Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: Templo de la Compania de Jesus

The florid details of the Churrigueresque façade of the church of La Compania de Jesus in Guanajuato are striking. The church was constructed between the years of 1747 and 1765.

But, as always, the details inside the church are equally as interesting. A rectangle of red velvet hung on the wall next to an image of Saint Lucy to encourage petitioners appealing for better eyesight to pin their silver milagros of eyes there. But, regarding proximity as more potent, several fortified their prayers by taping their charms directly on her image.

One day El Nino Medico almost was submerged completely in a sea of boys’ toys, but he was liberated from them the next week. Only a few photos, milagros and a lone baby shoe remained by his feet. A new crop of toys probably has arrived in his case by now.

Holding El Nino securely in one arm, the Virgin Mary somehow uses her other to hoist up some lad. She rescues him from the fierce-looking jaws of a black, toadlike version of the devil, surely by some artist from another time period than whoever sculpted the original statues in the ornate Baroque niche.

A few-peso fee grants admittance to the sacristy containing a small collection of paintings. But the appeal for me was not just the art. The docent pulled aside a heavy floor-to-ceiling drape to reveal the true treasures – first-class reliquaries containing major bones of several saints.

 

Ah, and the bloody feet pictured on the poster for a pilgrimage taking place tomorrow. Those feet represent those of Jose Sanchez del Rio, who will be canonized a saint in Rome tomorrow. Born in Sahuayo, Michoacán, in 1913, the teen left home to serve as the flag bearer for the Cristeros, who were rebelling against the enforcement of rigid anticlerical laws in 1926 by President Plutarco Elias Calles. Foreign Catholic priests were expelled from Mexico, and monasteries, convents and Catholic schools were closed.

Violence escalated, and the armed Cristeros, primarily rural peasants with no military training, even managed to inflict several defeats on federal forces. When Blessed Jose was captured, he refused to recant his faith. He was imprisoned in the seized parish church, and his jailers attempted to extract a ransom from his family for his release.

In addition to captured Cristeros, a government official was using the church to house his prized fighting cocks. According to the website of Ive Minor Seminary:

When Jose arrived he saw the roosters running around the church and was indignant, and said, “This is not a barnyard!” He took them all by the neck and killed them, hanging them from a banister. According to some, Picasso (the name of the government official) had imported some of those very fine birds all the way from Canada, and this was the last straw; he was so indignant that he commanded that they execute the boy by firing squad.

The soldiers carried out their own gruesome ritual prior to the execution. As he was marched to the firing squad:

…they began to strike him with the machetes they carried. Even worse, they chopped off the soles of Jose’s feet, and they forced him to walk along the rocky unpaved road to the cemetery. Instead of complaining, he shouted, “Long live Christ the King!” Witnesses said that the stones where Jose had trodden were all soaked in his blood, and although he moaned from the pain, he never weakened in his resolve.

Blessed Jose obtained his martyrdom on February 10, 1928.

The roster of Mexican saints now numbers about three dozen. No doubt, a few of the faithful will make the pilgrimage tomorrow barefoot in honor of the canonization of the new saint.

Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: Basilica of the City’s Patron Saint

No matter from what direction one approaches, the rich hues of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato make it stand out against the city’s blue skies. Built between 1671 and 1696, the church houses an Andulusian statue of the Virgin and Child encased in glass on its altar.

The statue was a gift from King Felipe II (1527-1598) of Spain presented to the city in 1557 in recognition of all the riches sent from the mines to enrich the crown. The Virgin represents the city’s patron saint and is believed to be the oldest image of the Virgin sent to the Americas. Along the way, her scepter was replaced with a rose, particularly appropriate as the basilica fronts the Plaza de la Paz.

 

Tucked around the images and statues of the saints inside are reminders of the prayers of those who visit. A silver arm or leg left in hope of a mended limb. A heart milagro for assistance for an organ beginning to falter with age or a young heart broken. Photos of babies in need of cures. Ribbons of wishes for the safe return of family members who have crossed the border to seek work in el norte.

Postcard from Puebla, Mexico: Saints to answer any prayer

Not only is there a church on almost every corner in Puebla, but they are filled with saints to meet almost every need imaginable.

One often reads about the fall in the number of Catholics in Mexico, but maybe many simply don’t have time to devote attending a full Mass. Leave a church unlocked during the day, and there is always someone dropping by for a quick prayer for help with some difficulty encountered in life.

Catholicism in Mexico, or in all of South America and Europe, is a totally different animal from the religion of my childhood. I find myself mesmerized by the magical mysticism permeating their churches.

Sure we had incense wafting about at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at Star of the Sea, but, beyond that, things were pretty tame. There were Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s offered aplenty. But, when we were growing up, we pretty much missed out on the more than 10,000 saints hovering above waiting to answer our prayers.

If I’d only known. I mean, how many times would I have turned to St. Anthony with help locating that lost homework or to St. Jude when I totally missed the teacher telling us about a test? Gladly, I would have parted with every charm on my bracelet if I’d known leaving them as milagros might improve outcomes.

So many people in Puebla pin their hopes on saints, tuck photos of loved ones near their favorites, leave flowers as thanks and light candles to brighten the chance their prayers will be heard.

Miracles might not always arrive, but maybe comfort does. Time alone thinking calmly in a pew might be what’s needed to face life’s everyday challenges.

Certainly viewing a statue of a saint in flames or Jesus suffering from his wounds diminishes the size of one’s own troubles.

Lest you jump to conclusions prematurely, the red guitar balloon was not left by the Mister. Although perhaps that presents a far less dicey alternative to going down to the crossroads.

But, if one is going to place faith in a balloon, of course there’s a saint for that. Bluesmen would best be served by leaving their tributes floating near the harp-bearing hands of Santa Cecilia.