Dia de los Muertos commemorations deeply rooted in city’s past

To know San Antonio is to understand that this is a town essentially Mexican… and that the way to see the town at its liveliest and gayest is to take part in one of the fiestas of the folk. In these fiestas, with the exception of a few severely religious rites, nobody is merely a spectator: everybody takes part. There are two kinds of fiestas, secular and religious. But often the two are intermingled.

Charles Ramsdell, San Antonio: A Historical and Pictorial Guide, 1959

When I first moved to San Antonio in the late 1970s, I not only lived here but had to write about it. Almost immediately, I found myself having to come up with monthly features on the city. Pre-Internet. Charles Ramsdell’s 1959 edition of San Antonio: A Historical and Pictorial Guide became my adopted textbook.

San Antonio was love at first sight. It snagged my affection with my future in-laws’ fresh lime margaritas and a deep dive into a Border Patrol Special – the works – at Karam’s. Its Mexican-ness seduced me, particularly under Ramsdell’s tutelage.

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Postcard from Naples, Italy: Praying to free poor souls from purgatory

Lucia (viewed through a protective mesh screen) is the most loved soul. The skull with the bridal veil, adorned with a precious crown, is kept next to a pair of skulls that, in the popular imagination, represent the servants of the young girl, a young princess who died very young immediately after the wedding. To this soul the popular tradition has dedicated a small altar electing her as protector of the brides and mediator for prayers and invocations.

from the website of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco

What happens to an unfortunate Catholic soul who was good his or her entire life save some technicality, such as not being able to utter that last confession or receive the final last rite of extreme unction from a priest? Or who was left with an accumulation of unconfessed venial sins, such as losing patience, blurting out abusive language or hating one’s neighbor enough to wish evil upon him?

There is a spot for those departed, but if falls a short of heaven. Purgatory.

Purgatory, sometimes described as a purifying fire, need only be temporary – provided those on earth pray for them. In Naples, there are those faithful who devote themselves with fervor to freeing souls for their flights up to heaven.

Some refer to those practitioners as members of a cult of the dead. Results of their assistance in caring for the skulls of those who died lacking requisite sacraments regarded as keys to heaven were seen in an earlier post about Cimetero delle Fontanelle.

But Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco is not as remote as that cavernous home for skulls. Built in 1638, the church is in the heart of Naples. The church dedicated to the faithful praying for those in purgatory is a handsome one, but the hypogeum, an underground church with crypts, garners the attention of followers of the cult of pezzentelle, or souls in purgatory.

The ancient cult of the Purgatory Souls, guarded for centuries in the underground of the 17th-century Church of Santa Maria of the souls of Purgatory in Arco, arose spontaneously, at the beginning of 1600, when the new counter-reformation church proposed the care of the souls of the dead as one of the principal religious practices to establish, through prayers and masses in suffrage, a liturgical link between the living and the dead…. The living, as a means to atone for earthly sins, were concerned with fostering the ascent of souls to Paradise and assuring them of the coolness of the flames of Purgatory during the period of tribulation….

The relationship is established through the adoption of a skull, which according to tradition is the seat of the soul, which is chosen, cared for, looked after and hosted in special niches. The pezzentella soul (from the Latin petere: asking to obtain), anonymous or abandoned soul, invokes the refrisco, the alleviation of the sentence; and the person who adopted it, the person in life, asks for grace and assistance….

The grates that connect the street and underground enable voices, the cries, the prayers to reach at any time the skull, which enjoys the protection. A thought, a flower, a lit candle, support the hard fight for Paradise the souls of Purgatory generously welcome in the vast Underground of the church.

from the website of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco

While the Catholic church unsuccessfully has tried to extinguish the practices of the cult-like faithful, it seems reassuring that, if purgatory exists, there are people out there working to free the unfortunate souls trapped in its flames.

So many things those nuns never taught me…. Many of Roman Catholicism’s more interesting quirks never made it across the ocean to little Star of the Sea Church in Virginia Beach.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: The most celebrated mother in Spain

My childhood memory might be as hazy as the incense clouds at midnight mass, but I think the head covering of a rather homely statue of the Virgin Mary at Star of the Sea church was a humble blue cloak.

In Spain, things are different. La Virgen generally wears richly embroidered gowns with an elaborate silver or gold crown perched upon her head. And she is mesmerizingly beautiful.

In Adalusia, she appears everywhere (see La Virgen tiles of the streets of Seville here). In Seville, one stunning representation of Mary per church is rarely enough. Although Holy Week theoretically revolves around the story of Jesus’ last days before his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead, the candlelit floats bearing Mary through the streets are the stars.

The most cherished of these is La Macarena, or La Virgen de la Esperanza (above). The 17th-century carved wooden figure resides on the altar of her Basilica in the Macarena neighborhood in Seville. When she emerges at midnight on Good Friday, the assembled faithful gasp and cry, with some scrambling to touch her cloak. She is paraded through the streets for 12 hours, with candles lit, according to Margaret Galitzin, to prevent her from seeing her son’s suffering on the float preceding her.

The wooden representation of Our Lady of Sorrows with her dramatic glass tears generally is attributed to Pedro Roldan (1624-1699). She received numerous makeovers through the years, particularly after a not-very-pious drunk hurled a bottle at her resulting in a “bruise.” Legend claims no cosmetic alterations could erase the damage. According to Galitzin:

When the man who committed this terrible offense against the Mother of God became sober, he saw the bruise and repented for his crime. For his penance, he resolved to walk before the statue each Holy Week with chains on his feet and carrying a cross to expiate his sin. After his death, his descendants continued this practice. To this day, it is said, a family member continues this act.

In addition to her elegant attire and shining crown, La Macarena wears several emerald floral brooches. The jewels were a gift from one of Seville’s most famous matadors, Jose Gomez Ortega (1895-1920), Joselito. A Canonical Coronation in 1913 added these precious stones to the garments of La Virgen.

You might have noticed the year of Joselito’s death and realized it seems premature. His faithful tribute failed to spare him from a fatal goring 99 years ago.

Yet La Virgen went into mourning. She wore widow-black robes for a month following his death – the only time she has shed her embroidered fashions. La Macarena remains the patron of bullfighters.

The photographs collaged here are regal representations of La Virgen from numerous churches in Seville.

 

Belated Mother’s Day wishes to all.