Postcard from Mexico City: The Lord of Poison and potent relics

The Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City also features a black statue of Christ, known there also as Lord of Poison which is a pretty interesting name for a Christ figure. This is the most venerated statue in the entire cathedral and… dates back to the 18th of August, 1602 when the Dominican Fathers came to Mexico with several Christ sculptures, all white.

Legend has it that this particular figure was installed in a small chapel in Tlanepantla where the regent archbishop prayed daily and at the end of a prayer, would kiss the feet of this statue. When his enemies saw what his routine was, they applied poison to the feet of the statue in the hopes that they could off him in this way after his next prayer. Alas, their cunning plan was foiled when the statue (faith, people, faith) shrank back from the archbishop’s approaching lips, thereby saving his life and providing for yet another biblical story. …the poison that had been applied by the evildoers… is what turned it black.

The story quickly got out and spread rapidly amongst the flock; the great back story and the fact that the chapel was not open to the public heightened the mystery and devotion to this black Christ. After being under wraps for many years (ie the marketing plan had worked and the product was ready) in 1935 the now heroic black Christ was moved from its private location to the Metropolitan Cathedral so as to be available for worship by all.

The Mystery of the Black Christ at Chumayel,” Lawsons Yucatan

The black figure of Jesus on the cross is somewhat of a newcomer to the Metropolitan Cathedral. Whether the version above or the story of the poison fed to Don Fermin by Don Ismael is preferred, the willingness of the figure to absorb the evil dark potion to spare the good man does make the Lord of Poison somewhat of a star attraction. The largest cathedral in the Americas actually is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. If the halo-bearing statue below is of Mary, she appears quite shocked by her immaculately conceived swollen shape.

Construction of the first part of the church was begun under orders of Hernan Cortes in 1524. Original building materials were recycled from the destroyed temple of the Aztec god of Huitzilopochtili, which stood on the site.

It would take more than a few Hail Marys to make a pass the entire length of the cathedral, as it measures the entire length of a football field, including the two endzones. There are two major gilded altars surrounded by 16 chapels. Ornate facades mark four major entrances to the cathedral. The main entrance was barred when we were there, and a crane appeared to facilitate an inspection or repair of any possible damage above incurred during the recent severe tremors.

Despite floods, fire, earthquakes and general sinking of the foundation, the church has remained steadfast in its determination to occupy the symbolic location in the heart of the city. As the huge capital city drained the water table, the cathedral continued to sink. Work to rectify that in the 1990s required extensive excavation. The successful stabilization project revealed ancient treasures, discussed here in a post-to-come.

The rather substantial first-class relics of San Vital housed in the glass case reside at the front of a gated chapel filled with portions of numerous saints. I am confused about whether these belonged at one time (until about the year of 304) to San Vitale, whose bones we first became acquainted with in the Cathedral of Bologna where they are enshrined combined with some of those of Saint Agricola. Or were they originally part of San Vitale who was buried alive, probably about the same time, for his faith in Ravenna, on the spot where a basilica now stands in his honor? Or someone entirely different?

Outside of the main chapel of reliquaries, unbeknownst to us, life-size wax statues of saints contain secret stashes of more human relics recently revealed via digital X-rays, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Anyway, I’m totally uncertain of what causes this particular San Vital is in charge. But surely relics of this size are pretty potent, so go ahead. Pray for his help for anything.

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.

Postcard from Zinacantan, Chiapas, Mexico: Roosters Rule the Roost

Densely clustered deep plum and royal blue embroidered flowers blanket the huipiles of women running errands in San Cristobal de las Casas from the nearby Tzotzil town of Zinacantan. They were my favorites spotted on the streets.

As with San Juan Chamula, male leaders operate the small town of Zinacantan somewhat autonomously, charging a toll to outside visitors. But here the women are not subjected to polygamous marriages.

The feathers young women spend months weaving into their bridal outfits do symbolically spell out their standing in the marriage. The feathers aren’t brilliant parrot or peacock feathers but are those of the humble hen. Unable to fly, hens don’t flee the coop. Chickens stay close to home, subject to the rooster’s whims.

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Several churches abut plazas at the heart of Zinacantan. The church of San Lorenzo dates to 1546. We are not sure why Saint Lawrence was popular, but he is the patron saint of chefs.

As punishment for having distributed the church’s wealth to the poor instead of Roman authorities in the year 258, Lawrence was slowly grilled upon an iron grate. He is alleged to have quipped to his tormenters, “Turn me over; I’m done on that side.” Perhaps Nana (Katherine Ann Conway Brennan, 1887-1972) was prescient in naming my father Lawrence (Lawrence Conway Brennan, 1918-1988), for no one enjoyed grilling a thick sirloin steak, fork in one hand and Bourbon in the other, more than Dad.

San Sebastian has a more obvious connection to a second church built about 200 years later. Some believe the saint who was martyred about the same time as Saint Lawrence miraculously appeared to construct this church in Zinacantan with his own hands, a feat he accomplished in only three days.

Others claim he reappeared in Mexico only to be pierced by arrows shot by Spanish soldiers, as he originally had been in Rome. He died, once again, on the site of the church and was buried there. Saint Sebastian is a patron of athletes and soldiers and a protector against the plague, particularly beneficial when Spanish soldiers are spreading European diseases among the native population with no immunity to them.