the town of san francisco magú lies a half hour away. situated in the hills rising over the north side of the valley of méxico, it's the kind of place where everyone knows each other, and has for a long, long time. it stands out historically from other small towns in the area, in the form of a centuries-old document: penned by a spanish viceroy, the people of magú carefully guard the parchment that declares their exemption from tax payments. ratified by benito juárez in 1871, the edict still holds true legally, and for the residents, wonderfully. legends describe the viceroy's motivations for decreeing perpetual benevolence in favor of his subjects, though i'm not sure anyone claims to an official version. those legends may hold more truth than anyone will ever know.
patricio and i visited magú today at noon, joining the town's crowd in honor of a different, more weighty truth. towns and cities all over the country celebrate good friday in much the same way as magú, by reenacting the events of christ's crucifixion. every four years, a different young man volunteers in magú to carry a fifty-pound cross through the streets toward the church, a crown of real thorns on his head and the insults of soldiers in his ears. their whips may have been soft braids of cloth, but they still left his and the two thieves' backs as red as a burn by the end of the procession. at each station, the new testament events were narrated and prayers were offered up. it was impossible not to be moved. observers watched from windows and rooftops and doorways, some offering cold bags of juice to the crowds passing by. it was a long, hot walk--many times more for jesus and the thieves. (click here for a glimpse in motion).
arriving at the church, they were tied to their crosses and vaulted into place. the narration and the events continued, with the hanging of judas from a nearby tree. vendors sold churros and ice cream to children while jesus cried out in thirst.
i though for awhile about the penitente communities in northern new mexico and southern colorado that also reenacted the good friday crucifixion. i remember listening to stories about real crucifixions and self-flagellation, amazed that religious fervor could lead believers to such extents. hours after the procession, i can see why the tradition--no matter what the level of verisimilitude--remains so deeply rooted. in magú, it puts a whole new spin on perpetual exemption, and the truth in the stories behind it.