The simple profiles of some of the colonial churches serving different neighborhoods in Campeche City resemble Missions Espada and San Juan Capistrano in San Antonio, but peeking inside reveals ornate and colorful surprises.
The Black Christ on the crucifix in Iglesia San Roman is heavily visited by the faithful who credit the figure imported from Italy in 1575 with a multitude of miracles. The festival in honor of the figure is one of Campeche’s largest, aside from the far less reverent celebration of Carnaval.
We were in Campeche on February 2, El Dia de La Candelaria or Candlemas in English. Celebrated to commemorate the day Jesus was presented at the Temple in Jerusalem, El Dia de La Candelaria is the final day of the extended Christmas season in Mexico. During the evening mass, the pews of Iglesia de San Francisco were filled with parishioners accompanied by the figures of Jesus Nino dressed in new finery waiting to be blessed. So wished we could have taken photos of ninos. Numerous families had their doors wide open to their living rooms to welcome friends and neighbors to view their nativity scenes and eat tamales provided by those who found the baby in their slices of roscas de reyes, kings’ cakes, on January 6.
In the early 1700s, Native Americans dug an elaborate system of irrigation ditches, or acequias, to water the farmlands surrounding the string of missions founded by Spanish friars. According to an article written by Jose A. Rivera in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly in 2003, the farmlands near Mission San Juan Capistrano were served by this system:
… until the spring of 1958, when a channel improvement project relocated the bed of the San Antonio River two hundred feet away from the headgate of the San Juan Acequia. In the process of straightening, widening, and deepening the river, the site of the original saca de agua (the historic San Juan Dam) was buried with excavated dirt and rubble. The new channel was too far away and deep to supply water to the San Juan headgate by way of gravity-flow irrigation as had been the practice for more than two hundred years.
Secularization of Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1824 included close to 500 acres served by San Juan Acequia. This land was granted to:
… military officers from the Bexar garrison, a former military chaplain, and four women, each coveting the quality of agricultural lands available at this mission site.
It took subsequent landowners decades of litigation and negotiations to regain their water access following the 1950s’ flood-control work undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the San Antonio River Authority. The oldest water rights in Texas, Rivera writes, finally were restored in 2001, ahead of the San Antonio River Improvements Project.
Now, a short jog off the west bank trail of the San Antonio River Improvements Project leads through a field of wildflowers back to the ancient stone arched acequia, topped once again by water flowing into the restored ditches nourishing neighboring fields. The 13 miles of the recent river project, including the Mission Reach, represent a monumental effort by the Corps, the River Authority, the City of San Antonio and Bexar County to restore the river ecosystem to a more natural, healthy state. The wildlife, fisher-folks, hikers, runners, bicyclists and paddlers using it attest to their success.
Only a stroll away is a contemporary addition to the river’s banks, “Whispers.” In 2015, the San Antonio River Foundation contributed this site-specific sculpture by Belgian artist Arne Quinze to the Mission Reach project. (Read more about Quinze’s sculpture here.)
Lush greenery and wildflowers carpet the banks all along the Mission Reach. Hope you get a chance to walk and explore it before spring is overtaken by the summer heat.
A month in the searing desert sun building a huge wooden structure.
A mere four days to enjoy it. Then setting it ablaze.
“It is not that easy to burn your own installation down,” said artist Arne Quinze during a June 2013 lecture sponsored by the San Antonio River Foundation at the San Antonio Museum of Art. “I still have goosebumps from it.” While an estimated 50,000 people witnessed the conflagration at the 2006 Burning Man Festival in Nevada, “The day after, nothing was left over.”
The Belgian artist’s first public art took the form of graffiti, but his work evolved into large-scale three-dimensional structures, often installed in urban settings, including Nice, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, Brussels, Rouen and Beirut. Quinze views cities as “open-air museums,” with art teaching “you to look at the world in a different way.”
Many of his installations are temporal, although not as fleeting as the one in Nevada. His installations sometimes spark controversy, but, by the time they are removed, there are public protests. “When we take it down, the space is more empty than before,” he said. “It makes them realize the importance of art in their lives.”
The artist is drawn to strong hues of red and orange because they are “full of contradictions – a fire burns or warms; blood means life or death.” His series of “Wind” sculptures seem to follow that predilection. On his website, he describes the elements he installs in the landscape as representing “the frozen movement of wind going through a grass field, a sculpture waving like leaves in the sun.”
Perhaps that is what makes “Wind” most fitting for the rural river setting chosen by the River Foundation for his installation. His monumental blades of wind will serve as a gateway transitioning and leading people up from the river to the area where the ruins of the historic Berg’s Mill community are perched on the left and Mission San Juan Capistrano lies ahead on the right.
“Wind,” according to Quinze’s website, is designed to: “evoke emotion, spark conversation and make people stop in their tracks. They will be attracted to explore this surreal experience of the shadow and sunlight shining through the fixed pillars….”