Holy Cross, a tradition of pre-Hispanic origin associated with the rituals of requesting rainfall and carried out at the beginning of the agricultural cycle

03/05/2021

The celebration of the Day of the Holy Cross, which takes place every May 3rd, is a deeply rooted tradition in different parts of Mexico. Few know that this belief was inherited from pre-Hispanic times, but not before being modified by the Spanish evangelists after the Conquest.

This festivity, also known as Mason's Day, because this is the sector that celebrates with masses, a feast, and the placement of the traditional wooden cross in the construction sites; has its antecedents in the rituals practiced by the pre-Columbian cultures for the petition of rains and the obtaining of good harvests, which were carried out at the beginning of the agricultural cycle, around the first days of May.

When the Spanish evangelists arrived in the old Mexican territory, they modified some of the pre-Hispanic beliefs so that they would have similarities with those of the Catholic religion. Thus, during the Colonial period, the pre-Hispanic ritual for the petition of rain to Tlaloc, god of rain, was transformed into prayers for good harvests and was incorporated into the devotion of the Holy Cross. This was placed on the first Sunday of May in the Catholic calendar, which is the Marian month or the month of the Virgin Mary, and on that day the petition is made to her son Jesus.

This association came about because the people saw Jesus Christ as a possibility of giving life through rain, necessary for an economy like ours, which is originally agricultural, in which corn is the basis of food. Currently, the celebration of the Holy Cross is held in different states of the Mexican Republic, such is the case of the Puebla municipalities of Tochimilco and Huaquechula, where the rites of petitioning for rain and good harvest are still carried out, although no longer to the pre-Hispanic gods, but to Jesus Christ.

In Tochimilco they venerate a cross placed approximately in 1800, on the top of a hill in the town of Cuautomatitla, while in Huaquechula every May 3 a pilgrimage and reverence to the stone cross of the Franciscan parish of the XVI century is carried out. On this site the "mayordomos" who pay mandas or promises to the Holy Cross, dance to the sound of wind music in the corners of the popoxcomitl (incense decorated with flowers).

Another particular case of this practice is that of Chilapa, in the mountainous zone of Guerrero, where even the sacrifice of animals is carried out at the top of the hills. It is worth commenting on how the festivity of the Holy Cross preserves a very strong Mesoamerican root since the peasants also perform rituals of 'limpias' with copal.

In other parts of the country, processions are made with the Holy Cross of the main parish and with the Blessed Sacrament. In other places, the pilgrimages are with ears of cornflower of the cornfield-, where they carry corn reeds with cobs and go out to the street to ask for a good rainy season, while they walk they pray the rosary accompanied by the image of the patron saint of the town.

It was from the twentieth century when the great feast of a petition for the good harvest was linked with greater force to the construction activity, both in rural towns and in the cities. Although its link with this guild originated in colonial times with the founding of brotherhoods and the ancient devotion to Santa Elena, who was credited with having found the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

The construction guilds celebrate this day by taking decorated crosses to the temples to bless them and place them on the top of the constructions or they perform masses at the construction site so that the construction work will be completed successfully. Some crosses carry a piece of cloth to give it the symbolism of the sacred blanket. 

This guild celebrates May 3, because Jesus is the best example of the construction of life, and the masons are part of the construction sector within society and have this tradition deeply rooted. At the end of the liturgical celebrations, the traditional meal follows.

By Mexicanist