Miracles attributed to Panchito continue to mount up in Mexico.

The Italian hill town of Assisi might be overrun by tourists and pilgrims, but the stories of the miracles of Saint Francis manage to bubble up through the clutter. The saint’s holy cards often depict him surrounded by fluttering brown sparrows, but they fail to convey some of the richer stories.

I mean stories such as how Saint Francis threw himself naked upon a rose-bush as punishment for impure thoughts only to have the thorns miraculously fall off the bush so as not to prick him. Bet he was thankful for that one. But I understand a naked man hugging a rose-bush might not be deemed appropriate for a holy card. My favorite Saint Francis miracle was his taming of the fierce killer wolf terrifying the residents of neighboring Gubbio.

On the holy card that is part of a digital collage (“¡Qué milagro! Four bullets in the back and alive to give thanks 25 years later.”) I donated for SAY Si’s annual Small Scale art sale, I felt compelled to add a few extra birds to better illustrate the claim that birds would stop mid-chirp to listen to Saint Francis’ sermons and, of course, to add a tame-looking wolf.

But what sent me digging up this holy card was a photograph from the side chapel in the Parroquia Purisima Concepcion in Real de Catorce, a former ghost town now a mecca drawing both tourists and pilgrims, in much the same way as Assisi. The walls of the entire chapel are covered with retablos, pictures and stories often painted on sheets of tin, left in gratitude by the beneficiaries of miraculous interventions by Saint Francis, affectionately known as Panchito. One retablo that caught my attention was left by Jesus Espinosa Diaz de Leon in 2006 to express his gratitude to Sr. San Francisco de Asis for saving him from bullets fired into his back on the streets of San Luis Potosi in 1981.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The rich interior of the Parroquia in Real de Catorce reflects the origins of the town itself; the workers mining the veins of silver running through the mountains signed a commitment in 1779 to donate silver toward its construction on a weekly basis. Real was so wealthy, it not only had a palenque for cock fights but an opera house. There was such an abundance of silver, the town had its own mint coining reales. To make the town and its silver more accessible, an engineering marvel of a tunnel almost 1 1/2 miles long was carved through one of the surrounding formidable mountains in 1901.

With the silver seemingly played out, the town died. Colonial buildings began to fall into ruin, and it probably would have become a complete ghost town were it not for Panchito. Some time after the Mexican Revolution, word spread throughout the country about miraculous cures of humans and animals believed to have been granted following prayers to St. Francis of Assisi. The statue in the parish church began to attract pilgrims. Particularly on his Feast Day, October 4, they jam the tunnel and overwhelm the town to pay tribute to the patron saint of merchants, animals and ecology.

While the town has undergone a revival caused by curious travelers, there is another revival many are eyeing with distrust. New technologies now make it possible to extract more metal from the surrounding mines, and in a wonderful series of posts on Huffington Post, Tracy Barnett reveals in words and photos that the Huichols are displeased. She describes a February 6 all-night ceremony involving the sacrifice of a calf:

Soon the maraka’ate assembled and the plaintive wail of the Wixarika fiddles began to ring out in the darkness. The chants of the maraka’te rose on the wind; the ceremony had begun.

All throughout the long night these priests of ecology, as Liffman called them, sang their entreaties to the spirits that inhabit this place, an improvisation of melodies from different villages and different eras in time. They conducted their ancestral dialog with Grandfather Fire, an intermediary between the maraka’te and their deities. The sacramental peyote they had hunted in the desert the day before was working its magic.

Maybe, if the Huichols combined their dialogues with Grandfather Fire with prayers to Saint Francis of Assisi in his role as the patron saint of ecology, the potent powers would unite to spare the land from more intrusive mining.

This is an absurdly long-winded approach to suggest you take advantage of SAY Si Small Scale art sale to build your collection. More than 200 artists have contributed works to the silent auction. It will be impossible to view them all before they start disappearing off the walls during the final party on Friday, March 23. So consider going online quickly and purchasing tickets to the preview party on Thursday, March 1, or stop by SAY Si between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday or 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday until March 23. And then it will be too late.

Added on March 9, 2012: This post needed a soundtrack – Gretchen Peters’ “Saint Francis.”

Looking for a feel-good holiday story? Don’t click here.

Hola my Teresa, I’m thinkin’ of you now in San Antonio.
I have 27 dollars, and the good luck of your picture framed in gold.
Tonight I’ll put it all on the fighting spurs of Gallo del Cielo,
Then I’ll return to buy the land Pancho Villa stole from father long ago

Gallo del Cielo by Tom Russell
Men lay down their bets on their roosters on this plate produced in San Antonio by San Jose Pottery.

I’ve listened to Joe Ely weaving the sad tale toward the inevitable death of El Gallo countless times.  It’s tragic, but I dismiss it as more of a folk tale than a current event. 

After all, one of my favorite possessions is a cockfighting plate produced in San Antonio by Ethel Harris’ San Jose Pottery

And I find it amusing to reflect on San Antonio’s rough and tumble past as evidenced in the pages of the 1911-1912 edition of The Blue Book, a visitors’ guide to the city’s red light district.  In addition to a multitude of brothels just south and west of City Hall, there were at least two cock pits – Ogden’s and Monterrey – located on South Santa Rosa.  I even incorporated their ads in one of my Blue Book series of prints:

The Blue Book No. 2. The Blue Book's listings for cock pits on South Santa Rosa Avenue in downtown San Antonio is combined with images of roosters and a period map of the area. Edition of 25. 10 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches.


“Mayor Callaghan crowed at City Hall during the week, but spirited fights could be found just two blocks to the west on weekends.”

The palenque, or cock pit, in Real de Catorce

The palenque, or cock pit, in the former ghost town of Real de Catorce remains one of my favorite landmarks to explore.  But that is made easier because I was not with my husband and his younger brother when they stumbled upon men placing their bets on an actual cockfight there. 

During one of our jaunts to Mexico, I tried to convince my husband we should buy the ruins of the palenque in Mineral de Pozos, a former ghost town near San Miguel de Allende, to incorporate in a retirement home for us (one of many ill-conceived notions expressed during more than three decades of marriage from which he wisely has managed to divert my attention until common sense returned, albeit always on a fleeting basis). 

"A Competitor and His Cock," Haiti, June 2010, photograph by Vic Hinterlang

Our friend Vic pulled out his camera in Haiti this past June to document a cockfight at Delmas 31.  When he lagged on posting a follow-up, I feared he was hooked and was out training a cock of his own.  But my fears were groundless; he simply was flying back to Austin.

Cockfighting is something I prefer to pretend only occurs in the past tense, or, at least, takes place in some other country.  The world is becoming a kinder, more gentle place (dream on, Gayle).  But, in support of this argument, Spanish Catalonians recently enacted legislation drawing an end to their deeply entrenched tradition of bullfighting. 

Periodically, media intefere with my naive theories.  The other day, I made the mistake of reading Brandi Grissom’s coverage of cockfights, and their aftermath, outside of Dallas for Texas Tribune

One by one, Domanick Muñoz pulled bloody and battered bodies out of a pile of feathers, claws and beaks. Roosters that were still gasping for life….

The posted videos are not for the faint of heart.  Grissom makes it impossible to continue in a state of denial.  Cockfighting is not something that should be included in “It’s a Texas thing.”

Update Posted on February 8: Had to add this cautionary tale – “Man Killed by His Own Cock” (my headline)

Update Posted on March 17: Oscar Barajas, who recently wrote a post about his father’s disappointing cock, forwarded this link to “La Muerte de un Gallero.”

Update on May 22, 2011: Bobby Jones calm defense in Texas Monthly of his livelihood, breeding game birds, seems blood-chilling to me. “Harvesting” is the professionals’ word for cockfighting:

…what goes on at harvesting facilities is no different from what you see at a golf course, the rodeo circuit, or a bass tournament. It’s a gentleman’s wager, like betting on a football game.

As part of his explanation of legitimacy, he claims that gaffs for cockfighting were brought over on the Mayflower. But, his best point is:

No, what I’d like to see is a law that gives rural counties the power to decide what they want, instead of being told what to do by people in cities. Why are people in areas like Houston and Dallas, where there’s practically no morality, able to dictate what we do in rural areas, when they know nothing about it?

Poor guy:

Politics often gets in the way of my livelihood.