Xilitla and its traditions
The Town of Xilitla
Xilitla is one of the 58 municipal jurisdictions that make up the state of San Luis Potosí. Situated in the Huasteca region, the town’s inhabitants have given it two different names: indigenous Huastecas called it Taizol and later Aztec settlers gave it the name Xilitla.
Photo: Plutarco Gastelum, 1950.
In pre-Hispanic times, the region was invaded by the Chichimec people from the north and later fell under Aztec domination that reached a zenith during the reign of emperor Moctezuma Xocoyotzin, who established colonization plans at numerous regional locations.
With the arrival of the Spanish, Huasteca communities were defeated by Hernán Cortés, who parceled out the vast fiefdoms of Tamuín and Oxitipa, which included the Xilitla region.
The Augustinian Order charged Friar Antonio de la Roa with the evangelization of the region’s indigenous population in 1537. 1557 saw the construction of Xilitla Convent (the town’s oldest structure), designed to resist Chichimec invasions. Nevertheless, the convent was sacked and put to the torch in 1569 and 1587, after which it ceased to be a significant outpost. It was later abandoned as a result of Mexico’s 1859 anti-clerical reforms.
Hidden in the thick of the Huasteca jungle, Xilitla is situated at 600 meters above sea level, making it one of the highest points in the region. It is known as San Luis Potosí’s rainiest spot, perfect for fruit and coffee cultivation.
Major regional attractions include the Xilitla Caves, where visitors learn about the origins of the Huasteca people via cave paintings; Silleta Ridge, a contemplative site as well as a challenge for alpinists; the Sierra Gorda, famous for its convents and sylvan landscapes, lies near Xilitla’s municipal limits. Finally there is Edward James’s Sculpture Garden, one of the world’s most important surrealist works and the region’s number-one attraction.
For the Catholic community, Holy Week is the annual commemoration of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. It is a period of intense liturgical activity, beginning with Friday of Sorrows and Palm Sunday, and ending on Easter Sunday.
Besides all the activities mentioned above, Xilitla also holds a cultural festival, a living stations of the cross and a silent procession.
AUGUST 16, ANNIVERSARY OF THE BIRTH OF EDWARD JAMES
Edward Frank Willis James was born on August 16, 1907, and each year, different activities are held in the sculpture garden to mark the date.
AUGUST 28, SAINT AUGUSTINE
In 1537, the order of Saint Augustine mandated the evangelization of what was then known as the Sierra Alta, designating Fray Antonio de la Roa to run the mission there. To this end, construction began on the Xilitla Monastery in 1553, but it also served as a fortified building to withstand attacks by the Chichimec Indians.
In Xilitla, Saint Augustine is honored every August 28 with the celebration of the patron saint’s day. Activities begin the day before and include a Mass, pilgrimages, fireworks, dancing, bull riding and a cavalcade.
NOVEMBER 2, XANTOLO
The Day of the Dead represents the fusion of pre-Hispanic tradition and the Catholic All Saints’ Day, celebrated on November 2, resulting in a ritual that UNESCO has classified as world heritage of humanity: a magical time that opens a gate between this world and the next, through which the dead may pass to share a meal with their loved ones.
The wordxantolo derives from the Latin sanctorum, “all saints,” having been transformed by the phonetics of indigenous languages.
In the communities of this region, it is customary to visit the cemeteries to set up altars next to the graves of loved ones. Families also erect large palm and marigold arches in their homes. These are placed on rectangular tables which also hold the offerings that the dead come to savor at noon, when they are received to the sound of firecrackers and vinuetes (a folk musical expression associated with sacred spaces).