Colombia’s week-long Easter celebrations, known as Semana Santa or Holy Week, are famous for bringing the country to a standstill as its people mark the country’s most important religious festival with pilgrimages and processions.
The pretty town of Buga, 73 kilometers from Cali in the Valle del Cauca, is an icon for Colombia’s religious tourism and the ideal place to spend Holy Week. Three million pilgrims travel to the town every year to visit the Lord of the Miracles Basilica (Basilica del Señor de los Milagros) which is home to a 2.5 meter, cast-iron image of Jesus (the Santisimo Redentor or Holy Redeemer) placed between two ornate towers. Buga’s historic center was declared a National Monument thanks to the preservation of its religious and colonial architecture. Visitors should also check out the Lord of the Miracles Museum, the San Francisco and San Antonio churches and Liberty Bridge. Holy Week tours and exhibitions will be held alongside the traditional processions.
The astounding Sanctuary of Our Lady of Las Lajas in Ipiales, Nariño, is one of the most visited sanctuaries in South America and Holy Week in Ipiales is a sight to behold. Besides the somber splendor of the city’s flower-filled processions there is the centuries-old custom of sharing ‘twelve plates and three pans’ of traditional food. There are talks, ceremonies, classical music broadcasts and the screenings of religious films. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Las Lajas cathedral was built in the mountain over the Rio Guaitara canyon following the ‘miracle of the abyss’ when an image of the Virgin of the Rosary was discovered imprinted on a laja stone.
The fervor and devotion of Colombia’s Easter celebrations reaches its peak in the ‘White City’ of Popayán in Cauca, south-west Colombia. All six of the city’s impressive Holy Week parades, representing the passion and death of Christ, have been recognized as Works of Art of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Mankind by UNESCO. There is a children’s procession and a religious music festival too with groups from across Colombia and worldwide. Popayán offers its visitors a trail that encompasses eight of its most famous churches, including the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Assumption, the churches of San Francisco, San Augustin and Santo Domingo and El Carmen temple.
Where better to spend Easter weekend in Colombia than the nation’s capital, at the foot of its sacred Monserrate mountain? Millions of pilgrims climb Monserrate every year to visit the Sanctuary of our Fallen Lord (Santuario del Señor Caído) 3,152 meters above sea level, and pray before the church’s poignant image of a fallen Christ. The Church of the Divine Child (Iglesia del Divino Niño) in the city’s 20 de Julio neighborhood is another focal point for religious visitors, with worshippers thanking baby Jesus and requesting his blessings. More than 300 of the capital’s churches host Easter activities and many are in the historic and colonial center, including the Prime Cathedral of Bogotá and San Francisco and El Carmen churches.
Holy week in Santa Cruz de Mompox in Bolívar, north Colombia, is a unique and must-see spectacle thanks to the rare two steps forward, one step back, rhythm its pilgrims adopt in their processions. Mompox is known for its blend of Catholic and indigenous practices and the town has celebrated Holy Week since 1564 when its elite donated jewels, altars and images to achieve eternal salvation. Nowadays the people of Mompox decorate their Saints with treasures and dress in their finest clothes to serenade their dead in the town’s cemetery, before all seven colonial churches participate in the processions. The churches of Santa Barbara, Concepción, Santo Domingo and San Juan de Dios are among the town’s most visited.
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