Of all the events taking place in Quito during Holy Week, the procession of Jesús del Gran Poder is the most famous. It takes place on Good Friday, when thousands of participants gather at the Iglesia del San Francisco before starting on a parade route of more than two and a half miles. That may not sound like far until you realize that many participants will walk the parade route barefoot, others will carry large wooden logs across their shoulders or drag huge chains from their ankles, some will portray Jesus carrying his heavy cross, and all will climb the steep streets that lead up to the Basilica del Voto Nacional before turning and coming back to the plaza where they began. On hot days, the black tar can burn feet and parade watchers will pour water on the hot roads to cool the way for the penitents. In days of old, the route was even more difficult as the roads of the historic center were all cobble, making an uneven surface for walking.
This year, more than 1500 Cucuruchos and 300 Veronicas were expected to show. They were joined by thousands of other people, a great many who walked in the procession itself.
Modern Cucuruchos are both men and women dressed in purple robes with accompanying purple cone hoods that cover one’s face with two slits cut for the eyes. The term cucurucho literally means cone. These penitents march in the procession, often barefoot, as a form of redemption. Cucuruchos have been in Quito as far back as the 16th century when the tradition was brought from Europe to Latin America.
Veronicas represent the woman who comforted Jesus while he carried the cross. At one point along his route, she wiped sweat and blood from his face with her veil and legend has it that his image was transferred to it. Although this story does not appear in the Bible, it obviously resonates with Quiteños. Veronicas traditionally dress in black or in purple and wear veils. They often carry images of Christ.
Another common sight were the Chacatallca. These were all men, except for the single boy we saw, carrying logs across their shoulders. The logs are attached to their bodies using ropes or wire or hojas de sigse which looked similar to stingy nettle. The red marks left on the backs of people using this same plant to strike their backs attest to burning and itching.
Then there were just the people. The ordinary everyday people that came out to walk alongside Jesús del Gran Poder or to help carry the dozens of other holy statues that graced the procession at different moments. There were a few along the entire parade route but at the very end, following the most important figure of all, they came in droves. Policeman were needed to control the crowds there were so many people. There was literally a sea of faces and it was impossible to see any space at all between them.