Eleven years ago, Aztec dancer Tanya Vigil started holding a velación at the San Francisco de Asís Church gym to honor Santiago, the patron saint of Taos. It has already become a tradition that attracts people from Mexico, California, Colorado and Texas, as well as Albuquerque, Española and Santa Fe.
The all-night vigil begins at 9 p.m. and goes on until the following morning while attendees sing alabados (hymns), pray and receive spiritual cleanses, or limpias. They use fresh flowers to make prayer sticks that will later be offered at the altar. This year, the velación will be held Friday (July 14) and Vigil invites the Taos community to join in.
"You can go to the gym on Friday evening or meet us the following morning, July 15, when we will be dancing in front of the church," she said. "This isn't just a Catholic or Aztec celebration; it is an ecumenical event for people of all faiths."
The event is sponsored by Izcalli In Nanantzin, the Aztec dancer group that Vigil leads, and has been supported all these years by the Rev. Dino Candelaria of San Francisco de Asís Church.
"We want to thank Father Dino and the Saint Francis de Assisi community for their invaluable help," Vigil said. "They have opened their arms to the danzantes and offered us a true home."
Margarita Alonso has been attending all the velaciones held in Taos for nine years. On a telephone interview, she confirmed her participation in this one, too.
"Spending the night there fills me with peace," she said. "Even if you are not a religious person, it has a purely spiritual component that appeals to most people."
Santiago of the Four Winds
The celebration is formally dedicated to Señor Santiago de los Cuatro Vientos. "Los Cuatro Vientos" means "the four winds" and they are portrayed on Izcalli In Nanantzin's banner.
"The winds are associated with the Virgin of Guadalupe, El Señor de Chalma, La Virgin of los Remedios and El Cristo of Sacromonte," Vigil explained. "While these are all Catholic symbols, the Aztec dancing with feathers, ankle rattles and traditional dresses stands for the Native and Mexican elements. The event combines the beliefs of the cultures that inform our traditions."
On Friday afternoon, in preparation for the velación, Vigil and other members of the group will start building an altar at the gymnasium.
"Everybody can take part in it by bringing flowers, candles and pictures of their loved ones so we can place them on the altar, too," she said. "Two very important aspects of a velación are flor y canto, flower and song. As for the candles, they represent the light that guides our ancestors to us. That is why in one of the alabados, we sing 'que florezca la luz,' let the light blossom. Everything we do during the ceremony has a special symbolism."
The event is now connected to the Fiestas de Taos, said Vigil, since it happens just before the crowning Mass. But it also has a broader appeal.
"Our brothers and sisters from Mexico, like the García Vargas family, make a commitment to be here every year and offer their trip as a pilgrimage," she said. "When they come, they stay in our houses as members of the spiritual family we all belong to."
On Saturday morning, at 10 a.m., a procession of velación participants will walk to the church, where they will receive a special blessing from Candelaria. Then Izcalli In Nanantzin members and other danzantes will dance in front of the church for about two hours.
"Of course we are tired after spending the night in prayer and doing spiritual ceremonies," Vigil said. "But this is a sacrifice that we offer with joy to our visitors and the community. When the dance is over, we go back to the gym and have lunch together. This time, we'll have chile con carne, enchiladas, posole and much more. We hope you all come and join us."
The church is located at 60 St. Francis Plaza.
For more information about the velación or to contribute flowers, candles and food donations for the event, call Vigil at (575) 770-2670.