Un/common Places

Guatemalan Alfombra, Good Friday 2007

Guatemalan Alfombra

St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Falls Church played host to its annual Good Friday processional and mass on the evening of Friday, April 6. These recreations of the last moments leading to the crucifixion take place in churches and communities around the globe, as Catholics reflect on the passion and the coming resurrection.

In Falls Church this year, a distinctly uncommon element was added to the St. Anthony’s parish ritual when Guatemalan immigrants from around the Washington region gathered at 7am to begin their preparations of the alfombra (flower carpet), their pictographic representation of Jesus’ path to the cross. Their devotional art form takes weeks to plan and prepare for. Created from hand-dyed sawdust, rice, dried beans, flowers and other vegetable materials, the alfombra depicts scenes from the life of Jesus, as well as images used in pre-literate communities to depict devotional, spiritual, and moral behavior.
Scholars debate the history of these carpets – some say they’re Spanish, brought to the new world during the 16th century while others believe they’re examples of pre-Colombian art, Christianized in an attempt to bridge the gap between the native and European cultures. Whatever the scholarly explanation may be, the alfombra is a living tradition, practiced in Guatemalan villages and in communities far from their country for the last four centuries.
The alfombra – uncommon though it may be to our eyes – focuses the parishioners on the path Jesus followed. And, in the end, their creation lasts but twelve hours. As the priests and processional replay the last steps of Jesus on his way to the cross, they wipe away the works of mankind, no matter how beautifully crafted, and clear the path in expectation of Easter morning.
Photos by Chris Williams