For Christians around the world, this is Holy Week, which includes numerous activities and celebrations that precede Easter Sunday. Common activities include performing the Stations of the Cross, which revisits Jesus’ crucifixion, Seder meals to recall the Last Supper, washing of the feet, which Jesus did for his disciples, and processions on Good Friday, the day Jesus died.
But some cultures take these celebrations beyond mere remembrances. Here are some of the more extreme Good Friday celebrations around the world:
Residents of this Mexico City suburb perform a realistic “Passion Play,” a dramatic representation of Christ’s crucifixion and death. While not sanctioned by the Catholic Church, it is sponsored by the area government, which has designated it an “intangible cultural heritage” of Mexico City — a UNESCO designation that focuses on intangible elements of a culture.
During the play, 4000 local actors re-enact Christ’s walk to his death on Calvary. The individual who portrays Jesus, chosen for his moral character and physical strength, endures wearing a crown of thorns and being flogged as he carries a 200-pound cross. He is then tied to it in a re-enactment of the crucifixion.
In the Philippines, there is no tying to the cross. Instead, participants are actually nailed — hands and feet — to a cross just as Jesus Christ was 2000 years ago. The San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites in Pampanga have taken place on Good Friday after a two-hour street play every year since 1962.
At least three, and as many as 12, individuals are nailed to a cross on a makeshift Calvary. Each person remains on the cross until he “feels cleansed of his sin,” while others flog themselves with bamboo sticks tied to a rope. One man has been nailed to the cross 22 times.
Trafalgar Square, London
This realistic interpretation of Jesus’ death is not as graphic as Pampanga’s, but it’s still not advised for young children. The Passion of Jesus in Trafalgar Square involves more than 100 participants from the Wintershall Players, as well as horses, doves and donkeys.
Some 20,000 spectators attend the event, which has free 90-minute performances at noon and 3:15 p.m. on Good Friday, as well as big screens to ensure everyone can watch.
San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Spain
Participants dressed in white habits flog themselves at the “Los Picaos” procession in the Rioja Village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra in northern Spain.
Using esparto grass ropes, they whip their backs in a graphic display for 20 minutes. This method of penance, used in many places through the 18th century, has managed to survive to modern times in this Spanish village.
Germany’s take on the suffering of Jesus is a bit tamer. The charming southwestern town of Bensheim, which just celebrated its 1,250th anniversary, has hosted an annual Good Friday procession presented by local Italian families since 1982.
Crowds gather for the theatrical performance, which begins with Judas’ famous kiss of betrayal and includes Jesus’ appearance before the Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate sentencing him to death and Jesus’ scourging, carrying of the cross and death.
Lyn Mettler is an Indianapolis, Ind.-based travel writer. You can find her at www.GotoTravelGal.com or on Twitter at @GotoTravelGal.