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San Miguel has more than its share of Festivals. Last year we were told about the procession of El Señor de la Columna (our Lord of the Column) just the night before the event. We were there to see it and made sure we didn't miss it this year. It lived up to all our expectations. It wasn't just the number of faithful who turn out each year to join a religious procession, it wasn't the fact that many had walked all night from the town of Atotonilco, a town about 18 km from San Miguel, it was the the elaborate decorations residents had spent hours overnight creating just so the procession could walk all over the art work.
It all started in 1800. An serious epidemic had broken out in the San Miguel region. After years of no end in sight for the epidemic, Father Remigio Angel Gonzales, the parish priest of Atotonilco, decided that action was needed. He carved the figure of a bloodied Christ leaning on a gilded column of wood. By 1823 it was ready. Father Gonzales organized his parishioners to bring the sculpture in procession from Atotonilco to San Miguel de Allende. Their prayers were answered and the epidemic was finished. The procession has been repeated each year on the Sunday before Palm Sunday. The statue of El Señor de la Columna, along with statues of the Virgin Mary (Our Lady of Sorrows) and St John are carried by hundreds of pilgrims starting at midnight from the church in Atotonilco, arriving about 8 AM at San Juan de Dios Church, just a few blocks from our apartment in San Miguel.
We were up early enough to walk past San Juan de Dios Church where the faithful have camped overnight and are waiting, wrapped in blankets against the chill of the morning. Booths were being put up to provide breakfast for the waiting crowds. We continue on to the main street along which the procession will come towards San Juan de Dios Church as soon as the sun came up. Residents were busy putting the finishing touches on carpets of coloured sawdust, flower petals and sweet herbs, decorated with religious figures, over which the pilgrims would walk. Standards of flowers line the sides of the streets and strings of purple and white paper flowers, banners and balloons form archways over the street.
As the sun came over the buildings, the imminent arrival of the procession was
announced by explosions of large firecrackers set off on the rooftops on either
side of the street. The procession, including a costumed pilgrim, Roman guards,
a band playing mournful tunes, small children in first communion outfits, altar
boys and girls waving incense, three priests and groups taking turns carrying
the statues, came into view. The crowds grow and fill the streets on either side
of the procession, walking to keep pace with the statues. Ray and I join the
throngs and try to get additional pictures of the procession and the statues.
Finally we make it to San Juan de Dios Church where a mass will be held. We
decide that breakfast at our favourite restaurant Café Monet is the perfect way
to end the morning.
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