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To Heaven Through the Streets of Guatemala City: the Processions of the Virgin of the Assumption


Catherine A. Reiland is a master’s candidate in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University. Born and raised in Wisconsin by her Guatemalan mother and North American father, Catherine traces her interest in religious performance and devotional sculpture to childhood memories of attending processions and visiting churches with her grandfather and aunts. Her grandfather’s home was located in the heart of Guatemala City and provided easy access to the city’s grand penitential processions and temples that house centuries-old imágenes. In addition to her research on Guatemalan religious performance, Catherine is currently an editorial assistant at NYU’s Hemispheric Institute and a project manager at the New York University Humanities Initiative.



Guatemala City’s Jocotenango neighborhood bustles in August with the annual celebrations honoring the Virgin of the Assumption, the capital city’s patron. The Virgin travels triumphantly atop the shoulders of adults and children, arms raised skyward, forever caught in her journey toward heaven. Devotees carry her past shops, brightly painted homes, and neighborhood churches. Many of the participants have themselves traveled to see her traverse the streets. Some come from nearby communities. Others who have left the capital city to find work in the United States return to their childhood church every year.

The photo essay highlights the quiet and contemplative moments interspersed among the sharp blasts of cheerful firecrackers, triumphant notes of the wind and brass band, and the powerful energy that is produced when thousands congregate to witness or perform in one of Guatemala City’s chief religious processions. The essay also seeks to capture the tenderness and love found in the careful aesthetic considerations that shape visual aspects of the procession of the Virgin of the Assumption.


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