A place to seek miracles

Above, Chapel of the Miracles, photo by Michael Cappelli, 1984

This is, in the words of the Abbe Dubuis, ‘a place of frequent emotions.’

Julia Nott Waugh, The Silver Cradle, 1955
Close-up of El Senor de Los Milagros from Michael Cappelli’s 1984 photo

El Senor de los Milagros, or The Lord of the Miracles, is suspended majestically above an altar in a small privately-owned chapel on the near west side of town. La Capilla de los Milagros stands somewhat in isolation on what was Ruiz Street, now Haven for Hope Way, severed from downtown by IH-10.

The age and origin of this crucifix are part of its mystery. In 1907, Charles Barnes wrote in the San Antonio Express that it was brought to San Antonio by Spanish friars as early as 1716 and placed in San Fernando Cathedral. In a 1928 edition of the Dallas Morning News, Vivian Richardson claimed its origins were local, that “it was revealed to a Mexican that he should make a crucifix for San Fernando Mission.”

In his 1959 book, San Antonio: A Historical and Pictorial Guide, Charles Ramsdell writes that a cross more than five-feet tall was listed in early inventories of the contents of the church at Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) before it was secularized in 1793. In her 1955 book, The Silver Cradle, Julia Nott Waugh referenced an 1802 will in which the deceased requested “one Low Mass be celebrated, with one-half pound of wax candles burning before the image of Our Lord of the Miracles.”

The owners of the Chapel of the Miracles are descendants of Spaniards who arrived in the early 1700s. Some believe the family’s shrine was erected on the site of an ancient chapel for the Indians, originally part of the compound of the first mission established, but no longer extant, in San Antonio.

But, if El Senor is indeed an ancient icon once belonging to the Catholic church, how did it arrive in private hands? Again, there are many versions of this story, and Waugh related several in The Silver Cradle. Manuela Rodriguez de Rodriguez told Waugh that El Senor was given to the family for safekeeping in 1813. That was the year that forces from Mexico marched to quash a rebellion in San Antonio, resulting in the bloody Battle of Medina south of town. Securing valuables during those turbulent times would seem wise. Others believe a family member might have rescued the statue in 1828 when a fire devastated San Fernando Cathedral. Waugh also encountered several tales relating to El Senor’s miraculous restoration after being damaged by fire.

Originally, the chapel next to the family home was, according to Waugh, “the humblest of little dirt-floored rooms standing almost in the country.” A 1910 article in the San Antonio Light claimed the chapel “was built some 60 years ago as a memorial and thank offering by the house of Rodriguez in gratitude for the recovery of the grandfather of the present owner from illness.” Waugh wrote, “Angelita Prado of Chicago has expressed thanksgiving for a son’s recovery from a grave illness by adding a squat, square tower.”

But miracles are why the faithful are drawn to this obscure chapel not sanctioned by the Catholic Church. Richardson described the interior of la capilla as it appeared in 1928:

One corner is stacked with crutches and canes, left there by those who no longer need them. The walls are covered with crude drawings, framed and often colored, depicting accidents or maladies from which the writer has been cured or believes he has been cured, with written thank to El Senor de los Milagros in pen or pencil. You see pictures of a snake biting a man, a child being run over by a car, a boy falling from a ladder….

Chapel of the Miracles, 1942, San Antonio Light Photograph Collection, UTSA Libraries Special Collections

Twenty-five years later, Waugh wrote:

People journeyed from far places…. Milagros were left in such numbers that the family had them made into the silver thorns which crown the Christ, the silver spikes that nail him to the cross. The walls came to be covered, every inch and overlapping, with photographs of brides and grooms, of ill folks and young babies; with drawings and crude paintings of people being saved by miraculous intervention from death by overturning automobile, by onrushing train, by goring bull and striking serpent, by electric chair and grievous illness; with finely written testimonials; with small garments and wedding gloves and braids of hair… with thanks to El Senor….

While fighting forces of Urban Renewal, the family packed away years of retablos recounting miraculous interventions by El Senor to present a more orderly presence in support of their quest for its preservation. Today, the faithful still tuck photographs of their loved ones behind images and statues of saints and leave little silver charms – milagros – of eyes, legs, arms and hearts behind in support of their appeals.

Fortunately for those longing for miracles, the shrine now is afforded better protection by its inclusion on the National Register of Historical Places. It remains as a haven for hope on a street of that name.

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