Feast of the Prisoners

Prisoners, Feast of the

Between March 15 and April 18; Tuesday before Easter
Popayán, Colombia, is famous for the beauty of its Holy Week celebrations, which include the traditional blessing of the palms on Palm Sunday and a procession between rows of waving palm branches. But one of the more unusual ceremonies held during this week is called the Feast of the Prisoners.
A procession of litters covered with plates and bowls of food and cases of soft drinks arrives at the local prison on Tuesday afternoon, accompanied by government officials, the archbishop in ceremonial garb, and schoolgirls with more things to eat. The prisoners are gathered in the courtyard to listen to various addresses. One of them who is approaching the end of his sentence is selected to sit, guarded and manacled, at a special table. He symbolizes Barrabas, the man in the biblical Easter story whom the crowd clamored to free instead of Jesus. As people walk by the chosen prisoner they deposit gifts of food or money for him to retrieve when he is set free at the end of the day. That night there is a candlelight procession in which large decorated litters depict scenes from the Passion of Christ or bear images of the saints.
Although no one knows how far back Popayán's Holy Week traditions extend, historical records indicate that Easter ceremonies were being held there in 1558.
CONTACTS:
Embassy of Colombia
2118 Leroy Pl. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-387-8338; fax: 202-232-8643
www.colombiaemb.org
SOURCES:
EncyEaster-2002, p. 64
FiestaTime-1965, p. 74
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