600 ‘Matachines’ to Dance Sunday Morning at Mission Concepción

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Mission Conceción's facade. The bright, colorful patterns have worn off during 300 years of weather and wind erosion. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Mission Conceción's facade. The bright, colorful patterns have worn off during 300 years of weather and wind erosion. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

There’s good reason to rise early Sunday morning, dress warmly to brave the cold, and make your way to Mission Concepción for an outdoor dance of 600 matachines, a spectacle unlike any other you’ve seen in San Antonio.

Be there at 7 a.m. to see the arrival and blessing of the dancers, who hail from many San Antonio parishes, by Fr. David Garcia. A planned march from Mission San Jose was canceled due to a lack of a permit.

The matachines will march instead from Mission Concepción to the nearby Concepción Park, through the park and over to the San Antonio River and then return to dance in front of the mission from 8-9 a.m. Stick around for the bilingual mass celebrated by Fr. Garcia at 10 a.m. The music is inspirational inside the wonderfully restored chapel, and outside, parishioners offer delicious breakfast tacos in return for donations to support the parish.

David Garcia Missions interior

Fr. David Garcia at Mission Concepción.

“La Danza de Matachines,” or “The Dance of the Moors and Christians,” represents one of the earliest cultural expressions of conquering Spaniards dominating indigenous people in the New World.

For those who love masked celebrations, this dance is where the conquistadores introduced native people in Mexico and elsewhere in the Americas to the history of Moors being driven from Spain. Some call such masked dances “conquest dances.” The dance also signifies the conversion to Christianity of indigenous groups, whether by proselytization and persuasion, threat of force, or miracle event.

“These cultural events celebrate who we are as a people and who we are as a city, and over the 39 years I have been a priest I have always supported and encouraged the preservation of these traditions,” Fr. Garcia said. He recalled his years as rector of San Fernando Cathedral, when dancers would often show up on the night of Dec. 11 to dance outside the cathedral in advance of the Dec. 12 feast day.

It’s an odd thing to think of art as an instrument of domination, but it once was in this case. Now the marching and dancing of matachines is more a celebration of history, heritage and religious feast days.

The matachines now dance to commemorate the Feast Day of San Juan Diego on Dec. 5 and the Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe, which is Thursday, Dec. 12.

Both feast days are especially significant to San Antonians of Mexican descent. Many Mexican Catholics fervently believe in the miraculous appearance on Dec. 9, 1531 of the Virgin Mary to Aztec Indian Juan Diego in what is now present-day Mexico City. Mary was said to have appeared not as a white European, but as an Aztec princess speaking the Aztec language, and in a second appearance, she was said to have left an impression of her likeness on Juan Diego’s mantle as proof to the doubting local Catholic bishop that Juan Diego was truthfully recounting his experiences.

The miracle event sparked the massive conversion of indigenous groups to Catholicism at the hands of the Spaniards, who until then had enjoyed little success in converting indigenous people in Mexico to Christianity.

Virgen de Guadalupe. Courtesy image.

Courtesy

Virgen de Guadalupe. Courtesy image.

That miracle gave us one of the most recognizable images in religious art in the New World, that of our Lady of Guadalupe. Her image can be found in countless San Antonio churches and has been replicated or interpreted by many local artists in many forms.

Believers and non-believers can appreciate the annual ritual march and dance. One can imagine in future years the possibility of the matachines departing the city’s streets and arriving from one Spanish mission to next via the San Antonio River’s Mission Reach. Surely any procession of dancers in this city during its founding years would have followed the life-giving waters.

 

Follow Robert Rivard on Twitter @rivardreport or on Facebook.

 

Related Stories:

The Missions: Our Southside Spiritual and Cultural Anchors

San Antonio Celebrates the River’s Mission Reach

Mission County Park, Where People Have Gathered for Milennia, Reopens

The Mission Reach: Bringing Life and Pride Back to the Southside

It’s the Decade of Downtown, But Don’t Miss San Antonio’s Rising Southside

Something Monday: Mission Possible

 

9 thoughts on “600 ‘Matachines’ to Dance Sunday Morning at Mission Concepción

  1. The dancers did not get a permit to march from Mission San Jose, so they will arrive at Mission Concepción at 7 a.m. for the traditional blessing, and then march through Concepción Park toward the San Antonio River and back and dance in front of Mission Concepción from 8-9 a.m.

  2. Please add this book to the resources for “600 Matachines to Dance Sunday Morning at Mission Concepcion.” Thank you.

    Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise

    Joan Carabin

  3. So glad I tumbled out of bed early on this chilly morning to attend. What a wonderful experience! Fabulous dancing, a brisk parade through the park, and the breakfast tacos and coffee were a nice bonus. Everyone was so welcoming to this newcomer. Thank you, Rivard Report, for making me aware of this event!

  4. The research of this article was superficial at best. This event was a celebration of the Feast Day of San Juan Diego. It definitely was not dance of Moores and Christians. Nor was it a “march” or a “parade.” It is a procession of faith and devotion and is not a form of entertainment. In the future, please conduct better research by speaking with matachines who have been honoring and expressing their devotion to the Virgen de Guadalupe though dance for several years.

    • Roberto, I respectfully disagree. I’ve seen las matachines march, yes, “a marchar,” and dance in various Latin American countries, probably in five or six major venues in Mexico alone, including for Pope John Paul II in January 1978 at the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Mexico City. We’re talking 30-plus years here. This isn’t my first experience.

      The tradition, wherever we find it, traces its history to the Spanish conquistadores. There is ample academic research online that supports what I wrote. I’ve spoken with various individuals who preserve the tradition in San Antonio, who trace their own family and cultural roots to Mexico City, Nuevo Leon, Guadalajara and Michoacan state. None of them claim a different origin for the tradition, although some might not know of the tradition’s earliest roots. It was these very dancers locally who told me they were performing in honor of all three Feast Days this year: the Immaculate Conception (a Holy Day), The Feast of Juan Diego and the Feast of the Virgin de Guadalupe. Local groups would like to see the city embrace the tradition on a larger stage. No one wants to do away with las matachines at the Missions, but Main Plaza on Dec. 12 could showcase, yes showcase, an authentic cultural event and introduce it to a much wider audience of visitors and locals alike. I use the word “showcase” as in “an event, occasion, etc., that shows the abilities or good qualities of someone or something in an attractive or favorable way,” or “a setting, occasion, or medium for exhibiting something or someone especially in an attractive or favorable aspect,” to cite my Merriam-Webster Dictionary. There is nothing disrespectful about my use of the word. Ask those who preserve the tradition and they will tell you they would appreciate a larger audience for their danza.
      –RR

  5. Hi, I am helping organize a Matlachines and Danza Azteca competition in Austin for Dec. 17, 2017.
    Could you forward some contacts so I can send an invitation?
    Thanks,
    Elsa Y. Nelligan
    512-914-5346
    512-444-7155
    Hfccdanza@yahoo.com

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