From the gallery, we wander back across the plaza of Santo Domingo. This is Semana Santa, Holy Week, and on the church steps women sell crucifixes woven from palm fronds. A crowd gathers along the plaza's north side, standing curbside and atop benches. We join them. They have come for the Procession of Silence, which winds through downtown streets every Good Friday under the flags and sculpted saints of Oaxacan churches. Men in purple robes, their faces shrouded by purple peaked hoods, bear reliquaries and statues on their shoulders. Every saint's platform is bedecked with flowers gathered from the surrounding valley. Women wearing black shawls over their heads march behind, and all are silent, save a drum and flute playing pre-Columbian music. When a group of men trudge by, six-foot crosses on their shoulders, some of the spectators genuflect and bless themselves.
The participants will walk the streets for many hours, for so long the purple-hooded men will take turns carrying and resting. By the time the procession disbands, it will be dark, and they will light their way with lanterns. It is, like Oaxaca and its art, a mix of ancient myth and colonial Catholicism, of color, tradition, nature, hard work, and devotion, all alive in the contemporary world.