A place to seek miracles

Above, Chapel of the Miracles, photo by Michael Cappelli, 1984

This is, in the words of the Abbe Dubuis, ‘a place of frequent emotions.’

Julia Nott Waugh, The Silver Cradle, 1955
Close-up of El Senor de Los Milagros from Michael Cappelli’s 1984 photo

El Senor de los Milagros, or The Lord of the Miracles, is suspended majestically above an altar in a small privately-owned chapel on the near west side of town. La Capilla de los Milagros stands somewhat in isolation on what was Ruiz Street, now Haven for Hope Way, severed from downtown by IH-10.

The age and origin of this crucifix are part of its mystery. In 1907, Charles Barnes wrote in the San Antonio Express that it was brought to San Antonio by Spanish friars as early as 1716 and placed in San Fernando Cathedral. In a 1928 edition of the Dallas Morning News, Vivian Richardson claimed its origins were local, that “it was revealed to a Mexican that he should make a crucifix for San Fernando Mission.”

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Postcard from Sorrento, Italy: An Amalfi town overwhelmed by people like us

Our Lady of “Please Save Us and the Entire Amalfi Coast from this Latest Wave of Invaders”

Mythologically speaking, Sorrento was founded by a grandson of Ulysses and Circe, but the geographical features making it a natural fortress – a deep gorge and steep cliffs fronting the coast – placed it in high demand by all powers interested in staking out turf in the neighborhood for thousands of years.

And now the invaders are tourists. Obviously, we are among them. But visitors slipping in two by two is a far cry from the hoards cruise ships docking in nearby Naples deliver to Sorrento, viewed as the stepping stone for exploring the beauty of Italy’s Amalfi Coast. The pedestrian streets of Sorrento are lined with shoppes, as opposed to stores that would offer anything of interest to the city’s less than 17,000 residents.

The small-town streets are clean and orderly compared to the scene in Naples, but are swarming with, well, people like us. Sorrento is a place where we could enjoy a morning cappuccino in a small café for three times the price we would pay in Naples. The setting is dramatic, and the views of the Isle of Capri and Naples are beautiful. But wait, we had a wonderful view of the Isle of Capri from our apartment in Naples.

Sorrento is blessed with several handsome baroque churches, and my favorite part of the jaunt by boat over there from Naples was a visit to the Basilica Sant’Antonino. Little Saint Anthony of Sorrento (555-625) was a Benedictine monk who became a hermit. The citizens of Sorrento coaxed him into serving as abbot of their Saint Agrippinus Monastery. Saint Michael appeared to persuade him to take up their offer.

The most miraculous deed credited to Antonino during his lifetime involved a whale. A mother arrived pleading to him for help, as her son had been swallowed by a leviathan. Antonino was able to reach deep inside the creature’s mouth and pluck the boy out, safe and sound.

After his death, the grateful people of Sorrento built a crypt to house his remains and then erected a basilica above in his honor. His work was not yet done though. The saint is credited with protecting the city from a Moorish naval invasion, the bubonic plague and cholera. The walls of the crypt are lined with cases of silver milagros left by those requesting his intervention in healing various parts of the body and reliquaries of bones of other saints to multiply the potency found within. Retablos depicting some of Saint Antonino’s dramatic rescues of endangered sailors at sea are abundant.

Sorrento takes great pride in its limoncello, ceramics and lacework. We strongly recommend the perfect panini produced in the little kitchen at A’Marenna.

Oh, and the city appears taken with Sophia Loren, particularly after her mambo scene in Scandal in Sorrento.

Sophia Loren and Vittorio de Sica mambo in 1955 film Scandal in Sorrento

We enjoyed dipping our toes into the Amalfi scene at Sorrento, but by late afternoon found ourselves eager to return to the bustling chaos of Naples.

Postcards from Valencia, Spain: Wrapping up a few more museums

The façade of a Gothic palace disguised by numerous layers of ostentatious additions of Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical and maybe even Oriental decorations through the centuries houses the National Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts in Valencia. A prominent location and the sheer audacity of its exterior ornamentation attract crowds to the museum. Aside from a set of china with fanciful animals that I loved, the museum overall resembles a beautifully iced flavorless cake. This sounds harsh, but, if time is limited, we would recommend a trip to the under-visited House Museum José Benlliure instead.

The palace of Saint Pius V above the Turia River provides huge galleries for displaying several centuries of Spanish art, beginning with a collection of huge Gothic retablos. El Museo de Bellas Artes includes works by Velazquez, Goya, Sorolla and Valencian hometown favorites, the Ribaltas.

Sixty days after Easter, the doors of the Corpus Christi Museum swing open so the rocas, massive wooden floats about 500 years old, can be rolled out for the annual parades celebrating the feast day. Horses haul the floats over the cobblestones, the faithful bear heavy statues atop their shoulders and gigantes, 16-foot figures representing Catholics from around the world, are part of the religious fanfare. As our timing was off for the event, we visited the carriage house, Casa de las Rocas, built in the 1400s specifically to house the floats. The parade-in-a-box leaves no spare space, but the jammed together festival props provide a sense of the ancient enduring traditions.

We also left three days before the opening of PhotOn Festival, the International Festival of Photojournalism spread mounted in several venues in Valencia. When we entered the cloisters of Centro Cultural La Nau, workers were installing large prints by Joseph Eid and Natalia Sancha for “Those Who Stay.”

While the original founding bank might have floundered when the real estate bubble burst, a palace of art remains. The spacious galleries of the Centro Cultural Bancaja are operated by a nonprofit foundation. Portraits by British artist Julian Opie were featured. We found them somewhat hypnotic despite their pared down, cartoonish lines and a peculiar flatness. Several of the large illuminated portraits of individuals featured subtle movements. The hands of a watch might move once a minute, or dot-like eyes might blink about as often as you do.

Opie’s video below made me feel as though I was relaxing at a café watching a parade of people passing by on their way to work – a kind of boulevardier spirit we cultivate while traveling.