The Friday of Sorrows

The last Friday of Lent is when the Virgin of Sorrows is honored with beautiful altars in homes and public places. Look for them on windowsills, in niches, in doorways and living rooms, in public courtyards and private patios.

The religious purpose of the day is to remember the Mother of Christ in her desolation as she sat at the foot of the cross watching her son die. Most images of the Virgin show her with tears on her face, her hands clasped at her breast. Sometimes she also has a sword through her heart.

This day ushers in the events of Holy Week with a flurry of observations to come. One of the first things you’ll probably notice today are the fountains. All of the more than 40 public fountains in town are cleaned and filled with fresh flowers, chamomile and fennel and decorated with cut paper in purple, white and gold foil. Then special altars start showing up in some of the public buildings and in the churches.

Although this custom dates back to the Spanish colonial times of the 1600s, today it is unique to the state of Guanajuato and the Bajío region—just another reason to be glad you’re in San Miguel for all the events of Holy Week.

Altars in Homes

For me the highlight of this day is an evening stroll through the cobblestoned streets of San Miguel to see the altars in homes. They range from small, humble but heartfelt memorials sitting on a windowsill to elaborate creations that fill an entire room. Hundreds of people walk up and down the sidewalks and streets, stopping to admire the altars through the open windows and often to enjoy treats handed out by homeowners—fruit drinks, candies, ice cream, nuts and candied chilacayote, a kind of squash that has been served on this day for nearly 300 years—one of the very traditional events of Holy Week.