Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Grotesque guardians watched over silk exchange

While orange trees abound along the streets of Valencia, mulberry trees were more important as a cash crop in the 1400s. Not for the fruit, but because their leaves provided food for the very hungry caterpillars striving to build cocoons and emerge as moths. The moths only live about five days, but lay hundreds of eggs before their passing.

For Valencian farmers, the cocoons were the most important result of the short life cycle. After a dip in boiling water killing the pupa who so industriously wove it, a silkworm’s cocoon can be unraveled to produce a strand of silk ranging from about 1,000 up to almost 3,000 feet long.

So unravel the Valencians did. They unraveled so much, that by 1482 the fortunes amassed and riches anticipated from future trade enabled the silk merchants to begin construction of a major Gothic edifice worthy of housing their transactions.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, La Lonja de la Seda has a hall with soaring palm-tree-like columns for conducting transactions, a tribunal hall for adjudicating commercial disputes and even a prison for those found at fault.

Ah, but there are devils in the details. Although the Virgin Mary crowns the entryway and there is a nod to the crown on the side, many of the embellishments throughout the secular compound feature up-to-no-good-looking creatures. Was the ornamentation designed to warn dishonest merchants to stay away or to represent merchants thumbing their noses at the power of the church?

Less expensive fabric from Japan and China began dominating the silk market in the 1800s, but the streets of Valencia still house numerous shops continuing to vend fine silk brocade, with windows displaying their use in women’s fashions of centuries ago.

Oh, and the model wearing one such dress? She simply popped into camera view on a walk the same day we visited the silk exchange.

Postcard from San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico: What should Jesus wear?

Now, observe, my daughter, the contrast between the luxurious dress of many women, and the raiment and adornments of Jesus…. Tell me: what relation do their fine shoes bear to the spikes in Jesus’ Feet? The rings on their hands to the nails which perforated His? The fashionable coiffure to the Crown of Thorns? The painted face to That covered with bruises? Shoulders exposed by the low-cut gown to His, all striped with Blood? …At the hour of such a women’s death, I think Jesus will be heard saying: “Cujus est imago haec… of whom is she the image?” And the reply will be: “Demonii... of the Devil!” Then He will say: “Let her who has followed the Devil’s fashions be handed over to him; and to God, those who have imitated the modesty of Jesus and Mary.”

Saint Anthony Mary Claret, 1800s

Saint Anthony Mary Claret boldly put words into the mouth of Jesus by issuing this condemnation of flashy fashionistas in the 1800s. As their patron saint, weavers and textile merchants must have been grateful for his proclamations promoting the excessive usage of yards upon yards of fabric.

Marylike standards spelled out by the Vatican under Pope Pius XI, who reigned from 1922 to 1932, demanded “modesty without compromise.” Sleeves to the wrist, and dresses concealing, not revealing, “the figure of the wearer” covering women from not more than two-fingers-width under the neck to the ankles. And for decorations? Fancy “fabrics such as laces, nets, organdy may be moderately used as trimmings only.”

But what about fashion trends for saints? Who decides what is appropriate for statues of saints to wear? I couldn’t find any rules online establishing guidelines for saintly attire.

All I know is the faithful in San Cristobal de las Casas have upended dull traditions for dressing saints. Colorful garb, preferably with sparkles, is definitely in. And toddler Jesus looks adorable standing at his mother’s feet in that shimmering pink gown trimmed in fur.

Unfortunately, signs in many churches, as in upscale fashion houses, forbid you from taking photos of their saints’ updated wardrobes.

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Now, I’m not accusing anyone of dressing Mary or any other saints in sexually suggestive clothing.

Well, except maybe Jesus. The thought must be that Jesus’ loincloth was looking rather tired and dingy. Surely a shiny green number with a huge, modesty flower in front would lighten his burden? Or a cluster of flowers on that orange number with the contrasting silver fringe?

And, while the clothiers were at it, the Holy Ghost symbol needed some glitter. And the dark somber mood in a church would certainly benefit from more upbeat lighting. Neon to frame the altar honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Italy might think it is an international fashion capital, but the Vatican is light years behind the trends designers in San Cristobal de las Casas are setting.