Semana Santa in Santiago: Maximon Emerges on Holy Wednesday
If Maximon could talk, he would likely say that Semana Santa is his favorite time of the year. That’s when the Maya cult figure often referred to as the "evil" saint, and also known as Judas Iscariot, San Simon and Pedro de Alvarado, becomes is the main attraction in huge processions on both Holy Wednesday and Good Friday.
However, Wednesday is his true day to shine, because on Friday the procession ends with him losing a symbolic battle with Jesus and being hung. So, if you must see Maximon shamed and rejected as the worship of Jesus trumps the ancient Maya worship of Mam, his original incarnation, you should be sure to also see him when he still reigns supreme traveling the streets on Holy Wednesday.
Maximon: On the Road Again
Early in the afternoon on Holy Wednesday, Maximon is escorted from his standard location, a house where he has been under the care of his cofradia, a religious brotherhood in charge of protecting him, supplying him with cigarettes and liquor, and charging a few quetzals to visitors coming to seek his assistance or simply admire his image. He also blesses crops, protects children and grants wishes to Maya from Santiago and the rest of the lake throughout the year.
Maximon’s first stop of the day is the municipal center and he is carried there in a grand procession. Hundreds of villagers and tourists line the street in front of the building as the festivities begin.
What Kind of Easter Parade is This?
At first, the only sounds audible above the crowd are the banging of a drum and the clacking of wooden noisemakers. As the procession approaches, the sounds of a brass band can be heard and rows of women in white robes appear, each carrying a candle and wearing a xk’ap, a 10-meter-long red cloth wrapped around their heads and covered by ornate textiles. The men follow, mostly in traditional clothing and cowboy hats.
Then the effigy of the hour arrives at the cathedral. Carved in wood, Maximon sports a pair of black cowboy hats, dozens of scarves and neckties, and a long, white cape embroidered with gold symbols. Naturally, a cigarette dangles from his mouth. He is followed by Maya shamans carrying what look like two-meter-long corn husks, but apparently are not. After Maximon enters the municipal building, throngs wait at the doors, hoping to visit him up close and personal or sneak a peek through the window. Others grab a bite to eat because, in a couple of hours, Maximon will hit the road again.
Maxmon Goes to Church...Sort Of
Maximon’s second trip is short, but sweet. He leaves the building to travel a few feet down the road to his temporary home on the plaza of the Catholic church. Painted green and shaped like a combination of a mosque and a breast, this structure will house Maximon until he heads to his battle with Jesus on Friday.
En route Maximon is once again surrounded by musicians playing what sounds like a New Orleans funeral dirge, men carrying gigantic not-cornhusks, hundreds of villagers, and dozens of tourists who seem to have all remembered their cameras. For this trip, Maximon is also flanked by men carrying gigantic baskets of fruits and vegetables on their backs.
Maximon and his procession head towards the church doors, where he apparently senses he is unwelcome, and the group takes a left, carrying him into his domed death row. The crowd thins. People desert the plaza. And some, surely, are left wondering if in two days Maximon just might beat Jesus and escape the hangman’s noose after all. To find out, see Maximon Meets Jesus on Good Friday.