The usually quiet community of Benque in western Belize usually comes alive on Good Friday as Benquenos and visitors alike come together in preparation for the reenactment of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ in celebration of the holy week.
The day’s activities start out as early as 1:00 a.m when household and civic groups gather before the break of dawn on the streets of Benque to create what is known as the ”Alfombras de Acerin,” or sawdust carpets. The sawdust carpets are made using wooden stencils and layers of vibrant and colorful sawdust that are interwoven with flowers, pine needles, and even fruits to create intricate designs.
The designs are not only colorful but tell the story of religious and contemporary messages that take months to prepare. The preparation of the colorful tapestries is considered to be an elaborate and tedious process that starts several months ahead of the actual display starting with the dying of the sawdust into a kaleidoscope of different hues. Just before dawn on Good Friday, volunteers and local artists then spend up to 10 hours carefully pouring, sifting, and placing the sawdust onto the stencil of their choice. The finishing product then needs to be watered periodically to prevent it from being disrupted by the wind or any other elements.
The colorful pathways are created by the Catholic faithful to mark the area where a somber religious procession with the body of Jesus will pass after he has been crucified at midday. That will take place around 5:00 p.m. where the procession led by 40 men of honor, wearing special vestments will carry the anda, upon which a lifesize figure of Jesus lies inside a glass coffin. This procession of men who will carry the anda on their shoulders will walk on the colorful sawdust tapestries obliterating it as they make their way to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church where the body of Jesus will then be placed inside the church.
This year’s activity is particularly special as it is the first time in two years that the cultural activities are being held due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Not only does the Holy Week bring together the community of Benque but also attracts local and international visitors that travel to the western town to be a part of the cultural tradition that to date remains the biggest religious event in the country.