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
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.”
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.
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.
The bell tower at the back of the Monopoli Cathedral with the facade of Chiesa del Purgatorio on the right
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.