippers and forcibly pushed into line behind the dead Christ, but in front of statues of Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary. Maximó*may be the beloved idol of the townsfolk but his lack of chivalry was shocking.
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