Fiesta de San Juan Cosalá

by Judy King 23. June 2010 11:35

SJC-flowerdisplay The most traditional patron saint fiesta, the novena in San Juan Cosalá honoring San Juan Bautista is building to its annual dramatic conclusion. The celebration in this oldest of the north shore Lake Chapala villages began June 16 with the faithful parishioners gathering to the sound of bursting sky rockets early every morning to walk in a pilgrimage to the village church.

The fiesta in San Juan Cosalá is filled with some of the most devout customs seen on Lake Chapala's north shore – including a host of special Masses which attract enough participants to fill the town church to the point of bursting.

There is a special Mass with services for the sick, in another the children receive first communion. There is a Mass for the Hijos Ausentes, (those San Juan Cosalá natives who have gone to the United States or other areas to work and live) and a Mass for those members of the community who have died during the year. It’s not unusual for as many as 18 priests from nearby communities to take part in the special noontime High Mass on June 24, the fiesta's final day. One night during the fiesta (usually on a Saturday night), townspeople take shifts to keep an all-night vigil in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the church.

Many of the traditions exhibited here in the fiesta are more reminiscent of the old-time fiestas than those we see in other Lakeside villages. Villagers erect altars honoring San Juan Bautista in front of their homes. Even the early morning activities in San Juan Cosalá are more focused on the activities in the church than on beginning an all-day party.

Each morning the village is awakened by cojetes (skyrockets) and music so that as many people as possible can hurry to the procession's starting points at alternating ends of the village for the walk to the church reciting the rosary. The early morning service begins at 6:30 a.m. At noon, skyrockets call townspeople to the church for meditation and another recitation of the rosary.

The daily 6 p.m. procession of pilgrims to the church is accompanied by one of the local bandas and is always lead by villagers who dance in the style of the indigenous people who lived in this area long before the arrival of the Spanish. The procession begins on alternate days from the east and west ends of Calle Porfirio Díaz.

Each evening, the day’s sponsors and others in the procession carry offerings of flowers, wine, bread, food and other items to the church. One night, a year's supply of sirios (large candles) is carried in the procession and presented to the church.

SJC-allages SJC-offering SJC-float 

The daily 6 p.m. procession of pilgrims to the church is accompanied by one of the local bandas and is always lead by villagers who dance in the style of the indigenous people who lived in this area long before the arrival of the Spanish. The procession begins on alternate days from the east and west ends of Calle Porfirio Díaz.

Each evening, the day’s sponsors and others in the procession carry offerings of flowers, wine, bread, food and other items to the church. One night, a year's supply of sirios (large candles) is carried in the procession and presented to the church.

As the evening procession arrives at the church, the band goes into the church first to play "Las Mañanitas" at the altar for San Juan.

When the band leaves the church, the dancers file in to dance at the altar in honor of the patron saint. They leave and then dance in the church's front atrium after Mass.

Each day of the fiesta is organized and sponsored by individual families and by local trade unions, businesses, and employees. Those who take an active part include the brick masons and construction workers, the restaurant owners from the Piedra Barrenada area just east of town, the shop owners, the Cosalá fishing union, the chayoteros (growers of chayote, a pear-shaped squash) the owners and employees of the balnearios (hot springs), and the achioteros (makers of achiote, a spice rub for meat and fish).

SJC-dancers SJC-beheading-juan

Some years I round up a group of friends so we can go to San Juan Cosalá for the final enormous solemn procession honoring St. John the Baptist on the evening of June 24. The procession begins at the village church, moves to the west end of town, then goes east on the carretera (highway) to Calle Porfirio Díaz and then moves back west along that street  to return to the church.

The ages of the participants ranges from newborn babies to the most elderly of the community. During the procession, young girls wear their white First Communion or confirmation dresses. You'll see figures representing the animal skin-clad John the Baptist riding on carros alegóricos (elaborate floats with Biblical themes) depicting moments in his life).

Leading off the pilgrimage are dancers, a band, and the village priest. Three or four bands, elaborate floats depicting Biblical scenes, three or four other troupes of dancers, and hundreds of pilgrims jostle for space in the narrow streets.

It is easy to see the great devotion the people hold for San Juan. Their feelings are demonstrated by the enormous attendance at the last procession and in the sacrifices of some of villagers for the patron.

SJC-blindfold SJC-baby1 SJC-baby2

Each year I spot pilgrims walking on the harsh cobblestones with bare feet—in penance or in an act of thanksgiving. Some walk the whole route blindfolded, holding to the arm of a friend, as an act of blind faith in payment of a manda (a solemn petition or vow). You'll spot many of the town's tiny tots dressed in skins (or fake fur); their parents are also carrying out their manda.

SJC-velvet There are so many walking in the procession that trying to watch from the sidewalks along Calle Porfirio Díaz just isn't comfortable and getting pictures becomes nearly impossible with people spill out of the streets to fill the sidewalks.

Over the years, I've found that my favorite spot for watching the procession is along the highway near the Telmex installation at the intersection with Calle Porfirio Díaz at the east end of town. I arrive early, find a parking space just east of the turn into the village and wait in the car in the shade until I hear the procession arriving. Then I can walk along the highway a bit and set up a great spot for viewing and picture taking.

 

The procession begins about 6 p.m. on that last day, and arrives at the church in time for 7 p.m. Mass .

The castillo (set piece fireworks) in San Juan Cosalá is usually burned earlier in the evening than it is in other towns to protect it from getting wet from an evening rainy season shower. Sometimes it is set off soon after the evening Mass, especially if it looks like a storm is approaching.

There is always a paseo and music for dancing at the plaza. In one year's grand finale, six village bandas played for the serenata (serenade) and dance, until they were rained out sometime after 1 AM.

Want to know more about San Juan Cosalá?

You may enjoy reading these other articles we’ve published about Lakeside’s most traditional village, Just click on any of these three titles:


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Comments

7/1/2010 3:35:03 AM #

Hey very good blog!!!! Wow... Gorgeous .. Amazing .. I’ll bookmark your weblog and take the feeds also...

Alvin Cuzzort United States |

Comments are closed

About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

Let's Be Social

Become friends with
Judy on Facebook,
or follow Judy on Twitter.

Log in