Monday, July 15, 2024

Iztapalapa’s renowned Passion Play celebrates its 181st year

More than 500,000 people reportedly attended the beginning of the multi-day Passion Play in Iztapalapa, a borough on the eastern outskirts of Mexico City where a re-creation of Jesus’ trial, suffering and death is a tradition that dates back 181 years.

During Holy Week, the center of Iztapalapa is transformed into a biblical Jerusalem that serves as a grand stage for the performances, which included hundreds if not thousands of “Nazarenes” hauling crosses through the streets to the site where the crucifixion is reenacted.

Although Jesus is portrayed by an actor, the Nazarenes are mostly Iztapalapa residents and people from select nearby communities — and according to figures provided by the borough mayor’s office, more than a few of them needed medical attention for injuries to their bare feet.

In all, according to the mayor’s office, 76 people were treated on Thursday night for foot injuries, hypoglycemia and hypertension. The mayor’s office also provided the figure that half a million people were in attendance at 9 p.m.

The annual Passion Play of Iztapalapa is one of the oldest and most elaborate such events in Latin America. Though rooted in strong religious connotations, the event has also become a symbol of municipal pride for a densely populated and high-crime borough that has been referred to as the “dumpster” of Mexico City.

It has also become a major tourist attraction, reportedly drawing up to 4 million spectators over the week in pre-pandemic times. When the play returned in 2022 after being closed to the public for two years, it drew 1.5 million people to the area, borough authorities said.

A live-broadcast news reel depicts the final stages of the crucifixion. (Azteca Noticias/X)

The reenactment of Jesus’ final hours includes various scenes related to Holy Week, such as Jesus leading the Last Supper and washing the feet of the 12 apostles on Maundy Thursday.

His trial at the hands of Pontius Pilate, his martyrdom and his killing are also portrayed, the latter occurring at “Mount Cavalry,” said to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion — this one re-created at the top of Iztapalapa’s Cerro de la Estrella.

Jesus this year is being played by Christopher Gómez, 22, of Iztapalapa, and he will actually be bound to the cross and remain there for 20 minutes on Friday at 3 p.m., said to be the time at which Jesus was crucified.

“To be Jesus requires great physical effort,” declared the athletic Gómez, who began his preparation for the role months ago. “We started running, then we added the cross, which weighs 80 or 90 kilos. We also carried a log to lose feeling in our right shoulder.

“We also did push-ups, since in one of the falls I have to get up with a push-up because the cross falls on me.”

On Thursday, in the main plaza of Iztapalapa dressed up like Jerusalem, the big crowd did its best to follow the proceedings, helped along with loudspeakers and giant screens.

The night ended with Jesus (Christopher) — followed by the “Nazarenes” and their crosses — heading to the Cerro de la Estrella version of Gethsemane, a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem where Jesus underwent the agony of temptation and was apprehended.

That left everything in place for the crucifixion, which will be reenacted on Friday just as it has been in Iztapalapa every year since 1843.

With reports from La Jornada and Milenio

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