Saints and sinners in Tricentennial exhibition at San Antonio Museum of Art

Given my history of promoting the elevation of the June 13 feast day of San Antonio’s patron saint to a major celebration (for example, here), I feel it a betrayal of Saint Anthony of Padua, originally of Lisbon, that I am not featuring his image at the top of this post. After all, there is a splendid statue of him cradling baby Jesus prominently displayed in the entrance hall of the San Antonio Museum of Art as part of its tricentennial exhibition, “San Antonio 1718: Art from Viceregal Mexico.” 

But I gravitated instead to a detail of “The Mystical City of God,” painted by Cristobal de Villalpando in 1706 and on loan from the Museo de Guadalupe in Mexico City. Depicted in front of the “The Mystical City of God,” envisioned in her 1668 multi-tome work chronicling the life of the Virgin Mary, is Sister Maria de Jesus de Agreda (1602-1665), one of my favorite saints capable of bilocation.

Yes, I realize Saint Anthony had mastered that art centuries earlier. He was known for his capability of preaching a sermon at the altar at the same time he was up in the loft singing with the choir. And then there was the rather remarkable occasion he was in Italy while simultaneously appearing in Lisbon to testify on behalf of his father, who was falsely accused of murder.

It is believed this painting was commissioned by Fray Antonio Margil de Jesus (1657-1726), the Franciscan priest who walked barefoot from Zacatecas to San Antonio to found Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo in 1720. The art of bilocation certainly would have come in handy for the Franciscan, as he made that more than a thousand mile roundtrip hike across mountains and the desert twice.

But Sister Maria de Jesus de Agreda is particularly significant to the Americas because she bilocated across the ocean to the New World. A favorite advisor to King Philip IV (1605-1665) of Spain, Sister Maria de Jesus de Agreda is said to have been transported by angels to parts of what is now West Texas and New Mexico to teach Native Americans about Christianity as many as 500 times between 1620 and 1631. All the while remaining ensconced in the Monastery of the Immaculate Conception in Spain.

A Franciscan friar arriving in  New Mexico in 1629 found members of the Jumano tribes waiting, eager to be baptized. The Native Americans told him and other friars repeatedly they had been visited by a lady in blue who advised them too seek out the friars to complete their conversion to Christianity. The tales of the mysterious visitations of the lady in blue to the Jumanos were reciprocated by the descriptions of the outward appearance of the Native Americans to whom she had visions of teaching provided by the lady in blue whilst in Spain.

Aside from the statue of Saint Anthony, the other images above are plucked somewhat arbitrarily from the more than 100 works in SAMA’s exhibition.

Monumental in size, “The Martyrdom of Franciscans at Mission San Saba” was painted in 1765 by Jose de Paez, recording an event that occurred only seven years earlier. Founded near present-day Menard in 1757, Mission Santa Cruz de San Saba was attacked by 2,000 warriors – an alliance of Comanche, Apache and other tribes who obviously had not benefited from any of the visitations of the Lady in Blue – on March 16, 1758. Eight people were massacred, and the mission was burned to the ground.

Love the white rabbit peeking out the sleeve in the 1789 portrait of “Friar Joseph Arriaga” by Manuel Montes. Saint Francis often is depicted surrounded by fluttering brown sparrows, and, in that tradition, this Franciscan has a sparrow or two peeking out from under his robe as well.

In sharp contrast to that gentle side of the church’s teachings, I offer a horrifying detail of “Allegory of the Confession of the Soul.” Makes one awfully happy for the opportunity the church extends to say three “Hail Marys” and two “Our Fathers” to have all your confessed sins forgiven. And then there are the cherubs in great need of watching their step balancing atop monstrous creatures from hell in a detail of “The Hernandezes Honoring Their Devotion to Saint Michael the Archangel,” 1818.

The lives of everyday people are featured in some of the assembled paintings as well. The body language of the Gutierrez family in their 1814 portrait conveys much about their roles. The daughter is learning the art of lacemaking from her mother, while the captain instructs his son in geometry. The father is posed in a way to block the access of the womenfolk to the mathematical problems. The future roles of the daughter and son are dictated by the lessons they are offered.

“San Antonio 1718: Art from Viceregal Mexico” remains on exhibit until May 13.

What’s up top counts

Went to a reunion of the three sisters over the holidays in Plano. As we drove places, I rudely kept remarking about the amount of rooftops. The mountaintops of shingles jut over the high privacy fences abutting most thoroughfares, one after another, all looking the same and periodically punctuated by strip retail on corners that all look the same as well.

Roofing must be less expensive than masonry because it appears the second floors were mainly shingled surfaces. After the violent hailstorms this past year, I would think a company such as USAA would offer major insurance rate discounts for the reverse.

Perhaps the rooftops were so noticeable to me because new subdivisions lack mature trees to break up the sea of roofs. How in the world can Santa tell the houses apart?

My observations of this unwelcome repetition is not meant as a criticism of Plano. It applies equally to the unimaginative architecture in developments ringing all major cities and every growing community in Texas.

Of course, I certainly would not want to see our flat rooftop replicated throughout a neighborhood. We live in a loft reclaimed from a small inartistic factory, but it is tucked in the middle of a rooftop-rich neighborhood. I’m spoiled by the total lack of cookie-cutter uniformity in the King William Historic District.

I snapped a few photos the other morning of views you would see if privacy fences ringed these structures. Fortunately, the facades are not blocked by fences, but I wanted to focus on rooftops. With the pecans and oak trees standing naked, this is one of the few seasons you can see most of these. Retaining their leaves, live oaks conceal some rooflines. As much as I wanted to include treetops silhouetted against the blue sky, I decapitated most of the palms to concentrate on what is on top of the structures.

The diverse attention paid to the design of roofs and their underpinnings is not restricted to Victorian mansions; builders of modest cottages demonstrated elevated aesthetic concerns as well.

So sorry I did not pass by my favorite onion-top roof, but knew I already had taken way more photos than necessary to make my point. Neighborhoods are more interesting when attention is paid to individualizing architectural design, and adding jewels to the crowns of buildings makes a walkable neighborhood even more so.

Apologies to my sister in Plano for my rooftop criticism, but I’m totally spoiled. What’s up top matters a lot to both Santa and me.

Postcard from Puebla, Mexico: Mexico’s first charro bestows blessings on travelers

At first glance, he doesn’t look very good. But you have to know the backstory. He didn’t die yesterday.

Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio was 98 when he died and was buried, briefly, for six months. And that was more than four centuries ago.

Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio is among the group of saints, or in his case almost-saints, whose bodies have withstood the normal ravages of time. God chose to leave their bodies incorrupt, or intact, and they remain on display for the faithful.

While San Sebastian de Aparicio seems handsome for a 500-year-old man, in his youth his beauty caused great problems for him. He was so “comely,” according to the website Roman Catholic Saints, “wicked women frequently set snares for his purity.” The pious 31-year-old finally fled the lascivious ladies of Spain and settled in Puebla.

Blessed Sebastian de Aparicio began making ploughs and wagons for the primitive farmers he found there, and he plowed fields at no charge. So produce could be moved around the country, he set about building roads. This included a 466-mile stretch connecting Zacatecas, where there happened to be a lot of silver, to Mexico City. His farming, ranching and transportation endeavors made him wealthy.

Taking pity upon a young girl whose parents could afford to pay no dowry, Sebastian finally married at age 60. After her death at a young age, he entered a second “virginal marriage,” according to American Catholic. (Try to avoid falling prey to skepticism at this point.)

Finding himself a widower again, he distributed his worldly goods to the poor, funded a convent and entered the Franciscan order at age 72.

He died in 1600, and miracles attributed to him began to multiply and accumulate. He was beatified in 1787, but he’s still on the waitlist for sainthood after all this time.

If you are traveling through Puebla, you should make a pilgrimage to his shrine in the Church of San Francisco, particularly if you are from Texas. Although Blessed San Sebastian de Aparacio might not be canonized, he’s regarded as particularly helpful in granting miracles to travelers and was Mexico’s, which included Texas, first cowboy.