In the nearby Plaza de la Donza over the week of Day of the Dead five very large sandpaintings were being created. We also saw sandpaintings in front of altars, in churches and public buildings, in shops and at cemeteries.

We wondered about the origin of this tradition. Was it public art expression with a death theme or was it connected in some way to death rituals?

A traditional practice in Teotitlan was that after someone died they were laid on a lime cross in front of the family altar so the soul of the person could enter the earth. Within nine days after burial a tapete (rug) of sand and coloured sawdust was created where the body had been. It was ritually swept up and placed in a cross on the earthen grave. This process symbolized the soul’s final departure and the removal of death from the home. They often had images of the Virgin, a saint or Christ. This was true with many sandpaintings we saw during Day of the Dead.