The sixth Friday of Lent which is the Friday preceding Palm Sunday is known in Mexico as “El Viernes de Dolores”, or “The Friday of Sorrows” in honor of “Nuestra Señora de los Dolores” or simply “La Virgen de los Dolores”. We know her in English as “Our Lady of Sorrows”. On this day, altars are erected in streets, homes, and churches all over Mexico in honor of the Blessed Virgin. The general devotion to the Virgin Mary had its beginnings around the year 1200 with St. Francis of Assisi and his Franciscan brothers. A council in Cologne Germany, in the year 1413, established the sixth Friday of Lent as a day of devotion to Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, to commemorate her seven sorrows which are:
1.) The prophecy of Simeon at the temple that her Son would bring redemption to the people of Israel and that her soul would be pierced by a dagger.
2.) The flight into Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod and his attempt to have the Baby Jesus killed.
3.) The loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple while He talked with the elders and priests.
4.) The meeting of Jesus and his Mother on the Way of the Cross.
5.) The crucifixion and death of Jesus.
6.) The taking down of the body of Jesus from the cross.
7.) The burial of Jesus
The practice of building altars in honor of the suffering of Mary for the passion and death of her son, began around the year 1500 Spain and from there it was moved to Mexico in the first years after the Spanish conquest. Friar Bartolome de Olmedo built the first altar of Dolores in San Juan de Ulúa (Veracruz) in 1519. The altars are sometimes called called “incendios” which means “conflagration” or “passion”. They are created by placing the image or statue of Our Lady of Sorrows in the center of the selected space, and often accompanied by a Cross. Around her are arranged large candles in white or purple, decorated in crepe, and as many flowers as possible. Traditional colors of the flowers vary to include shades of purple, symbolizing grief; all white representing purity; or white and red for the blood shed by Jesus. They also contain bottles of colored water which represent the tears at the foot of the cross. There are traditional bitter oranges symbolizing the bitterness of tears with little flags of gold paper that symbolize purity and little clay pots or jars sprouting wheat grass that symbolize the resurrection and renewal.
One of the quaint old practices that still survives in little tucked away corners of Mexico is a cool drink that is offered to neighbors and passers by on the Friday of Sorrows. It is made from oranges, bananas, apples, beets, finely chopped lettuce, cold water, sugar, and ground cinnamon. People are also given a form of sherbet called “nieve” which means “snow”. One of the best places to experience the “Viernes de Dolores” in the central region of Mexico where I live is in the city of Guanajuato in the state of the same name. That is where I took the pictures below in 2007.