Holy Week in Quito is unique. Its Historic Downtown has an atmosphere of celebration, of mourning, of devotion, of faith and commemoration of Jesus. Rituals, prosessions and traditions take the streets of the capital during a week of events.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of lent. If you see Quiteños and Quiteñas with something black on their forehead, it is because the father has signaled a cross on them during mass to remind them that “from ashes we come and ashes we will become.” But Wednesday is also the day for a very interesting tradition, that used to be celebrated in Seville and Lima and now only lives in Quito. “Arrastre de Caudas” otherwise known as “La Reseña” is a ceremony that originated in the Roman Empire to pay homage to fallen soldiers. In this occasion the “fallen soldier” is Jesus and the ones who carry out the ritual are the high clergy. During the original ritual they would cover the body of the soldier/general with a black cloak which all the grieving soldiers touched. In church, in order to honor God, the cloak is taken around the Cathedral so that everyone who touches it is passed on the virtues of Jesus. This ceremony of more than 500 years, is preserved by the faith of Quiteños.
Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter and it celebrates the journey that Jesus made and his welcoming to Jerusalem. In Quito’s historic downtown a procession begins at La Basilica, where several types of plants (eucalyptus, flowers, rosemary, etc) are blessed. Then, the procession through the narrow streets of Quito begins. You will see a statue of Jesus being carried by its devotees, the Jacchigua (folklore ballet group) dancers dressed in indigenous clothing, and (possibly praying) nuns, priests and faithful members of the church.
On this particular day we recommend you complete the tour of the 7 churches. This particular tour takes you to the seven principal churches downtown, highlighting what makes each of them majestic.
Every year, the procession “Jesus del Gran Poder” or “Jesus of the Great Power” takes the historic downtown. On Friday April 19, a conglomeration of thousands of people floods the streets of Quito. While Jesus is the main character of the parade, on this particular day you will encounter some of the most emblematic characters of Holy Week in Ecuador: the Cucurucho. With purple robes and purple cone-like hats “cucuruchos” represent penance- and the people under the robes, interpreting the character, seek divine forgiveness. Another character you’ll encounter is the “veronica.” Veronica is the woman who cleaned Jesus’ face during the Via Crucis, where his image was preserved. Veronicas usually wear purple shawls or head scarves and join along with religious chants. There are other devotees who carry heavy wooden crosses to demonstrate compassion, and even though the numbers and the severeness have reduced, there are some who even flagellate themselves in the procession.
This ceremonial walk is truly a special manifestation to witness. For this reason we recommend you book a restaurant or hotel in the Historic Center that has a balcony to observe the procession (such as Casa Gangotena).
Saturday of Glory
Saturday of Glory or Holy Saturday is a day of mourning. Devotees are saddened because Jesus is not among them after his execution the previous day. Saturday in churches and convents is a day of prayer and commemoration of Jesus. Saturday is also a day of rest, and for Quiteños who have stayed in the city, it is a day to tour around or lay back and enjoy the long weekend.
Or Resurrection Sunday. This Sunday mass has a particularly festive tone! Almost every church is full as the faithful gather to celebrate the return and resurrection of Jesus who has come back from the dead and has lifted to the heavens.
Don´t miss out:
Night tours of Quito´s beautiful colonial churches:N
During Holy Week there are several tours, including night tours, that take you on a cultural stroll through the most breathtaking churches in the city. Baroque buildings where indigenous, Moorish, Flemish and Italian styles fuse into architectural masterpieces. Interiors decorated with gold leaf, charged details, or huge stone walls and heavy wooden doors, decorated so finely and intricately make Quito’s churches recognized worldwide. Holy Week is a time to walk around the downtown and truly appreciate why this place was the First Cultural Heritage Site in the world.
Another very important aspect of these festivities is its gastronomical offerings. As Holy Week comes close, Fanesca begins to appear in almost every local restaurant. Fanesca is a soup made from 12 grains that represent the 12 apostles! It is served warm and it usually contains fried plantain as a side (or topping).. Fanesca is so popular that every year there is an actual contest to crown the best fanesca in the city! Whatever you do and wherever you go in the city, you have not lived the Holy Week if you haven’t had fanesca!