To say religion is big here is quite the understatement, it’s huge and massively complex.
Only exploring on foot, we’ve visited at least 12 large churches and basilicas and of course the main Cathedral here in Oaxaca, not to mention countless smaller chapels and shrines – some more elaborate than others – whilst the many roadside shrines dotted all over town (sometimes just a crucifix, a lit candle and some flowers) are handy for a quickie – a prayer that is (and not necessarily marking an unfortunate traffic accident. These are old – built into the walls).
For my money, Santo Domingo de Guzmán (1552) is the most spectacular and borders the Ethnobotanical Gardens we raved about earlier, whilst the enormous Cathedral in the Zócolo (1535) has seen much earthquake damage over the centuries but remains an imposing centrepiece to the city.
Sunday of course is the main day for attending church, but I have to say on every occasion we’ve popped our head in throughout the week they’ve been well attended – sometimes full to overflowing, congregations spilling out into the street or square. Occasionally we’ve thought a wedding was taking place, what with all the flowers and ribbons decking out the space, only to discover it’s a particular Saint’s day or something do with the Virgin… you never know….
There are stalls outside and inside every church selling all kinds of gaudy religious items, some more tacky than others – rosary beads of course, but how about a half-lifesize Christ nailed and bleeding on the cross, no? A bloodied replica heart? Or perhaps collect a set of saints’ playing cards (they’re not really playing cards, more a life and a prayer with a picture, but they look like ‘em – Ants has collected almost enough for Happy Families), plus a dizzying assortment of beads, bangles and talismans you can stick in your car for protection.