Semana Santa, or Easter Holy Week, is one of the most celebrated festivities in Peru. The country has been Catholic since the 15th century Spanish invasion, but has a much longer history of practicing ritual and tradition. If it were even possible for Peru’s bustling capital to become even busier, Semana Santa is the week when it does. Whilst this can be a problem when you’re trying to buy flowers and the queue is longer than the street you’re on, there are ways Peruvians celebrate this occasion which are delightful and surprising. The flower display in Surco is particularly striking, and represents Lima’s appreciation for the Catholic faith, as well as an ability to organise a social event in style.
Surco district is just inland from Barranco, and borders San Juan de Miraflores, San Borja, and La Molina. The area is typically ‘South American’, with a mishmash of coloured houses, barber shops, booming reggae-ton, street vendors and an open plaza uniting it all. During Semana Santa it becomes busier than usual, and there is a general atmosphere of excitement. The church San Juan Grande rests at the plaza’s centre. Peruvians gather outside to listen to a speech given by a priest which booms out of big black speakers.
The church itself has a fascinating history. Built in 1752, the story is told that jesuits built an underground passage from the church to the Santiago Apostol Cathedral as a last minute escape system in the case of a sudden invasion. Today it is a grand, pale yellow building with impressive colonial archways. It may seem the centre of attention, but a small walk around the plaza will prove otherwise.
Locals and tourists buzz around coming to see the holy images depicted around the square. The images depict religious events or symbols and are artfully recreated using natural resources. Looking close you can see that each is constructed using individual flower petals; lots of tiny, different coloured pieces. Tubs full of a type of petal, vibrant in colour, lie in groups around the square. The organisers take handfuls of them and scatter them where they want to form a picture.
Each individual image is pre-planned, and before scattering the petals outlines are drawn in lines of dark brown sand. The finished pieces are quite stunning, and often impressively detailed. One of the larger images displays the last supper, with Jesus in the centre and his disciplines around him. The faces are painted but the rest of the image is made solely from petals. Tourists queue for a small platform to get a birds eye perspective.
Integrating religion and art is a common form of expression in Peru, a country with an amalgamation of religions, from ancient Andean rituals, to the Incan cosmovision and, of course, Catholicism. The social project in Surco is one example of how Peruvians continue to celebrate nature no matter the circumstances of the country. Despite the ex-presidents recent tragic death and the everyday socio-economic struggle Limonians face, they gather together to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and to make beautiful artwork out of flowers.