Postcard from Cordoba, Spain: A city filled with churches

When Ferdinand III (1199-1252), King of Castile, conquered Cordoba in 1236, he launched a flurry of construction projects to formalize the city’s conversion to Catholicism. The mosques destroyed in the process provided convenient foundations and served as quarries for building numerous of these. Through the centuries, the original medieval structures received Renaissance alterations topped by a Baroque overlay.

Shells left by pilgrims who have traveled the Camino de Santiago dangle from the statue of Santiago, or Saint James the Greater, in the temple built atop a mosque and dedicated to the saint. Following the death of Jesus, James proselytized throughout the Iberian peninsula before returning to preach in Samaria and Judea.

In the year 44, King Herod Agrippa I (11 BC-44 AD) ordered him beheaded, making James the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred. According to Acts 12:20-23, Herod himself perished later that same year because: “he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” Legends associated with Santiago as the patron saint of Spain claim he, with neck intact, miraculously appeared armed atop a horse to lead outnumbered Christians to victory in a battle with the Moors – 800 years following his death.

And, continuing on a saintly topic, a large silver vessel enshrined in the Basilica of San Pedro contains a jumbled assortment of skulls and bones purported to belong to the Martyrs of Cordoba. According to accounts recorded by San Eulogio, these 48 Christians were beheaded by their Muslim rulers between 851-859 for their violations of Islamic law, mainly blasphemy and apostasy, or renunciation of the Islamic faith.

Eulogio’s writings, The Memorials of the Saints, ended abruptly upon the priest’s own execution in 859.

 

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: A piece of a saint to answer almost any prayer

Above is simply the underside of one low altar found along a wall of San Luis de los Franceses. The photo probably is not clear enough for you to really get the picture, but the entire length of it is a repository for bones. Sacred bones. Remnants of saints. And they are found everywhere in this former church. Some shards are almost microscopic and certainly appear so in our photos.

But most people probably visit San Luis for its unusual architectural bones.

By way of introduction, the building is dedicated to Saint Louis of France, King Louis IX (1214-1270). San Luis was the favorite saint of the woman who originally donated the land to the Society of Jesus if they agreed to honor him.

The titular honor also represented a politically correct move for the always-in-trouble Jesuits as a respectful tribute to the Bourbon monarchs ruling over Spain at the time. Appropriately, a majestically crowned portrait of San Luis by the prominent artist Francisco de Zurburan (1578-1664) dominates the main altar.

The Baroque structure was designed by architect Leonardo de Figueroa (1650-1730) on the plan of a Greek cross. The cross is crowned by an ornate cupola and features major gilded altars at the end of each of its four arms. Figueroa also incorporated a heavy dose of my favorite columns – helical or Solomonic twists.

Distinctive octagonal towers top the sculptural façade, a façade difficult to appreciate on such a narrow street. The four evangelists, the three archangels – they were all meant to address a major plaza below. The plaza envisioned did not materialize. Despite their tribute, the Jesuits ran into problems with the powers that were.

With the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain in 1835, their properties came under the control of the crown. It is hard to imagine how much it pained the Jesuits to abandon the hundreds of precious relics of saints stored and displayed in every nook and cranny in this former church.

Repurposing of San Luis never resulted in irrevocable alterations affecting its original architectural integrity. The Provincial Council of Seville refurbished San Luis and reopened it to the public only two years ago.

While the former church is not consecrated, the bones still attract the faithful. Many of these probably received Vatican authentication for veneration centuries ago.

Think there is a portion of a patron saint housed within San Luis to meet almost any need for prayers that could arise.

Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Trials by fire unite two martyrs across time

Bearing a pair of eyes on a platter, Santa Lucia, or Saint Lucy (283-304), watches all entering the Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo, home to El Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca. The patron saint for safeguarding eyesight and writers, Santa Lucia always has ranked among my favorites.

Upon reaching what was considered a marriageable age, Santa Lucia opted to dedicate herself to God and pledge herself a virgin. Born into a wealthy family in Sicily, she began distributing her worldly goods to the poor.

Alas, Lucy’s mother previously had promised her daughter’s hand to a suitor, a man displeased with the dispersal of the family’s wealth perhaps more than the personal rejection. Vengeful, he reported her Christian beliefs to Roman authorities.

The Roman authorities sentenced Lucy to reside in a brothel and to be forced into prostitution. Divine intervention rendered her immovable, despite the soldiers’ repeated efforts to budge her in order to carry out the sentence. Thwarted, they gouged out her eyes and set her ablaze. But Lucy proved impervious to the flames so they resorted to ending her life by thrusting a sword through her throat.

This background is why Santa Lucia would seem ideal to offer temporary sanctuary to a Penny Siopsis’ powerful short film, Communion, relating to the end-of-life experience of a Dominican nun, Sister Mary Aidan (1914-1952). The Irish-born doctor, Elsie Quinlan, had devoted years to lovingly tending and healing Black South Africans in a clinic in New London, South Africa, when she turned her automobile into a public square in November of 1952.

Apartheid was institutionalized by the National Party of white rulers of the country, and public gatherings of Blacks were outlawed. The African National Congress spurred a protest in the square as part of the 1952 Defiance Campaign, and soldiers firing into the crowd killed several Blacks.

By the time Sister Aidan drove into the midst of the then angry mob, instead of recognizing a nun who had been helping them the rioters only saw yet another white person determined to harm them. She was stabbed seven times and set ablaze in her car.

The fire had fused my rosary beads….

“voice” of Sister Mary Aidan narrating Communion

The crowd still was determined to avenge the deaths of those shot by the soldiers. The first-person narration continues with the inquest:

Parts of my body were missing. Someone said a lady had a bread knife.

By the time police broke up the riot, the government admitted to fatal shootings of at least nine. Unofficial reports placed the number at closer to 200.

And that is all of the tragic tale I can bear to relate. What could be sadder than, as artist Siopsis described during a dialogue with artist William Kentridge, “being killed by people you love and who love you?”

The film is part of “Hacer Noche/Crossing Night: Arte Contemporaraneo del Sur de Africa,” an exhibit at the Museo de las Culturas closing February 5.

The dancing skeletons visible in the background of one of the photo’s of Simphiwe Ndzube’s “Rain Prayers” are a frame from Kentridge’s short film “30% of Life/30% de Vida.”

To see more of Kentridge’s work, visit an older post from Puebla in 2015. For more photos from the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca, visit here.