Easter Penance in Ecuador

What does purple represent to you? Royalty? Maybe wealth? If you happen to be in Quito, Ecuador at Easter, purple might come to mean something very different: repentance.

Ecuador is 90% Catholic so it’s no surprise that Easter is an important holiday. Nevermind chocolate bunnies and cream filled eggs, Easter is a time for believers in Quito to acknowledge the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and his final days. On Good Friday, this acknowledgement comes in the form of a colourful, painful, 3-hour long procession that winds its way through the streets of the old city.

Thousands of penitents known as Cucuruchos dress in purple robes (representing penitence) and purple hoods (representing humility) to remain anonymous as they publicly purge their sins. During the 5 kilometre solemn march, they inflict various forms of pain on themselves. Some walk barefoot, others drag heavy chains from their ankles. Some suffer the pain of cactus crosses tied to their backs while others wear thorn crowns or wrap barbed wire around their heads. Men with bare backs whip themselves with white ropes. Those who carry the heaviest burdens are believers who lift large wooden crucifixes, often barely able to support the weight.

Here is a short video of parts of the procession to give you an idea of the scene.

Near the end of the procession are hundreds of women dressed in purple and lace veils. They represent Saint Veronica. Catholics believe Veronica was the woman who wiped the face of Jesus on his way to the Calvary. They believe his image later appeared on the cloth. 

The procession begins and ends at one of Quito’s oldest churches, Iglesia San Francisco, opened in 1604. But the procession itself is relatively new. It all started back in 1961 when a Franciscan Priest, Francisco Fernández, was looking for a way to inspire local Catholics and help them reconnect with their religion. Clearly, the strategy worked. Thousands participate every year and some 50,000 spectators line the route to witness the acts of sacrifice. While I'm not Catholic, and I tend to spend my time worshipping chocolate at Easter, I was privileged to be among the onlookers this year and I was truly moved and impressed by the courage of this faithful group. 

To view many, many more photos of the procession, please see my collection in the gallery.

Until next time,

Rove on.