Clouds of dirt swirled around the matachines’ feet as they danced up the Tijeras hills to bless the Ojo spring on a smoldering Saturday morning in June.
As they danced they were covered from head to toe in copilas resembling a bishop’s mitre, veils over their eyes and black decorated blazers with ribbons and rattles. Maneuvering up the winding and at times narrow hills was not an easy feat, yet the matachines did not miss a step as they moved in mesmerizing unison.
The procession was part of the annual Fiesta de San Antonio de Padua on Saturday.
According to legend, the spring dried up one year when the church father failed to bless it. The procession carries on 200 years later for the faithful churchgoers of San Antonio Church. Those in the procession hope each year that once again water will flow from the hilltop.
At the helm of such processions are generations of families who have taken up the mantle to pay homage to the church’s patron saints.
Ted Chavez, 53, has been leading the danza, or dance, with the title of monarca (monarch) for 20 years, but has participated in the procession for 37 years.
“I started dancing when I was 16, and I’m 53 now,” Chavez said. “It’s a great family tradition for me. My dad used to dance (and I) had two uncles who were monarcas. My dad danced for years.”
Chavez’s granddaughter, 8-year-old AnnAlycia Trujillo, has started leading the procession alongside Chavez in the role known as La Malinche, who represents purity and all that is good.
Apart from the procession, the church fiestas also consist of visperas, feasts and plays that bring together all members of the community. Next year, the church will celebrate its bicentennial.