Dia de los Muertos commemorations deeply rooted in city’s past

To know San Antonio is to understand that this is a town essentially Mexican… and that the way to see the town at its liveliest and gayest is to take part in one of the fiestas of the folk. In these fiestas, with the exception of a few severely religious rites, nobody is merely a spectator: everybody takes part. There are two kinds of fiestas, secular and religious. But often the two are intermingled.

Charles Ramsdell, San Antonio: A Historical and Pictorial Guide, 1959

When I first moved to San Antonio in the late 1970s, I not only lived here but had to write about it. Almost immediately, I found myself having to come up with monthly features on the city. Pre-Internet. Charles Ramsdell’s 1959 edition of San Antonio: A Historical and Pictorial Guide became my adopted textbook.

San Antonio was love at first sight. It snagged my affection with my future in-laws’ fresh lime margaritas and a deep dive into a Border Patrol Special – the works – at Karam’s. Its Mexican-ness seduced me, particularly under Ramsdell’s tutelage.

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Postcard from Monopoli, Italy: Church dedicated to liberating poor souls in purgatory

Travel is not simply assuming the role of boulevardiers. Journeys this past year lifted some of the weighty worries about religion haunting my childhood. A year ago in Malaga, Spain, I found out Limbo was gone. It was banished by the church and vanished. All those little babies stuck in Limbo have been liberated to flit upward to heaven.

There is still purgatory though, with bazillions of souls trapped in purgatory waiting to be freed by prayers. How could God keep them there, suffering, denied entrance into heaven for sometimes seemingly minor infractions? My memory of religious instruction is rather hazy, but it seems as though we only devoted one day a year, All Souls Day, to try to liberate them.

This past fall, I learned there are Italians looking after them, praying for their release. There is both a church and a cemetery dedicated to this effort year-round in Naples.

And in Monopoli we found Chiesa di Santa Maria del Suffragio detta del Purgatorio. Tucked on a narrow street adjacent to the bell tower at the back of the Cathedral, the church dates from the late 1600s. Symbols of death are carved into stone on the facade, and a pair of skeletons dominate the carvings on the door.

Locals refer to it as “the church of the dead who walk.” But, alas, we found the church closed. We squinted through cloudy, very smudged glass trying to see the reason why. Mummies. With imagination, we kind of could make out maybe four of them.

There are a total of eight robed figures – skeletons really – poised erect in glass cases inside the church, founding members and administrators of the church who refuse to retire from their mission. And a young mummified girl somehow made the cut for permanent display as well. Know you are disappointed to have no shots of the mummies, but Atlas Obscura has taken care of that for you.

Postcard from Naples, Italy: Snippets shot in final four museums

Detail of “The Devil and the Holy Water,” Salvatore Postiglione, 1887, Gallerie d’Italia – Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano

Inartistically and illogically clumping works from four museums in this one post – 15th-century religious paintings, a Joan Miro retrospective, a house museum, contemporary art. The museums are getting short shrift in treatment because they are the final ones the blog will visit in Naples before moving across the boot of Italy. The grouping does offer a glimpse of how diverse and rich the art offerings found in Naples are.

As is oft the case, our camera lens seems to often focus on the devils lurking in religious art, but what dark thoughts were in the mind of Neapolitan painter Salvatore Postiglione when he conceived of “The Devil and the Holy Water” are unclear to me.

I never had thought of holy water as dangerous before. But, indeed in hindsight, it should have been obvious that the Coronavirus devil was lurking in fonts at the front of Catholic churches everywhere. Catholics always pause to dip their fingers in the communal pool of water and immediately raise them up to touch their face to make a gesture symbolizing the Holy Trinity and baptism.

March brought the draining of the fonts, but how many viral contaminants were shared by the faithful by then? So very, very sad to think of those who might have been harmed by turning to their religious rituals for reassuring comfort….