A beloved Holy Week custom, Alfombras de Semana Santa (Carpets of Holy Week) returned to Sagrada Familia Parish on Cleveland’s West Side this week.
Normally, the parish gymnasium is filled with rows of intricately designed panels of sawdust art during Holy Week. The project was suspended last year as the coronavirus pandemic spread. It’s back this year, but on a much smaller scale.
About a half dozen parishioners designed and created one large panel dedicated to pandemic first-responders and frontline workers. Two smaller panels – on the left, the Diocese of Cleveland crest, and on the right, the Sagrada Familia logo – flank the large one. On Holy Thursday morning, volunteers carefully placed rows of socially distanced folding chairs in the gym while others added the final touches to the carpet area. A row of cloth panels was placed behind a cloth-covered pedestal where the Blessed Sacrament will be located for adoration after Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The faithful can return for adoration on Good Friday. Parishioners said the carpet panels will be destroyed on Holy Saturday in preparation for Easter.
Bishop Edward Malesic and Father Dan Schlegel, vicar for clergy and religious, stopped by on Holy Thursday to admire the project. Parishioners and Father Francisco “Paco” Garnica, CSJ, Sagrada Familia administrator, explained the significance and creation of the carpets to them.
Volunteers spent about two days placing a plastic sheet on the floor on which the carpet designs were traced. Then they filled in the design using colored sawdust and other materials.
Since only one panel was created this year, other volunteers designed two special bulletin boards with Holy Week/resurrection themes.
The parish tradition began in 2013 as parishioner Roberto Santiago’s Eagle Scout project and were continued by parish volunteers. His mother said Robert is finishing college in Puerto Rico.
Sawdust carpets have been a Holy Week tradition for centuries in some parts of the world. The tradition is believed to have started in Spain. It is common in Central America, especially Guatemala and El Salvador, where the Cleveland Diocese established a mission more than 50 years ago.
Although many Sagrada Familia parishioners are Puerto Rican, they embraced the custom. In non-pandemic years, the Carpets of Holy Week were part of the Good Friday procession that traveled between Sagrada Familia, St. Colman and St. Michael the Archangel parishes, where participants stopped to pray and reflect on Jesus’ Passion and crucifixion. The carpets would be destroyed as those in the procession trampled them on their way into or out of Sagrada Familia.
Father Garnica said they hope the carpets will return next year and once again fill the floor of the parish gym.
Sagrada Familia Parish is at 7719 Detroit Ave., Cleveland. Call 216-631-2888.