This past Friday Allison and I got the chance to experience the wonder that is Tañarandy on Good Friday. Our friend Sarah invited us to her place to witness the theater that occurs once a year near her town. A procession travels 10K from a small chapel in the town of Tañarandy to a hillside with a small pond where the story of Jesus’ life, betrayal, and death is told through living art.
It is the vision of the Paraguayan artist “Koki” Ruiz who began this tradition over two decades ago. Things kick off a little before dusk at the chapel. A pious procession bearing the “Sorrowful Mother” statue and carrying candles in the form of crosses sing hymns and slowly make their way to the hillside, accompanied by a multitude of spectators who also make the journey. The red dirt road from the chapel to the hillside is lined with torches and thousands of candles made from halved grapefruits filled with cow lard and a wick that are lit and arranged in several rows. As night falls the rest of the world disappears except for the thousands of pinpricks of light forming a river flowing towards the darkened stage on the side of the hill.
Once the procession reaches the hillside where a large crowd has already gathered, the next phase of the presentation begins. A booming voice rolls down the hillside and across the pond to the audience on the other side. The voice tells the story of Jesus’ life and death, and as it does so, what appear to be enormous recreations of famous paintings or scenes are lit one by one as each illustrates a particular moment in the story. However, these giant paintings use real people wearing stunningly detailed costumes and who are painstakingly positioned to accurately recreate the painting (think Arrested Development). Generally the people inside the paintings don’t move. But in one, if you’d watch closely, you’d see a young mother Mary ever so slowly raising the infant Jesus towards a shimmering light. As the discorporate voice reaches the conclusion of the story, all of the paintings light up in a grand finale.
Allison and I were stunned by the pageantry of the festival. The walk to the hillside felt like a spiritual journey at times while plodding along the path lit by thousands of candles. The booming voice narrating Jesus’ story made for a convincing voice of God, and the living art was a marvel to behold. It is truly a special tradition that has been developed in Tañarandy and one of those hidden gems that no traveler to Paraguay should miss if they’re fortunate enough to be there during Holy Week.