Mexican artisans create ‘Judas’ figures for others to burn

Apr 7, 2023, 9:03 PM | Updated: Apr 8, 2023, 2:22 pm

Artist Gabriel Gutierrez paints a version of Judas that he is crafting for the "Burning of Judas," ...

Artist Gabriel Gutierrez paints a version of Judas that he is crafting for the "Burning of Judas," celebration, at the Santa Maria La Ribera Cultural Center, in Mexico City, Wednesday, April 5, 2023. The annual celebration takes place in Mexico every Holy Saturday, when people across the country gather in public plazas to light fireworks that will destroy the colorful figures representing symbolic embodiments of evil. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

(AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — After two months of hard work assembling and painting devil-like cardboard figures popularly known as “Judas,” Mexican artisan Marcela Villarreal is eager to watch her creations burn.

Villarreal and dozens of fellow crafters created the figures ahead of the annual “Burning of Judas,” a celebration that takes place in Mexico every Holy Saturday, when people across the country gather in public plazas to light fireworks that will destroy these colorful figures made as symbolic embodiments of evil.

This festivity — filled with satirical humor — is not associated with the Holy Week celebrations led by the Catholic Church in this mostly Catholic country. The practice is common in several Latin American nations and in some parts of Greece.

Originally, the burning figures were effigies of Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, according to the Biblical account of the days leading up to Christ’s crucifixion. Nowadays, though, Mexican artisans shape their Judas like red, horned devils or other characters considered evil by society.

Villarreal and other artisans made 12 figures for Saturday’s event in Santa María la Ribera neighborhood of Mexico City. Five of them were to be hanged from branches and destroyed; the others will be displayed at a nearby museum.

“It is a spectacle to see how the Judas are lit, to see the emotion of the people,” Villarreal said.

Researcher Abraham Domínguez, in an article published by the National Institute of Anthropology and History, wrote that this ritual originated in Europe during the Middle Ages and reached America with the Spanish conquest.

Although it is unknown when it first took place on this continent, the earliest records date from the 19th century. In modern times, variations of the tradition in some countries have drawn criticism for being antisemitic. A 2019 event in Poland was condemned by the World Jewish Congress and others.

But in Mexico, the tradition is embraced as positive and fun.

“By exploding with rockets, evil and betrayal are symbolically destroyed,” Domínguez wrote. “In the burning of Judas, social evil becomes laughable.”

In a few Mexican neighborhoods that host this event, some satirical figures resembling politicians burn, too.

“They are burned because of what people are accusing them of,” Villarreal said. It is a way of expressing disagreement with humor, she said.

Villarreal has spent more than a decade working in “cartonería,” as the craft of creating papier-mache sculptures is known. Most notably, “cartonería” creations fill Mexican streets during the Day of the Dead celebrations in late October and early November.

Inside each figure lies a reed skeleton covered with newspaper and cardboard. Depending on weather conditions and how fast the glue dries, it can take several weeks of work to be ready.

Villarreal speaks with enthusiasm about a 10-foot-tall Judas she and her colleagues crafted for this year’s celebration in Santa María la Ribera.

“His body is covered in masks representing the seven deadly sins. It’s awesome,” she said.

Painted in blue, red and yellow, the devilish character will be spared from the fire. After Sunday, it will be transferred to the Pulque Museum, a few kilometers away from Santa María la Ribera.

This year’s celebrations in this Mexican neighborhood began on Holy Thursday. The agenda included workshops, conferences, raffles and dances.

“The most gratifying thing for us is to see that our work is part of a tradition,” Villarreal said. “It gathers people who probable didn’t know this tradition exists.”


Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.


Associated Press

Microsoft users worldwide report widespread outages affecting banks, airlines and broadcasters

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Microsoft users worldwide, including banks and airlines, reported widespread outages on Friday, hours after the technology company said it was gradually fixing an issue affecting access to Microsoft 365 apps and services. The cause, exact nature and scale of the outage was unclear. Microsoft appeared to suggest in its X […]

21 hours ago

Associated Press

Espionage trial of US journalist Evan Gershkovich in Russia reaches closing arguments

YEKATERINBURG, Russia (AP) — Court officials said closing arguments began Friday in the trial of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who faces charges of spying that he, the Journal and the U.S. government have vehemently denied. U.S. officials and The Wall Street Journal have denounced the trial that began last month as a sham […]

23 hours ago

FILE - President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus gives a speech during a military parade in Minsk, ...

Associated Press

Leader of Belarus marks 30 years in power after crushing all dissent and cozying up to Moscow

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — For three decades, European leaders have come and gone by the dozens, but Alexander Lukashenko remains in absolute control of Belarus. His longevity is due to a mixture of harshly silencing all dissent, reverting to Soviet-style economic controls and methods, and cozying up to Russia, even as he sometimes flirted with […]

1 day ago

Associated Press

US Treasury sanctions Sierra Leone man for allegedly smuggling migrants into the United States

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions Thursday on a man from Sierra Leone for allegedly smuggling thousands of migrants from Asia and Africa into the United States. The ring allegedly run by Abdul Karim Conteh provided false documents and drove migrants to the border and offered advice on how to cross, […]

1 day ago

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts as he walks from the 18th green following his opening round...

Associated Press

McIlroy, DeChambeau stumble badly out of the gates at British Open

TROON, Scotland (AP) — So much for the British Open being one last stand for Rory McIlroy in the majors this year. His best hope now is getting beyond one more day. And he has company from U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau. The protagonists from Pinehurst No. 2 were no match for a wind that […]

2 days ago

FILE - A brigade from the Electric Power Authority repairs distribution lines damaged by Hurricane ...

Associated Press

US announces $325 million in funding to boost Puerto Rico solar projects as power outages persist

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The U.S. government announced Thursday that $325 million in federal funds will be available for solar and battery storage installations across Puerto Rico as the U.S. territory struggles with chronic power outages. The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, will target community centers and healthcare facilities, as […]

2 days ago

Mexican artisans create ‘Judas’ figures for others to burn