In the same way that the Apostles’ despair at the foot of the cross dissipated in the joy of the resurrection, so too will the traditional alfombras of Good Friday fade by the first light of Easter morning.
These alfombras – the Spanish word for “carpets” – are a Guatemalan Holy Week custom. It is there, among the ruins of colonial churches, that Semana Santa is marked by these elaborately designed compositions of colored sand and sawdust. Typically, families and businesses will work together during Holy Week and throughout
Holy Thursday night to complete these works of art upon which will tread the religious processions of Good Friday.
Though Brookfield is a long way from the cobblestone streets of Antigua, the practice of creating alfombras has now found a special place in the school and parish community of St. Dominic. It was around three years ago that Spanish teacher Lori Miller read about the sand carpets of Guatemala; now, it’s an annual tradition for her more than 300 students to spend their last Spanish classes before spring break constructing intricate designs of their own for the parish’s Holy Thursday Eucharistic procession.
The four alfombras are installed on the main aisle of the school’s performing arts center, where adoration of the Blessed Sacrament will take place after Holy Thursday Mass.
The alfombras created by the students will be walked over by the feet of the faithful within just a few minutes. But the brightly colored particles of sand strewn about the floor will bear silent witness to the adoration of the Eucharist all through the night.
The symbolism of this offering – uniquely human in its impermanence – is not lost on her students, said Miller.
“You know as you’re making this that it’s very temporary and it’s going to be destroyed, but you still put in the work and the effort to make it as beautiful as you can,” she said. “The idea behind it is that you make this beautiful piece of artwork in appreciation to Jesus for the sacrifice that he made.”
St. Dominic principal Jill Fischer called the alfombras “an integral part” of the parish’s Holy Thursday services.
“The first feet to touch the alfombras are the priest’s feet as he carries the Blessed Sacrament to the altar for adoration that evening and into the next day,” she said. “It’s very moving.”
The designs for the alfombras come from the students themselves. From those submissions, Miller selects four concepts – two religious, one geometric and one nature-inspired – and work begins on Monday of Holy Week. Using painting tape, Miller creates a general outline on the floor for the alfombras’ background, and utilizes stenciling to incorporate floral detail and circular shapes. Grades one through eight shuffle through the school’s performing arts center during their scheduled Spanish classes, completing the alfombras bit by bit.
“They love it,” said Miller. “In, fact they would like to just do it all themselves instead of just rotating out (with other classes). I had to tell more than one student today, I’m sorry, I know you want to do more, but we have to let other people have a turn.”
It only takes the students about two days to complete the alfombras, said Miller.
“There has been a growing reverence for the alfombras each year they are completed,” agreed Fischer.
The classes also discuss religious significance behind the alfombras. “We know it’s not just that we’re throwing sand on the floor for fun,” said Miller. “They understand that it’s for a purpose and we’re trying to honor the sacrifice that Jesus made.”
“This is just another way that we can observe Holy Week, beyond what we normally do for Lent, that kind of joins us with those other Catholics.”