Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Mazatlán's Unique Cathedral

Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Mazatlan MX

Mazatlán, a city on the west coast of Mexico in Sinaloa state, remained a small fishing village until the mid-19th century;  development did not really begin until the early 20th century.  It's Cathedral, the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was begun in 1855 by the order of Bishop Pedro Loza y Pardavé and then stopped in 1856 due to the start of political and military turmoil in the region.  Construction began once again in 1875 under the direction of Padre Miguel Lacarra working with bricklayer Estanislao Léon,
carpenter Santiago Léon and iron-worker Isaac Léon. 

Main Altar, Cathedral Basilica of Mazatlan MX
The cathedral has the altars typical of a Mexican cathedral, such as this guilded baroque main altar, as well as several side altars. The interior of the cathedral has evolved with reconstructions over the years and now is a good deal more ornate than in its original state.The mudejar influence is an interesting feature and the Star of David windows make it truly unique.

Mudejar Influence: 
Although its architecture is basically gothic, a significant mudejar or moorish influence is noted and this starts with the building façade. It should be noted that the country of Spain was under Islamic rule for a number of centuries and what we think of as Islamic or moorish was the dominant cultural influence in Spain reaching into all areas of life for its inhabitants- Christian, Jewish and Muslim, alike.  Note the similarities in design between the façade of Mazatlan's Cathedral and an interior feature of the medieval El Transito synagogue in Toledo, Spain, which was converted into a church after the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain. 

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Interior of El Transito Synagogue, Toldeo Spain
Some of the interior brickwork resembles that found on the Cathedral of Cordoba Spain, 
that before the reconquest of Spain by the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella had been a mosque.  

Window, Mazatlan Cathedral

Cathedral-Mosque of Cordoba Spain

Take a look at the similarity of the color scheme in this window from the Mazatlán Cathedral 

Window, Mazatlán Cathedral, Mazatlán, MX

and a door in Fez, Morocco.
Door, Fez Morocco

Star of David Windows:
By now you have noticed that there are stained glass windows bearing the Star of David, sometimes called the Shield of David,  in the Mazatlán Cathedral.  In fact there are 28 of them, making it the only Roman Catholic Cathedral in the world like this. These windows are quite prominent and visible both from the inside and outside of the building.

Detail of Star of David Window, Cathedral Basilica of Mazatlan, Mazatlan, MX

Interior of Dome located above altar, Cathedral Basilica, Mazátlan MX

Side Window, Cathedral Basilica of Mazátlan, MX

Side view, Cathedral Basilica of Mazátlan, MX

It does seem strange to see a primary symbol of Judaism so prominently displayed in a Roman Catholic cathedral. The explanation offered is that at some point in time, when the Cathedral needed money for construction, a Jewish donor stepped forward and gave the money and the windows were placed in gratitude for the gift. There is no record of this individual's identity or when the donation was made. Judging from early church photos and construction records the Star of David windows were  installed after 1929

 Although today the Star of David is generally understood to be a symbol of Judaism,  this has not always been the case.  What we call the Star of David had its origins as an Arabic symbol and was used as a protective amulet by Muslims and Jews alike.  The symbol is seen in some medieval churches in Europe such as in the Cathedral of Valencia Spain, which dates from the 13th century.

Valencia Cathedral, Valencia Spain,

Scholar Gershom Scholem has written a very interesting history of the Star of David symbol   According to him, the use of the Star of David as a symbol of Judaism did not become popular until the 19th century and it only became definitive when it was chosen as a symbol of Zionism at the Basle Conference in 1897.   

According to J. Trinidad Hernández Dávila, a clergyman and historian of the Mazátlan Cathedral, the windows do reference Judaism, and are a reminder of the Jewish roots of Catholicism and of the fact that its founder was a Jew.  In a country like Mexico where some 10% of the population is estimated to be of Jewish origins, these windows have a special resonance. *

*( In 1492, Spain's Jews were given the choice of exile or conversion and many chose the latter.  Yet, these conversos, as they were known, were continually suspected of practicing Judaism and lived under the threat of the Inquisition.  Under these circumstance some chose to move to the New World and were among the first settlers of Mexico. After religious freedom was instituted in Mexico in the 1860's some conversos began to return to Judaism, but many remained within the Catholic Church.)