Postcard from Malaga, Spain: All the saints and those Limbo babies, too

Gothic altar in the Chapel of Santa Barbara in the Cathedral of Nuestra Senora de le Encarnacion in Malaga

Layers upon layers of of saints climb the numerous gilded altars found in the Malaga Cathedral. Saints carved in wood by Pedro de Mena (1628-1688) grace the choir stalls. Today is all of their days. November 1. All Saints Day, and, for Catholics, a Holy Day of Obligation.

When I was young, the thrill of a night of trick-or-treating with its late night sugar high always was followed the next day by attendance at Mass. Unlike many holidays, it was particularly hard to comprehend why almost none of my friends had to go to church on November 1.

My godmother, Aunt Gen (Genevieve Louise Brennan Savage, 1907-2004), tried her best to explain things, but the nuns really never talked to us much about saints. Like Santa Barbara, whose own father carried out her martyrdom for her belief in the Holy Trinity. Although he was struck by lightening and consumed by fire on his way home after the act.

But the major impact for me was November 2, All Souls’ Day. You might not know this, but there are all of these bazillions of poor souls stuck in Purgatory – not so evil that they were condemned to hell but instead hanging around in an uncomfortable state trying to slip through the gates to heaven. Our prayers were supposed to free some of them and send them soaring above the clouds.

Even more concerning for me was Limbo. Limbo was where the little babies throughout the world who died unbaptized were supposed to go. Through no fault of their own, they were sentenced to remain suspended, constantly fluttering their wings in some mysterious twilight zone.

Those little poor souls were the ones for whom I would join my hands, palms sweating in those uncomfortable white gloves, squeeze my eyes tightly together and plead. God took a while to process my prayers from almost 60 years ago. In 2007, the Catholic Church finally liberated them all, burying the whole Limbo concept.

Sorry for the detour. Back to Malaga and its Cathedral. After all it’s a Holy Day of Obligation.

The foundation for the Cathedral of Nuestra Senora de le Encarnacion was laid in 1530 atop the Almohad Mosque. Taking more than a century to complete, the church is viewed as a chronicle of the transition of religious Gothic architecture into the Renaissance. The facades reflect extensive Baroque updating.

In addition to photos taken in the Cathedral, this post includes images from the Parroquia de los Santos Martires Ciriaco y Paula. The two were executed, with great difficulty requiring several attempts, for their Christian beliefs at the dawn of the 4th century. While their executioners set their remains ablaze, an unexpected torrential rain quenched the flames and faithful carted them off for more respectful last rites. It is believed the two somehow resurfaced to miraculously help expel the Moors about a millennium later, so they were proclaimed the patron saints of Malaga.

My prayers have lapsed, but I trust there are a multitude of people inclined to remember as many saints as possible today. Tomorrow, please pray doubly hard, just in case any little babies somehow remained stuck in Limbo.

Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Bite the baby; throw the party

three-kingsThe pair of skinny Santas on stilts (I know; I don’t comprehend their significance either.) who roamed the plaza in front of the Cathedral around Christmas have been replaced by itinerant trios of kings soliciting tips for family photos. This troupe was the only one around bearing gifts for Baby Jesus accompanied by the beasts (well, sort of) originally transporting them to the manger in Bethlehem on January 6.

Epiphany was always a holy day of obligation when I was growing up, another command day at church which fell within several weeks of a multitude of visits to church. But we weren’t rewarded with cake.

In Mexico, Saint Nicholas traditionally does not arrive bearing gifts for children on Jesus’ birthday. Children have to wait until the day Jesus received his presents – gold, frankincense and myrrh – delivered in tribute to him by the three kings. So, on January 6 in Mexico, Mass is followed by presents and a party with cake – rosca de reyes.

Shannon Costello's rosca de reyes

Shannon Costello’s rosca de reyes

The staff at the Library of the University of Texas at San Antonio has translated, along with helpful baking tips, a traditional kings’ cake recipe from Panes de Levadura by Josefina Velazquez de Leon, part of the collection of Mexican cookbooks, La Cocina Historica.

Not everyone in Oaxaca appears to make these from scratch. Boxes of the rings of cake have been flying off shelves in bakeries all over town.

Hidden inside each is a little figure representing Baby Jesus. If the piece you receive contains the nino, your family has to host the next fiesta specifically for Jesus on the calendar, Candelaria on February 2, or prepare the homemade tamales for the party (Whoa! I prefer the no-strings-attached prize in Cracker Jacks).

Candelaria is when all the Baby Jesuses housed by the faithful in their homes receive new clothes. Then, dressed in appropriate finery, all the little statues are carried to church to be blessed.

Hmmm. What should Jesus wear? Is Oaxaca ready to follow the fashion trends being set in San Cristobal de las Casas? Happy Kings’ Day.

And, if the kings have any gifts in mind for me, of the ancient trio, I’d prefer the gold.