Easter Week in Ayacucho
Peruvians regard Ayacucho’s Semana Santa, or Easter week, as Peru’s most beautiful and intense religious festival. For the 10 days leading up to Easter Sunday, Ayacucho becomes a city of flower-carpeted streets, solemn processions, fireworks, and wild partying.
Religious processions throughout the week depict the various passions of Christ, and there are also art shows, folk dancing, music concerts, sporting events, livestock fairs, and traditional food contests. During the festival, lodging and bus tickets triple in price and are often sold out, so book in advance.
The tourist office publishes an annual brochure, and information may be available at www.ayucuchocompetitivo.org.pe.
The principal events begin on the Friday before Palm Sunday, when the first religious procession starts from the Iglesia Magdalena.
Palm Sunday itself has two important celebrations. At noon there is a huge caravan of mules and llamas carrying dried retama (broom) flowers and accompanied by several orchestras. After processing around the plaza twice, the retama is unloaded, to be burned during all important religious ceremonies.
At 4 p.m., Christ, on a white mule, leaves from the Carmelite monastery of Santa Teresa, along with crowds of people carrying golden palm fronds, and proceeds around the plaza to the cathedral.
The most sacred, and intense, ceremony of the week occurs on Wednesday, when the Plaza de Armas becomes a stage for the allegorical meeting of Jesus of Nazareth and the Virgin Mary. During this mystic ceremony, the images are carried on their thrones as townspeople, many in tears, watch. Because most visitors arrive the following day, there are mostly Ayacuchanos at this event.
Friday night is a candlelit procession of the deceased Jesus and the Virgin Mary, during which all the lights in the city are turned off.
On Saturday morning, a bull is released every half hour from 11 a.m. onward from the Alameda Bolognesi. Surrounded by shouting kids, some of whom are injured each year, a total of six bulls run through a cordoned-off area of town. People party in the Plaza de Armas until late in the night with dancing and orchestras.
At 5 a.m. on Sunday, before dawn, El Señor de la Resurreción (the resurrected Christ) is carried out of the cathedral atop a huge white pyramid adorned with 3,000 candles. As many as 250 people carry the pyramid, which goes around the plaza until 7 a.m., amid ringing bells, fireworks, and smoke from the last bit of burning retama.
Ayacucho has several other important festivals throughout the year including Carnaval (usually the last day of February), Inti Raymi in late June at Lago Pumaqocha, the Virgin de Cocharcas in Quinua September 8–11, the feast of El Señor de Maynay in Huanta in mid-September, and Vilcas Raymi at Wilcashuamán during the July 28th weekend.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition