Holy Week in Guatemala, One of a Kind in the World

The Guatemalan Holy Week includes a significant number of symbols.

by Pamela Contreras

Guatemala City -AGN.- The Holy Week involves fasting, public displays , and symbols. However, most people have yet to discover this celebration’s true meaning and origin. 

Moreover, this religious celebration has  some unique features in Guatemala, which make it a splendorous and symbolic representation.

Holy Week in Guatemala is one of a kind, combining pre-Columbian elements with Catholic beliefs brought over five centuries ago from Spain.

The current Catholic devotion in Guatemala has almost magical and mystical overtones, which is why this country’s Holy Week is extraordinary.

These reasons led the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization -UNESCO- to declare it Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


The Holy Week in Guatemala is syncretic. In other words, the encounter and combination of different beliefs and doctrines. In this case, it combines Mayan cultural elements and Catholicism from Europe.

Syncretism, for example, is shown in the elaboration of a butterfly figure on a carpet made of sawdust for the processions walk over. 

For the Mayas, the butterfly symbolized the Sun -one of their great deities- and life and the afterlife, which is why this image does not appear in the Spanish Holy Week.

Establishment of the Holy Week

The Council of Nicaea, convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 325, is the cornerstone of the Holy Week. This Council declared the belief in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ and also decided the date of Easter.

Then, the Knights Templar spread the cult of the Passion. Once this mythical order disappeared, around the 14th century, the Order of the Franciscans worked to preserve the traditions they had acquired.

They were responsible for developing the Stations of the Cross, one of the most representative aspects of the celebration.

At first, only religious people celebrated ceremonies in the temples, with closed doors, so it was difficult for anyone else to enter because it was considered impure.

Later, there were processions. They were simple in Medieval Europe, and their purpose was penitential and expiatory. These manifestations of guilt gave rise to public self-flagellation and the emergence of penitents.

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