(Note: Alfombra is Spanish for carpet or rug.)
Unsurprising, Good Friday is a pivotal day in a Catholic Latin American country. And yes, I realize that was redundant. Unlike our experience back home, Viernes Santo is a nationwide holiday. Everything – with small exceptions – is closed and preparations are made for the annual re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross in the streets.
In some ways, at least as far as I can tell, here in El Salvador Good Friday is more important than Easter Sunday, and a tremendous labor of love is exerted to commemorate it. From early in the morning until just before sunset, people are at work in the streets – closed to traffic – arranging salt that has been dyed various colors to create images and motifs connected to the Bible, both its Old and New Testaments. Once completed, the Good Friday procession walks over them (hence the carpet moniker) recreating the Passion of Jesus. We had heard a lot about these carpets from friends who have been here long enough to know, so we took the opportunity to admire the artistry and get a bit closer to the local culture.
The neighborhood of Antiguo Cuscatlan sits just behind our small corner of it, so packing up the Big Man and rolling over to the town square took almost no time. I think we spent more time getting him ready (and packing the necessary gear) than we actually did driving. Once there, we were able to wander sidewalks and portions of yet-to-be-covered street, in awe of the detail and complexity of these amazing images. Every few feet we found a carpet more intricate than the last and wondered the obvious questions: How long does it take to complete one? Are they following a design or just making it up? Where does all of this salt go once the procession finishes? Who does that, and how long does it take?
In some ways it seemed ridiculous to expend such energy during the day on something that will be destroyed that same evening. But, upon further thought, it seemed a nice metaphor. Jesus’ public ministry lasted only three years before his crucifixion destroyed that manifestation. The seeds his death planted, however, have born much fruit. Does laboring over these alfombras provide a similar spiritual nourishment that lasts well after the procession has ended?