Holy Week Museum, Antigua Guatemala: Visitors Guide

incense burners, semana santa

Are you visiting Antigua Guatemala and are bummed out you won’t be here for the world-famous Holy Week celebrations? No worries! The next best thing you can do to experience it is to stop by the “Museo de las Tradiciones de Semana Santa Sor Juana de Maldonado“! Which, by the way, I’ll refer to as the Holy Week Museum the rest of the article, or we’ll be here all day.


Quick Facts

Holy Week Museum

Location: 4a Calle Oriente #45A, Barrio de la Concepción, Antigua Guatemala

Hours: Monday to Friday – 9 am to 5 pm, Saturday & Sunday – 9 am to 3 pm

Cost: Q15 Tourists, Q5 National Visitors

Phone Number: (502) 7882-4789

Email: museodelasemanasanta@cnpag.com

Las Delicias Fountain

While heading to the museum, check out the nearby fountain, known as “Las Delicias” (“The Delights”). If you’re wondering about the fountain’s curious name, it might be helpful to know it was a popular meeting point for young couples looking for a little alone time. Though it may not look like it now, this neighborhood was on the outskirts of the city during colonial times and didn’t have a great reputation as a safe place to be in at night.

Fuente de las delicias, barrio de la concepcion, antigua guatemala

Fuente de Las Delicias, Barrio de La Concepción

A lot of legends and ghost stories sprang up about this place and other secluded spots, hoping to (unsuccessfully) keep local teenagers away from here. This barrio is also home to the annual “burning of the devil” tradition. Coincidence?

As you head towards the alley to the right of the fountain, keep an eye out for the museum’s signage. The museum isn’t hard to find, though you wouldn’t know that it’s there unless you were actively looking for it.

Entrance to the Holy Week Museum in Antigua Guatemala

Entrance to Museo de las Tradiciones de Semana Santa ‘Sor Juana de Maldonado’

The Building

Even without the exhibits, the building housing the museum is interesting. The museum is located inside a restored Spanish colonial-era residence that was once part of La Concepción Convent, which was the largest in the city.

cisterns, antigua guatemala

The see-through glass lets visitors see the original cisterns

pila, antigua guatemala

Original pila (washbasin)

Like a typical Antigua residence, the museum has many rooms, most of which are laid out around a central courtyard. The small fountain at the center of the courtyard is thought to be original to the house.

courtyard, museo de la semana santa sor juana maldonado

Courtyard fountain

fountain relief details, holy week museum

Fountain relief detail

There’s also a beautifully ornate bathtub – now restored, with interesting plumbing that was used to supply hot water from outside the room.

Restored colonial bathtub

Original bathtub

The Museum Exhibits

Characteristic of the better museums in Antigua, the signage throughout the Holy Week Museum is in Spanish and English. For visitors that have never seen Antigua’s famous Holy Week “alfombras” (sawdust carpets), the museum offers visitors the opportunity to check them out up close. The alfombras on display are not as big as the typical Lenten season alfombras, but their patterns are every bit as elaborate.

alfombra - sawdust carpet, holy week museum, antigua guatemala

Alfombra (sawdust carpet)

There’s also a number of traditional garments on display that was previously worn by the procession participants. The elaborate costumes on display are special garments designed for each statue that was paraded in a procession (a special robe is sewn and donated every year by the faithful – the competition can be fierce).

processional robe, holy week museum

Robe used for processional religious image

There’s also a video presentation running on loop showcasing some of Antigua’s biggest processions. You’ll also have the opportunity to listen to Antigua’s traditional procession music, which sounds a lot like the funeral marches you may hear from New Orleans during the Lenten season.

tambor y tzicolaj, museo de la semana santa, antigua guatemala

Traditional instruments used to announce vigils (drum and tzicolaj – Mayan flutes)

There’s also a number of liturgical instruments on display that are commonly at Lenten Season and Holy Week, such as incense burners.

incense burners, semana santa

Incense burners

Sor Juana de Maldonado

No discussion of the Holy Week Museum would be complete without mentioning its namesake and likely resident in colonial times, Sor Juana de Maldonado y Paz.

Sister Juana, also known as Juana de la Concepción, is one of the most colorful characters in Antigua’s colonial past. Tales of her life were so unbelievable that, until relatively recently, modern historians thought that Sor Juana was a fabrication of Thomas Gage, the somewhat unreliable travel writer, and globe-trotting English Dominican friar.

Juana was an orphan who was adopted by a judge, don Juan de Maldonado y Paz, and his wife. From the start, Juana received special attention due to her beauty and intelligence. Being an only daughter, her parents took the unusual step of providing her the best education available – the sort of education that was usually reserved for boys. She soon developed a talent for poetry, singing, painting, and playing musical instruments.

The Controversy

Sister Juana always seemed to be the hot topic of conversation in town – even at a young age.

One of the city’s best painters, Francisco de Montufar, painted a religious portrait in which Juana was portrayed as St. Lucy, her father as St. John the Baptist, and her cousin as St. Stephen. The painting was subsequently moved to a church, venerated, and paraded around the city in processions.

The religious community was in an uproar over the painting and it caused enough trouble that Juana’s father was brought in front of the Inquisition Tribunal to answer for the heresy. Eventually, Juana’s father was able to escape punishment.

As options for limited for young women at the time, and to atone for religious anger over the painting, Juana decided to join La Concepción Convent. The added benefit was that it also allowed her time to pursue her artistic interests.

Once at the convent, her father was influential enough that she was able to build her own home inside the convent. Her residence is thought to be the Holy Week Museum, though some argue that the actual residence was the Sor Juana Hotel next to the museum.

kitchen, Spanish colonial home, antigua guatemala

Original kitchen and oven

At her private apartment – staffed with servants, Sister Juana was free to receive and entertain visitors – and many obliged. Sister Juana routinely hosted parties for important friends in the artistic community. It’s said that she had the best collection of musical instruments in the city at the time.

Another Scandal

One of the most frequent visitors was the city’s bishop, Juan de Zapata y Sandoval, rumored to be madly in love with Sister Juana. The Bishop was so enthralled with Sor Juana’s beauty and charming personality that when it was time to name a new abbess in charge of massive La Concepcion Convent, the bishop appointed a still very young Sister Juana.

Once again, Sister Juana ended up in middle of the most heated controversy in the city at the time. Her appointment caused enough of an uproar that the incoming bishop annulled the election the same year and removed Sister Juana from the post to quiet the rumors of preferential treatment – or worse, an illicit affair between the bishop and the nun.

Sor Juana’s Legacy

Sister Juana’s legacy was her poetry, which is considered one of the best of the period. But as bright as her life was, she died young, which was attributed to a broken heart due to a failed relationship. She was about 40 years old at the time of her passing, though some accounts dispute that and claim she lived until the age of 68.


photo exhibit, Museo de la Semana Santa

Photo exhibit

If in Antigua, even during Lenten and Holy Week season, check out the museum. It hosts interesting workshops and exhibits throughout the year, including a well-attended alfombra-making workshop during the Lenten season.


Have you visited the museum yet?

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Guatemala Carnival: Cascarones, Pica Pica And Parades

While shopping at the Mercado in Antigua, you might come across stands selling painted eggshells, similar to Easter eggs. These colorful eggs are known as “cascarones”. Next to the eggs, you’ll typically see bags of bright confetti (pica pica).

painted eggshells

Cascarones (eggshells)

Pica pica (confetti)

The eggshells are filled with confetti and their sole purpose is to be smashed on top of someones’ head! As you can imagine, this is a very popular activity among young people. While it’s not an official holiday, the custom is to dress up children in cute animal costumes and have them throw confetti on each other at school.

This celebration is meant to be the last hurrah before the start of the Lenten season. The season is marked by ritual fasting and traditionally associated with the 40 days of fasting that Jesus endured in the desert.

Carnival in Guatemala

Most people in the USA are familiar with Mardi Gras, which is celebrated on Fat Tuesday, as the day before Ash Wednesday is called(it falls on February 14th in 2018). Other popular carnivals are the ones held in Brazil, Colombia, France, and Belgium. The carnival in Venice, Italy, is one of the oldest.

In Guatemala, the biggest and oldest carnival in the country happens in the city of Mazatenango. This carnival is a massive party, featuring parades, beauty pageants, and live bands. While the main day falls on Tuesday, the carnival actually starts on the previous Saturday and runs until Sunday of the following week.


If you ever want to visit the Carnaval Mazateco, plan in advance. The city is over two hours away from Antigua. As an alternative, you can visit the much smaller parade at Paseo de la Sexta and at Paseo Cayalá – both activities in Guatemala City and are organized by INGUAT.


How do you celebrate Fat Tuesday

in your part of the world?

Antigua Guatemala Procession Schedule (2019)

Antigua Guatemala Processions

Antigua Guatemala’s Lenten season and Holy Week for 2018 is already over – which is unusual since the season this year started a lot earlier than in previous years. But it’s never too early to start planning for next year!

To help you plan for 2019’s season, I’m laying out the Antigua Guatemala procession schedule almost a full year ahead of time. No excuses now, so if you’ve always wanted to attend the world-famous celebrations, begin planning now!

Procession Santa Ines Antigua Guatemala

Times for processions may vary, so head to Parque Central or Calzada Santa Lucia and look for an information booth to get starting times and procession routes. Vigils usually start at 9:00 a.m. and end at 11:00 p.m., but not always.

If you’re planning on visiting Antigua soon, you might want to check out the Antigua Guatemala Essential Guide, which has a lot more interesting info. It’s also available in print – I’d be thrilled to autograph your copy :)


Antigua Guatemala Procession Schedule for 2019

Here are the dates for Antigua Guatemala’s processions and vigils:


March 2 (Saturday)

• Vigil – Santa Catarina Bobadilla

First Week of Lenten Season

March 6 – Ash Wednesday

• Vigil – San Felipe de Jesús Church

March 8 (Friday)

• Vigil – Santa Catarina Bobadilla village

• Vigil – San José Cathedral (read more here)

March 9 (Saturday)

• Vigil – San Felipe de Jesús Church

March 10 (Sunday)

• Procession – Santa Catarina Bobadilla village (more here)

Second Week of Lenten Season

March 13 (Wednesday)

• Vigil – Los Llanos, Jocotenango (read more here)

March 15 (Friday)

• Vigil – Santa Inés Church (read more here)

March 16 (Saturday)

• Vigil – Jocotenango

• Procession – Santa Catalina Bobadilla village

March 17 (Sunday)

• Procession – Santa Inés Church (read more here)

Third Week of Lenten Season

March 22 (Friday)

• Vigil – Jocotenango (read more here)

March 23 (Saturday)

• Procession (Children) – Santa Ana village (read more)

• Procession (Children) – Jocotenango

March 24 (Sunday)

• Procession – Jocotenango

• Vigil (Children) – La Merced

Fourth Week of Lenten Season

March 29 (Friday)

• Vigil – Santa Ana Church (read more here)

• Vigil – Escuela de Cristo Church

March 30 (Saturday)

• Vigil – San José Cathedral

• Procession (Children) – San Bartolomé Church

March 31 (Sunday)

• Procession – Santa Ana village


Fifth Week of Lenten Season

April 3 (Wednesday)

• Vigil – San Bartolomé Church

April 5 (Friday)

• Vigil – San Bartolomé Church

• Vigil – Santa Lucía Church

April 6 (Saturday)

• Procession (Children) – Escuela de Cristo Church

• Procession – San José Cathedral

• Vigil – Escuela de Cristo Church

• Vigil – San Francisco Church

April 7 (Sunday)

• Procession – San Bartolomé de Becerra

This well-attended procession is one of the largest in Antigua. The town will be swarming with visitors.

Sixth Week of Lenten Season

April 9 (Tuesday)

• Vigil – San Felipe Church

April 10 (Wednesday)

• Vigil – Escuela de Cristo Church

April 11 (Thursday)

• Vigil (Children) – San José Cathedral

April 12 (Friday)

• Vigil – San José Cathedral

• Vigil – San Cristobal El Bajo

• Vigil – El Calvario Church

• Vigil – La Merced Church

• Procession (Children) – San José Cathedral

• Procession – Jocotenango Church

April 13 (Saturday)

• Vigil – San Felipe de Jesús Church

April 14 (Palm Sunday)

• Procession – La Merced Church

Holy Week in Antigua Guatemala

April 15 (Monday)

• Vigil – La Merced Church

• Procession – Santa Inés Church

April 16 (Tuesday)

• Vigil – San Francisco Church

• Procession – El Calvario Church

April 17 (Wednesday)

• Vigil – Escuela de Cristo Church

• Procession (Children) – La Merced Church

• Procession – San Felipe de Jesús Church

April 18 (Maundy Thursday)

• Procession – San Francisco Church

• Procession – San Cristobal El Bajo Church

April 19 (Good Friday)

• Sentencing (12:00 a.m.) – La Merced Church*

• Procession (3:00 a.m.) – La Merced Church

• Crucifixion Act (12:00 p.m.) – San José Cathedral

• Crucifixion Act (12:00 p.m.) – San José Cathedral

• Burial Procession (3:00 p.m.) – San José Cathedral

• Burial Procession (3:00 p.m.) – San Felipe de Jesús Church

• Procession (4:00 p.m.) – Escuela de Cristo Church

The sentencing is worth staying up for, as a procession of “Roman” soldiers on horseback, torches on hand, ride through town well before 12:00 a.m. This is staged to recreate Jesus’ arrest at Mount Olive.

April 20 (Black Saturday)

• Procession – San Jose Cathedral Church

• Procession – San Felipe de Jesús Church

• Procession – Escuela de Cristo Church

April 21 (Resurrection Sunday)

• Procession – San José Cathedral

• Procession – San Pedro Church (Obras Sociales)

As always, watch your wallet, phone, and other electronic devices while attending crowded processions – pickpockets will be present.

Visit to Santa Ana, Antigua Guatemala

Velacion Santa Ana Guatemala

Right off the bat, I want to apologize for not keeping up with the latest images from Antigua’s Lent season vigils and processions. Events are now coming up fast and furious as we get closer to Holy Week. I hope to catch up sometime this week.

For the 24th day of Lent, I visited Santa Ana, one of the oldest villages surrounding Antigua and a popular option for foreigners quieter, more affordable option to Antigua’s high-priced real estate. Located southeast of Antigua, the entrance to this suburb is easily accessible via public transportation. However, something you should know is that the town’s popularity has kept it expanding further from the main road, which means that some houses in Santa Ana can be quite a long walk uphill from the main road. There are buses that do go into Santa Ana but only during market days (Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays).

Santa Ana’s plaza is fairly lively every night, and you can often find teens playing soccer on the square across the church and families eating dinner bought at street stalls on the north side of the plaza. More on that near the end of the post.

Santa Ana Vigil

This vigil was fairly well attended. Tons of vendors outside, as they were expecting thousands of people to visit well into the night. In the morning, the church was full of schoolchildren – vigils are a popular school outing, and many school groups can be seen making the trek from nearby schools.

Velacion Santa Ana Guatemala

Plaza in front of Santa Ana Church

The display itself was great, though I’ve found I’m not a fan of “deep” ones. When the display is so far back, it makes it hard for visitors to pay close attention to details. This display was way too front-loaded with fruits and other items, which made it hard to admire the unique gray sawdust carpet. Exhibit creators may not have had a choice – fruits, vegetables, and bread are usually donated by the faithful and sometimes there’s no other place to put them than in front of the display.

Santa Ana Antigua Guatemala - 3

Vigil display at Santa Ana

Santa Ana Antigua Guatemala - 4

Sawdust carpet close-up

Santa Ana Antigua Guatemala - 5

Small display near entrance

Santa Ana Antigua Guatemala

Another display near entrance to church

Food Outside Church

As I mentioned earlier, there were many foods and handicrafts vendors outside the church. These vendors move from vigil to vigil, often paying a fee to the brotherhood that set up the church’s display.

Santa Ana Antigua Guatemala - 7

Fresh churros

I chose to eat at one of the “local” food stands – one of the permanent vendors that can be found in Santa Ana. The smell of grilled meats will pull me in every time.

Santa Ana Antigua Guatemala

Grilled Meats

A traditional dish you’ll find at most street fairs is meat plates. For Q15 you get a reasonable, filling meal that includes your choice of meats, pickled cabbage, refried black beans and two or three tortillas. Tasty AND filling!

Santa Ana Antigua Guatemala - 9

 This filling meal will cost Q15 ($2USD)

There was another vigil that day, a much smaller one at Escuela de Cristo church. I’ll cover that in my next post.


Have you visited Santa Ana?

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Santa Ana Children’s Procession In Antigua Guatemala

children's procession antigua guatemala

There were two children’s procession in Antigua today. Unfortunately, I could only make it to one. A children’s procession is always a crowd favorite – almost everything is done on a miniature scale, by children, from the music to anda bearers.

Children’s processions are a relatively recent development, spiking in popularity in the latter half of last century. It’s a way for parents to instill their traditions into their children from an early age.

And now, I leave you with the pictures of tiny Santa Ana’s procession, with its tiny anda, tiny anda bearers, and tiny roman soldiers.


More Semana Santa photos here!