Maundy Thursday, often called Holy Thursday, is a busy day in Quito. It is a half-holiday and most Quiteños spend the afternoon visiting churches that dot the historic center. While it is a time for reflection and prayer, it is also an opportunity to meet family and friends on the cobblestoned streets outside the churches.

La Compañia de Jesus; Holy Thursday, April 2015 | ©Angela Drake

Maundy Thursday in Historic Quito

Traditionally, the city publishes a list of seven churches that will be open for this holy day. Each church is beautifully decorated for the Easter season.

A few years ago, on a pleasant, sunny afternoon, we joined the pilgrimage. We loved watching as people ran into old friends. More than a fair share of locals reached out to ask us who we were and why we were joining in. We felt more than welcome to tour and take photos alongside so many others. It was amazing to see how many Ecuadorians were visiting these churches as if for the first time, snapping photos as much as we were.

Iglesia de San Francisco; Holy Thursday, April 2015 | ©Angela Drake

Rose-Adorned Crosses

My favorite part of touring the churches was searching for colorful rosaries outside many of the churches. These rosaries are made from hundreds of locally grown roses, adding festive color to the stark white and gray exteriors of the majority of the holy spaces in Quito’s Historic Center.

Some churches chose roses of a deep blood red, others intermixed brighter colors of an Easter sunrise, golden yellows, and sunburst oranges. In some years, we’ve noticed these rosaries go up early in the week, sometimes as soon as Palm Sunday. Other years, they don’t arrive until Holy Thursday. We think it might be weather-dependent as these stunning art pieces are likely to fall apart in heavy rain.

The Stone Cross of the Iglesia de Carmen Alto; Palm Sunday, April 2014 | ©Angela Drake
Iglesia de San Agustín; Holy Thursday, April 2015 | ©Angela Drake

The Holy Thursday Procession of Lights

After touring the churches, a few locals gather for a lesser-known event, an evening parade called La Procesión de la Luz, or the Procession of Lights. It begins at 6:30 pm at the Basilica de Voto Nacional and proceeds down Garcia Moreno. On our first visit to this wonderful parade, we picked it up by chance on the corner of Garcia Moreno just as it turns into the famous neighborhood of La Ronda.

Procesión de Luz, Holy Thursday, Quito; 2015 | ©Angela Drake

The procession was full of colorful characters: children dressed as bright flowers, men and women in brilliant purple robes and tall cone-shaped caps, and monks in brown frocks. The participants are members of a well-known dance troupe, Grupo Folklorico Jacchigua.

Procesión de Luz, Holy Thursday, Quito; 2015 | ©Angela Drake
Procesión de Luz, Holy Thursday, Quito; 2015 | ©Angela Drake

The most striking were three women dressed as different versions of the Virgin Mary, including the Virgin of the Panecillo, complete with a crown of silver and a set of wings.

The Virgin of Quito, Procesión de Luz, Holy Thursday, Quito; 2015 | ©Angela Drake
Procesión de Luz, Holy Thursday, Quito, 2015 | ©Angela Drake

Following the main procession were dozens of locals, each holding a candle with a flickering flame. As the procession walked the cobblestone streets, more people joined in, all walking towards the final destination, the Iglesia Santo Domingo.

Procesión de Luz, Holy Thursday, Quito; 2015 | ©Angela Drake

We followed the brightly-colored, candlelit pageant the plaza. Once there, parade participants circled around a casket with a representation of the body of Christ. A spokesperson spoke for a few minutes before the crowd quickly dispersed into the dark night.

Iglesia Santo Domingo; Procesión de Luz, Holy Thursday, Quito; 2015 | ©Angela Drake

If you are planning to enjoy Holy Thursday in Quito, Ecuador, please reach out and let us know how we can help you plan the perfect day, with or without a local guide.