More than half of Guatemalans are descendants of indigenous Maya people and mestizos, a mix of European and indigenous ancestry. Guatemala's predominant religion is Roman Catholic, but Protestant and traditional Mayan religions are also practiced.
The observance of Semana Santa (Holy Week) and Lent is of great importance in Guatemala. It is well known for this Catholic celebration which commemorates the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Entire cities participate in the event, and thousands of national and international visitors flock to witness the dramatic happenings. The event begins on Palm Sunday, during which the venerated images of Jesus of Nazareth (Jesus Nazareno) and the Holy Virgin of Sorrow (Santisima Virgen de Dolores) are carried from their churches through the city, on the shoulders of devoted followers dressed in purple robes.
The religious processions are organized and carried out by "brotherhoods", religious organizations originally called "cofradÃas". It is thought that the carriers (cucuruchos) participated solely as a form of penance. Today, there is some degree of social status involved, but the principal motivation is still a show of devotion by the carriers.
In some places in Guatemala, the sculptures themselves are considered to be divine religious figures. The faithful believe that the sculpture, or the figure will grant the believer their request. Sculptures played a principal role in the conversion of the Maya to Catholicism, as the Maya personified the sculptures with stories of their own deities.