An alfombra featuring Christ with a crown of thorns lies at the base of the 12th Station, Jesus dies on the cross. Rose O'Connor photo
An alfombra featuring Christ with a crown of thorns lies at the base of the 12th Station, Jesus dies on the cross. Rose O'Connor photo

If Gustavo Soc was tired on the morning of Good Friday, April 7, he didn’t let it show. As seen on the parish’s Facebook Live, Soc and fellow parishioners of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Trenton, happily gathered on the grounds of Immaculate Conception Church at 4:30 a.m. and went right to work in assembling the alfombras, colorful saw dust “carpets” that lay at the base of the Stations of the Cross, located around the grounds of the Chestnut Avenue church.  

PHOTO GALLERY: Good Friday alfrombas

The early morning hours may not have been so challenging had they not been at the church only a few hours prior, laying out the large alfombra on the floor before the altar following the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. After a brief two-hour nap, they returned to their parish and set to work assembling the wooden pallets and covering them with colored sawdust using both intricately designed stencils and their own imaginations.

As each alfombra is carefully made out of wood shavings and other elements such as rice and dried flowers, a volunteer routinely sprays the creations with water, keeping the wood chips wet so that they won’t blow away. 

The alfombras are intended to be designed and viewed on the same day, and while there was much to be done that early morning, much of the work had already been completed.  

“We thought of the designs and made the stencils a couple of months ago. But it was good to see people add more to the stencils. It was good to see them get involved and make it their own,” Soc said.  

A Treasured Tradition 

The alfombras are a tradition brought to the parish from the country of Guatemala, the native home to many of the parishioners. While these are also traditions found in Mexico and other Central American countries, the alfombras in Guatemala are known for their vibrant colors and are a tourist destination throughout towns and cities during Holy Week as well as the Feast of Corpus Christi. The tradition originated in Spain and was brought to Guatemala more than 500 years ago when the Spanish conquered the people of Central America.   

Originally, the alfombras were created to explain Bible stories to those who were unable to read. The laying of the alfombras also mimicked the act of laying down and creating a “carpet” of palm fronds that Jesus rode upon when he was welcomed into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  

“Our grandparents and our ancestors in Guatemala used plain pine shavings. We decorate with colors,” Freddy de Leon shared.   

Now, the colorful displays may depict an illustration or symbol from Christ’s passion or other images that hold significance to the faith community. 

“We didn’t want to lose the tradition. We did this to bring a little bit of ‘home’ to the people,” Juan Maldonado shared.  

To maintain this part of their Guatemalan heritage, the parish brought the creation of the alfombras three years ago to the Mercer County parish and the tradition has continued to grow, starting with a handful of men the first year to including about 80 men, women and children who arrived before dawn to create the colorful alfombras this year. 

Labor of Love 

Guadalupe Marin, an administrative assistant at the parish, explained that the saw dust used to make the colorful designs was what remained after creation of a bed that is used to carry a statue of the body of Jesus in a procession on Good Friday evening. 

“You can see there are symbols of the crucifixion on there, the spear, the crown, the nails and hammer,” she explained, pointing out the intricate details of the woodwork. 

Those left over wood shavings are then dyed and ready to be used for the alfombras. The process from start to its completion on Good Friday morning can take almost two months. 

The work does not go unnoticed by the parish community.  Hundreds of people participated in the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday and admired and took photos of the alfombras at the conclusion. 

“The parish loves it,” Marin said. “It really reminds them of their home and family in Guatemala.” 

“This is a lot of work. But this is nothing compared to what Jesus did for us on Good Friday. This is about Jesus and our faith and passing on our faith to our children,” William Gramajo said. 

Hector Macario concurred. “This is a way we can give gratitude and to remember all the people we’ve lost.  Macario also acknowledged the support given to the parishioners by their pastor, Father Carlos Aguirre. 

“He lets us share our culture and do all this. We do it to give thanks. We give thanks to God for everything, we give to thanks to God for Jesus. We dedicate and do this all for Jesus.”