If the walk tests the body, the terrain speaks to the soul. Dotted with juniper and piñon trees, the high desert is seemingly painted with scenes right out of the Bible. Was Jesus tempted for forty days in a terrain like this? pilgrims ponder, trekking by a stories-high, red rock formation that resembles a pinnacle. Even the desert air seems sacred.
“How many more miles?” a Minnesota pilgrim with “prairie legs” asks another pilgrim.
“Hallelujah!” the Minnesota pilgrim exclaims, unaware the last hill — “Golgotha,” as some pilgrims call it — is the steepest of all.
Left foot. Right foot. One step after another. Finally, pilgrims reach “Golgotha,” eyes taking in the calvario (a cross-topped hill representing Calvary) above and the village of Chimayo below. Half the grace of walking is arriving, but the spiritual journey is far from over. Now begins the one-mile descent into Chimayo — like a long walk into a tomb.
Reenacting the Passion at El Santuario de Chimayo. (Photo by author)
Even before noon, many hundreds of pilgrims are waiting in line outside El Santuario to venerate the crucifix of Our Lord of Esquipulas. But no one complains. “The Good Lord waited for them,” they say, “and now they wait for the Good Lord.” Nearby, a group reenacts the Passion. As the three o’clock hour nears — the hour of Our Lord’s death — the winds begin to blow fiercely. Even the hills of Chimayo seem to know the salvation story.
Ascending one last hill to find rides to take them home, pilgrims turn around and look back at El Santuario below. Like Jesus, they endured the pain of a long walk to Calvary. They carried their crosses. They “died” for others. A spirit of joy begins to well up inside.
Easter is coming! Alleluia! Alle-luuu-iaaa!
Author’s note: While the Good Friday pilgrimage is cancelled again this year because of Covid-19, pilgrims continue to make the journey in their hearts.
(Excerpted from Shrines and Wonders: The Pilgrim’s Guide to Santa Fe and Northern by New Mexico by Marion Amberg.)
Copyright 2021 by Marion Amberg