The Feast of the Virgin of Dolores

by Judy King 26. March 2010 13:47

Ajijic-Virgin-of-Dolores Each Friday in Lent is marked with a procession and recitation of the Rosary through a different barrio Ajijic. Today, the village's attention focuses on the sadness, pain and suffering that Mary, the mother of Jesus will experience next week she sees her son sentenced to death, and then die on the cross.

Mary is the Virgin of Dolores

Mary, in this aspect of her life is known as The Virgin de Dolores (dolor is the Spanish word for pain.) Very old traditions and customs call for residents to create an altar of offerings—items that symbolize the dolores (grief and pain) of the mother near the door of their homes.

Explaining the Offerings of SymbolsDolores-prayer-card

Altars of Dolores are usually draped in white for the purity of Mary and purple, the color of mourning with a center section covered in brown and topped with a cross—representing Calvary.

The light that accompanies Mary is present in the candles and is reflected in the colorful pitchers of agua frescas (fruit drinks) which represent her tears.

Spring plants and grasses

Chamomile flowers, palms and ferns are common on local altars. The green plants represent humility, the yellow centers of the fresh daisy-like flowers of the chamomile remind us of the beauty of soul and body, while the white petals are another reference to Mary's purity. The ladder-like structure of the ferns and palms call to mind the ladder used to remove the body of Christ from the cross.

Dolores-altar-wheat dolores-altar-hands

Chia and wheat seeds are sown in pots or small containers a week or two before the feast day, but the wheat is kept in the dark so that the sprouting grasses will be a contrasting yellow color on the altar—calling our attention to ripening wheat—a symbol of Jesus as the "bread of life". The bright green new grass of the chia is a symbol of rebirth and new life. Undoubtedly the tradition of these sprouting grasses probably also was the inspiration for the custom of filling baskets with “Easter grass” north of the border.

 dolores-altar-boorah dolores-cross-boorah

(Left:) Decorated in mourning purple, this elaborate altar for La Virgen de Dolores features white flowers and a series of symbols was taken in Guanajuanto. (Right:) During the Ajijic Passion Play, Jesus stops to speak with his  grieving mother.(Photos by Paul Boorah)

Offerings for the Virgin of Dolores are rich with other symbols of the suffering of Christ and his mother: 

  • Bitter oranges, often painted gold, hold fluttering tiny colorful tissue paper flags represent the bitterness Mary felt when she saw her son on the cross.
  • The gold in which they are covered reminds us of the joy that Mary felt when her son was resurrected from the dead.
  • The colorful flags, (or colored egg shapes or circles used to decorate the area) symbolize joy, the rebirth of the earth in the spring and the peace around the world that we pray for.
  • Ladders (often cut from white paper) represent the grief of Mary when the body was removed from the cross.
  • The cloak which was divided by the solders symbolizes the inhumanity and suffering.
  • The hands recall Pilate who washed his hands clean of the incident.

The Traditional Question:

If you visit a home that has mounted an altar for the Virgin of Dolores, be sure to ask the traditional question, "Has the Virgin Mary cried here?" You will be served a glass of limonada con chia (lemonade with chia seeds) a drink to recall the virgin's bitter tears.

What Happens Next:

Today’s observation of the Virgin of Dolores begins a week of events commemorating and symbolizing the last days in the life and Passion of Christ in Ajijic, and many other Mexican villages.

Our next post will outline the joyful procession on Palm Sunday.


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.

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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 ]

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