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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.