Altars to the Virgin of Sorrows, Guanajuato

The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin (source: Antonio De Jesús Aguado):

She was unable to find shelter for the birth of her son.
When Mary took the infant Jesus to the temple for circumcision, the prophet Simeon told her, “A sword will go through your heart,” referring to her future suffering for her son.
Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt after King Herod tried to kill Jesus.
Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus in Jerusalem and found him preaching in the temple.
Mary met her son on the way to Calvary.
The crucifixion of Christ.
The burial of Jesus and Mary’s solitude.

One of the most sumptuous and popular celebrations in Mexico is Semana Santa (Holy Week), which begins with the Viernes de Dolores (Friday of Our Lady of Sorrows), celebrated the last Friday of Lent. It is dedicated to the seven sorrows that Mary suffered before and after her son’s death.

In Mexico the tradition of putting up the altar of sorrows dates from the 16th century, and it was widespread in Mexican homes in the 18th century. The altar was meant to comfort the Virgin Mary, who eight days later would suffer at her son’s death.

Main elements of the altar for Viernes de Dolores:
The elements included in the altar have changed over the years; in earlier times purple and white fabrics were used, as well as mountains (made of cardboard) representing Calvary. The main images are always the Virgin of Sorrows and Christ. The surrounding elements represent the suffering felt by the Virgin Mary when she finds out that her son has been condemned to death.

The most common elements and their meaning include these:
Altar cloths and white flowers: Mary’s purity
Purple cloak: pain and penitence
Bitter oranges: the Virgin’s sorrow. These oranges are painted gold in order to recall the joy of the resurrection.
Fresh chamomile: its colors represent humility (green) and beauty in body and soul (yellow).
Sprouting wheat: represents Christ as Eucharistic bread
Ice cream, flavored water and pumpkin candies: the Virgin’s sweet tears

On Viernes de Dolores the places which have public altars also distribute flavoured water and ice cream. Above is a lineup for water and ice cream at one of the local fruit and vegetable shops; below is the shop’s altar. Lots of big buses rolled into town and disgorged hundreds of schoolkids to take part in Viernes de Dolores. On this page are just some of the altars set up in public places throughout Guanajuato. Many of them utilised the same picture of the Virgin (the one in the photo below). A few branched out and either made their own images or used portraits that looked more like Orthodox Church representations. Some of the larger, more elaborate altars also included sculptural effigies.

The altar below was erected on the hillside right near our place.

This little guy often greets us as we walk up and down the looooonngg flights of stairs to get to our house.

3 Replies to “Altars to the Virgin of Sorrows, Guanajuato”

  1. What a fine piece of post you have here. I want to say thanks to you because I feel you captured the soul of the festivity through your pictures. Allow me to post them to show others. My family have runned for over 50 years a business of pottery in Guanajuato, we also make an altar on this day. We are located on the “barrio de San Luisito” a neighborhood where many artisants of clay live, we hope you have the chance to come over around midday when we share some of the “tears of the Virgin Mary”, because as the tradition asks for the people to come to the altar have to asks :”have the Virgin Mary already cried in here” / “¿ya lloró la Virgen aquí?”, at the time we give them an ice cream.
    Thank you once again for taking your time to share to the world about this festivity in Guanajuato

    Cerámica Valdés, Guanajuato, México

    *sorry about poor english 😉

  2. Thank you for your kind comments, Julieta – muchas gracias! Por favor, feel free to share the post and pictures with others. Unfortunately, I am not in Guanajuato right now, otherwise I would definitely come and visit you. Happy Easter!

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