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Friday of Sorrows

March 31, 2024

by Luisa Ruiz

March 22 was the Friday of Sorrows (Viernes de Dolores), which is a Catholic tradition in which the sufferings of the Virgin Mary are remembered with the image of Our Lady of Sorrows. It's always the Friday before Holy Week.

Our Lady of Sorrows represents the sufferings of Mary during the life, passion and death of Jesus. It is said that there were seven sorrows of Mary:
First sorrow: when the Child Jesus is presented in the temple of Jerusalem, Simeon prophesies the suffering of Mary with the phrase: "And to you, woman, a sword will pierce your heart."
Second sorrow: Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt with the Child Jesus because Herod had ordered him killed.
Third sorrow: At the age of 12, Jesus is lost in the Temple of Jerusalem for three days.
Fourth sorrow: Mary meets Jesus on the way to Calvary.
Fifth sorrow: Crucifixion of Jesus.
Sixth sorrow: Descent from the cross.
Seventh sorrow: Burial of Jesus.

In San Miguel the tradition of Friday of Sorrows is deeply rooted, so many altars are set up that day, in private homes, businesses, churches and even in the street.

I went around downtown and I was able to take pictures of the different altars. Below I will explain the elements at the altar and the meaning of each of them:
1) The bitter orange means the bitterness of the Virgin.
2) The palm means the strength of the Virgin.
3) The gold foil banners that stick on the oranges signify God's covenant with men.
4) The sprouted wheat represents the Eucharist and also the paths of Palestine where Jesus Christ walked.
5) The colorful water recalls the tears of the Virgin.
6) Fennel, mastrant and chamomile, which are medicinal herbs, are for flavouring.
7) The chilacayote in sweet alludes to the sweetness of the Virgin.

After sunset, the streets were filled with more and more people visiting the different altars in the center. I also saw many people giving away flavored waters, ice cream, popsicles and chilacayote.

And this is the beginning of Holy Week, so important for the Catholic Church, since it is when the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection are remembered. It is a week where different celebrations take place.

Finally I share an anonymous poem written in commemoration of Friday of Sorrows:

Seven pains of steel,
your holy chest pierce,
receiving from the cross
the broken and bloodless son.
You are, Maria Flor Dolorosa,
sweet, pure, without blemish,
that you suffer unworthily,
the torments of the sword.
To your mother's lap
your son comes back bleeding,
now for our sins,
dead and vilified.
Leave us contrite Mother,
cry a little your sorrows
and fill with wallflowers
your Friday of Sorrows.


Luisa Ruiz is a chemistry teacher, transpersonal psychotherapist, grief counselor and workshop facilitator, death doula. The Founder of Death Café in Mexico, she has worked for the NGO Uno en Voluntad giving grief workshops. She also worked for Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation as a course and workshop facilitator and as a death doula. She loves reading, writing, hiking and travelling.


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