La Calle de los Pasos

La Antigua is a magical place that even now recalls a time when the capital city of the Reino de Goathemala represented the center point between the two Americas. A time when the streets of the city were laid out – not due to chance, but rather due to knowledge and intuition: a train of thought by the city’s founders that went beyond the traditional…and even the commercial. The city’s importance meant that aspects of monarchical and religious royalty were taken into account in its design (something very particular to colonial times) – utilizing symbols, dates and characteristics that reflected Spanish spirituality. One such clear example of this is La Calle de los Pasos (‘The Street of the Spanish Steps’).

La Calle de los Pasos connects two temples that were (and still are) very important to the city – San Francisco El Grande and El Calvario. Both fell under Franciscan jurisdiction and were exactly 1,322 ‘Spanish steps’ apart (these being the distance between the sole of the foot and the knee of a Spaniard of average height) – representing the distance that Jesus Christ walked along the Sacred Road. What really makes this street stand out is that along its length there were constructed 14 little chapels that represented the Via Crucis (the Stations of the Cross).

The first of these Stations was to be found within the perimeter of the temple of the San Buenaventura school – nowadays San Francisco’s religious artefact market. From here, the little chapels are spread out towards the South at regular intervals. These are spaces of solemnity, toured penitently by the well-known Santo Hermano Pedro as much for purification as to raise funds for his hospital for poor indigenous people. Since the time of Hermano Pedro the space has been used for different religious purposes.

This street was marked during the second ‘draft’ of the City – coming into existence in the 17th Century and being officially registered by a deed brought into being in 1619. It was here that an image of Jesus of Nazareth of unknown origins was brought on the shoulders of devotees to the place where the Ermita de El Calvario would later be built. To begin with the walls were punctuated with simple niches, but around 1691 these were substituted by domed chapels with an altar, which the friars were asked to decorate with canvases of their own making.

In the year 1943 the chapels were renovated for the celebration of the tercentenary anniversary of the city and President Jorge Ubico ordered the paintings to be removed and statues to be installed in their place. The chapels along the Alameda de El Calvario were originally installed at ground level – something that changed over time due to the flooding of the Pensativo River and the subsequent rising of the water level. For this reason, the fountain along the Alameda is at a much lower level than the chapels.

In 1994 the artist Freddy de León painted the oil paintings that are now seen inside each Station and the spaces were given a facelift with yellow paint and white borders. Around the year 2000 the Franciscans became involved in the project – making themselves responsible for the opening and closing of the 3rd Station – something that represents (according to a local lady Dolores Reyes Garcia) the continuation of the traditions of such a distinguished street.

Written by: Erick Reyes Andrade
Translated: Jessica Hoult
photos by:  S. Letona


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