“The Way of the Cross” in San Antonio

Man portraying Jesus in white smock, barefoot, surrounded by Roman Soldiers.

I visited my mother in San Antonio during Holy Week, and she mentioned that I should take the opportunity to see the “Via Cruces” (Way of the Cross, essentially a theatrical performance similar to the famous Passion Play at Oberammergau, Germany) downtown. It has been staged since 1980, in Spanish. The performers are all amateurs, with the portrayer of Jesus changing every year. It is certainly an act of religious devotion and penitence for the participants. This Good Friday was cold and wet, with a steady drizzle through the morning.  I happened to enter the park where Jesus and a squad of Roman soldiers were waiting for the bishop to finish the prayers that begin the service.

As the bishop and various dignitaries droned on, a wind picked up. I worried about Jesus- he and the Romans raised and lowered their legs to try to keep warm, but with his bare feet and thin cotton smock, there was a risk of hypothermia. Recognizing this, the soldiers gathered around Jesus to form a wind block.  Eventually, 30 minutes after the programmed start of the play, the Bishop stopped talking.  There were several minutes of silence, broken by a drum roll and a cry of trumpets.  The Roman soldiers that had served as a windblock fell into character, spread out, and Jesus began his slow march to the stage.

All the personages in the story were there. Caiaphas, Herod, Pilate, Barabbas, Mary his mother and Mary Magdalen.  Jesus was whipped (figuratively- the whips were soft, but real whips were used for the sound). He was crowned with thorns, ridiculed by the crowd of costumed onlookers, and took up the cross to begin his walk down Dolorosa street to the San Fernando Cathedral.

Jesus carrying cross, wearing the crown of thorns.

The crowd, smaller this year because of the weather followed along.  Some kneeled and prayed, others took photos.  When Jesus fell the third time, a series of priests took the role of Simon of Cyrene by carrying the cross for a block as the procession made its way to the Cathedral.  I thought this watcher was particularly memorable:

Man looking somberly at procession

The crowd stayed silent. Whether devout or just interested, all were watching a play about torturing a man until he died.  The journey took about 90 minutes.

The plaza in front of the Cathedral stood in for Golgotha. The two thieves were put on their crosses and raised up, and then Jesus was laid down on the cross, which lay on the ground.  Spikes were driven in, and ropes tied around the arms of the cross, and then it was raised up for all to see.  I think that Jesus held onto the nails, but with his arms outstretched for 10-15 minutes, it must have been difficult. He said the phrases in the bible (“Where is my mother” “I am thirsty” and “It is finished” which was followed by thunder. After his death, Jesus was lowered from the cross, and there was a truly touching scene when his mother Mary mourned over him. This was so well done that my mother, who watched on television and I both thought she might be the actual mother of the actor portraying Jesus.

Jesus being lowered from the cross via ropes.

Then he was put on a stretcher and carried away around the back side of the cathedral as the thieves looked on. As their bodies were lowered the procession passed through a gate to the back side of the cathedral. A policeman slowly closed the entrance, one gate at a time.

Jesus' body being carried shoulder high.

I returned home. -30-

5 thoughts on ““The Way of the Cross” in San Antonio”

  1. Powerful, all the more because you were there and saw it so recently! (I have only read about this type of procession — very tame versions — in my high school and college literature classes … soooo long ago.). Thank you, Tony.

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