Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: Tin ex votos replaced by more ephemeral thanks

A hunt to view walls of ex votos painted on tin thanking El Senor de Villaseca for a multitude of miracles sent us to the Templo of Cata near a silver mine on the outskirts of Guanajuato. The Baroque-style church dates from the 1700s.

A mass for a small gathering of the faithful was underway when we arrived, so we waited in hopes of taking photos. But, unlike any service I have ever attended, when the elderly priest was assisted in leaving the altar, there was no stampede for the exits. Most of the parishioners remained in their pews, patiently waiting turns to kneel before the olive-skinned figure of Jesus on the cross – known as El Trigueno – to murmur their requests for assistance.

Fading bridal bouquets hang on the bannister leading to a small chapel tucked away upstairs near the front of the church. Our friend Claudio from Queretaro recalls the walls inside as covered with the testimonies of miners and their families. While Richard Ferguson on MexConnect reported tin ex votos were stacked 20-feet high on the walls in 1996, alas, they have disappeared.

Undeterred by the removal of the earlier ex votos, people whose prayers have been answered continue to leave their expressions of gratitude on hundreds of sheets of paper tacked up in this chapel. As the walls are covered by these more ephemeral offerings, older ones are unpinned, fluttering down to the floor.

Bouquets are not the only wedding souvenirs found here. At the base of one of the walls, wedding gowns lie crumpled in heaps. Claudio believes these are left behind by brides to express their sincere hopes for long and happy marriages.

Again, we have no snapshots of these or the chapel. We did not want to intrude upon the earnest prayers of those inside.

Postcard from Bologna, Italy: Drawn to those bones

The bones above purportedly belong to the bodies of Saint Vitalis (Vitale) and Saint Agricola. The pair’s history is a bit hazy, as the two were martyred in Bologna under the orders of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (244-316) somewhere in the neighborhood of the year 304. As Diocletian claimed to be the son of Jupiter himself, he was not particularly tolerant of people worshipping a supreme being other than his own father.

Catholic Online relays one version of the end of the lives of the saints above:

Vitalis was the slave of Agricola and a dedicated Christian. Arrested and condemned for his faith, Vitalis faced his death with such aplomb that Agricola was converted and accepted his own crucifixion.

The Cathedral in Bologna houses a collection of what are termed “First-Class” relics, including those above. First Class refers to relics that actually were part of the saints’ bodies, versus, say, scraps of their garments.

My fascination with relics stems from the difference of practice of Catholics growing up in Virginia Beach where we had none of which I am aware, and the practice of Catholics in Europe and Mexico where many reliquaries are displayed prominently in churches. The stories about the church and saints I find of interest are the ones nuns never ever mentioned during catechism.

Of course, the United States is not home of many canonized saints, whereas Italy has hundreds. Perhaps the practice of spreading the bones around to different churches arose naturally from the fact that the various extreme methods of exterminating the lives of early Christian martyrs did not always leave their bodies intact.

Rather than try to lamely explain why churches house reliquaries, I thought I’d see how Catholic websites define the practice:

More commonly, the saint’s bones were divided up, so various communities could have a portion of his relics: the skull here, a hand there, other bones elsewhere.

“Relics,” Catholic Answers To Explain and Defend the Faith

The article continues that Saint Jerome explained how the faithful “venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are.” Relics also “may be the occasion of God’s miracles.”

T.L. Frazier clarifies church policies about relics:

Harkening back to the eighth-century iconoclastic controversy and the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787), the Council of Trent maintained against the Reformers that the honor given to a relic, statue, or icon was honor not to an object (fetishism and idolatry), but to the person it represented. Latria (Greek: worship) must be given to God alone, whereas dulia (Greek: veneration or respect) may be given to holy people or articles.

“No Bones about Dem Bones,” T.L. Frazier

Saint Thomas More lost his head over conflicts with Henry VIII who broke with Catholicism to accommodate his habit of engaging in serial marriages. Pope John Paul II proclaimed Thomas More the patron saint of statesmen and politicians. During this contentious election year in the United States, we sure could use some miraculous relief from ugly rhetoric.

Relics of Saint Thomas More were on a whirlwind tour in the United States, ending up in Washington, D.C., on July 5. Hopefully, they left a residue of miraculous powers to evoke statesmanship-like behavior behind in their wake.

If you know anybody who lives in Centennial, Colorado, maybe ask them to visit St. Thomas More Catholic Church to ask for assistance from its reliquary of the saint. But wait, this one American church possesses more than 60 First-Class relics available for veneration, so all my thoughts about saints’ bones in churches in this country must be wrong.

So now I’m curious. Surely a church as ancient as San Fernando Cathedral and the seat of the Archdiocese must have some reliquaries of their own…. Might have to go on a reconnaissance mission in my own backyard.

Postcard from Ferrara, Italy: Seeking signs of miracles

The nuns of Star of the Sea instilled the fear in me long ago. Never touch the host as Father Habit placed it upon your tongue. Suck on it gently, very gently, as you head back to your pew to pray. And, no matter how strong a vacuum it creates adhering it to the roof of your mouth, do not prod it loose with your finger and, never, never, never ever chew it before swallowing.

They insinuated that something major would occur if you violated these rules. I mean major. Like suddenly your whole pew full of people would be swallowed up by the earth or a lighting bolt would flash through the ceiling striking you dead upon the spot. They had me convinced.

Things are different today. God is more tolerant and forgiving; he no longer minds if you touch the consecrated host.

But a miracle in Ferrara left me wondering whether the nuns were wise in issuing their strong prohibitions.

Father Peter of Verona was celebrating mass in Ferrara on Easter Sunday in 1171, when he raised and broke the consecrated host, now the body of Christ. Blood sprayed and splattered upon the vault above the altar. A miracle.

Pilgrims from around Italy flocked to see the bright red proof left upon the ceiling. The church, the Basilica of Santa Maria in Vado, was expanded greatly to accommodate them in 1495, and a special vault was constructed within the sanctuary to safeguard the site.

Alas, I climbed the stairs to examine the bricks but failed to spot the spots. Perhaps that failure is the fate of lapsed Catholics – missed miracles.

On the other hand, maybe those red spots simply are faded. The evidence of the miracle appeared on that vault more than 800 years ago.