The Passion Play of Iztapalapa is one of the largest and most fervent religious celebrations in the world. During Holy Week, more than two million visitors come to Mexico City’s most populous barrio to watch hundreds of actors enact the Passion of Christ.
This tradition has its origin in an outbreak of cholera in 1833, in which 8 out of 10 inhabitants died. The survivors gave the first performance to thank “El Señor de la Cuevita” for ending the epidemic. The performance became a permanent annual event.
Nowadays, this massive production is impressive, eight barrios and thousands of peopledevote months to this event. The Organizing Committee is highly respected in the community. They are in charge of choosing the actors who will play the main roles of Christ, the Virgin Mary and Pontius Pilate. Being selected to play a part entails impeccable conduct, strict discipline and even physical preparation. The role most disputed is precisely that of Christ, because it is a great honour. The man selected to portray Christ must be pure, devout, with an unblemished reputation. Furthermore, the role of Jesus requires physical conditioning to carry the cross.
Today, the play includes not only hundreds of actors, but also thousands of men known as “Nazarenes” who follow Christ on the route to Calvary (el Cerro de la Estrella) in bare feet, with crowns of thorns, carrying their own crosses of varying sizes. Jesus is kicked, beaten whipped and covered in blood, with a cinematic reality. In the processional, Judas walks through the streets and the crowd call out “traitor” as the actor throws fake coins from a bag. The actor that plays Christ is really bound to the cross and remains there for about twenty minutes. After the crucifixion, the representation ends with Judas hanging himself alongside Jesus.
In recreating the passion play, not one person is a professional, but this doesn’t matter. Each of the participants has a personal reason to thank God, and is very proud to be able to take part. While the event is still primarily religious, it has also become a major tourism attraction. In 2010, it was submitted to UNESCO to become an intangible cultural heritage.
Visit the sites below to learn more about Christ’s Passion Play of Iztapalapa: