Postcard from Villa de Etla, Oaxaca: Pain paved the road to sainthood

Although the Church of San Pedro y San Pablo is far from small and fronts a spacious walled-in plaza in Villa de Etla, finding it though the maze of Wednesday market vendors with tarps obscuring upward views can be difficult.

The church and former monastery were founded by Dominican priests and built in the early 1600s. Their name honors two of the Catholic Church’s earliest and most famous martyrs, Saints Peter and Paul. The pair suffered rather painful ends under Emperor Nero: San Pedro was crucified, upside down at his request because he felt unworthy of dying in the same fashion as Jesus, while San Pablo was beheaded. Villa de Etla stages a major festival in their honor at the end of June.

But the San Pedro statue that catches one’s eye is of a Dominican priest who perished more than 1,200 years later. Brother Pedro’s preaching attracted papal attention, and he was promoted upward by Pope Innocent IV, who named him the Inquisitor for Lombardy in 1252. Charged with punishing heretics using some of the same brutal tactics as Emperor Nero had employed in Rome, San Pedro of Verona was pleasing the pope but made a number of powerful enemies. Assassins attacked him before he served even a full year in his position as Inquisitor. His enemies sliced his head open with an axe, and, when he continued to loudly profess his faith through prayers, they finished him off by stabbing him in the heart. San Pedro was rewarded with sainthood before the next year passed.

The statue of San Antonio of Padua bears such a sad expression; he appears to be mourning the loss of the original, more-to-scale sculptured companion of El Nino Jesus. Saint Anthony actually places second, falling only behind San Pedro of Verona, as the candidate canonized most quickly after death by the Catholic Church.

While in town on market day, many of the faithful visit the church to pray, light candles of hope and leave photos of loved ones in need of miracles.

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