Postcard from Campeche, Mexico: A glimpse of her churches

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.

Postcard from Queretaro, Mexico: Church and Ex-Convent of Santa Rosa de Viterbo

Santa Rosa de Viterbo (1233-1251) donned the simple drab cloak of the Franciscans at an early age, but the interior of the church built in her honor in Queretaro in 1752 is gilded to the hilt. Fresh flowers cover the altar, fitting as Santa Rosa de Viterbo is the patron saint of flower growers and florists. The massive scroll buttresses attached to the façade are decorative, not functional, and are believed unique to this baroque church.

The adjacent convent was closed by the Reform Laws of 1861, and today serves as a center for the study of design and graphic arts.

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.