Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cristos Negros: San Román Campeche, Merida, Mexico City

Cristo Negro, San Román Church, Campeche, MX

Although less well known than the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Cristos Negros, or Black Christs of Latin America are significant religious images.  They are called "black"  because of the dark color of the wood and all of them come with the story of a miraculous origin or arrival in their locale. During the colonial period, there was a stronger tradition of venerating images of Christ than those of Mary. Today there are approximately 300 Cristo Negro images revered in Latin America as well as a few in immigrant communities in the United States, as well. 

The Cristo Negro pictured above is that of San Román Church in the city of San Francisco de Campeche Yucatan, located on the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.  In colonial times, San Román was a barrio, or neighborhood, or this city which lay outside of the city walls.  In 1565 it was ordered to build a church in this area and obtain an image for it.  There is no clear story of the provenance of this image, the Cristo Negro, although consensus is that it came from Europe and, probably, Italy.  There is, however, a very elaborate story of its miraculous arrival in Campeche.

The image arrived in Veracruz and from there it had to be brought, by ship to Campeche. During its ocean voyage there was a terrible storm and just when all seemed lost, a mysterious dark-skinned sailor appeared and saved the ship. The legend suggests that this sailor was Christ.  Another story relates that a pirate tried to steal the statue but was unable to do remove it from the church.

San Román Church, Campeche, MX

Front Entrance, San Román Church, Campeche, MX

Front Altar, San Román Church, Campeche, MX

San Román Church, Campeche MX
The Cristo Negro of San Román is not only important to the barrio of San Román, but to the entire city of Campeche and has been converted into Campeche's patron saint.  His feast day, September 14, is a major event for the city and for the entire state of Campeche with the celebration continuing with fairs, rodeos and other events until September 28.  On the feast day, the image is carried through the city in procession and during the  two weeks of celebrations it is visited and venerated by the faithful in the church.

Why Black Christs?

There is one theory that says that all of the Cristos Negros stem from one particular image in Esquipulas, Guatamala which originated in 1595 which started off fair-skinned but whose wood darkened over time.  However, the Campeche image (1565) predates that in Esquipulas, so this theory is not borne out in this case.  This darkened Esquipulas image was well-received by the Mayan population of Guatemalas and although Cristos Negros were not meant to be a racial statements it could be one of a constellation of factors in their popularity.  There are over 300 Cristos Negros in Latin America, as well as in the U.S.   

At the time the Cristo Negro arrived at San Román, Campeche, the barrio was populated by Tlaxcalans, a people originally from Central Mexico.  There is no proof, but it has been suggested that a Christ image with a skin tone closer to theirs might have been more appealing.  The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe also has darker skin than European representations of the Virgin Mary which is one of  a constellation of reasons that she found rapid acceptance among the indigenous converts of colonial Latin America. People have an easier time identifying with images that look like them. 

Some other Cristos Negros:

Señor del Veneno, Catedral Metropolitano, Mexico City MX

This image, whose name roughly translates as Señor of the poison or venom, is located at the Altar of Pardon in the Cathedral.  The legend goes that, originally, this statue was light-skinned, but became dark when it miraculously absorbed poison that was meant to kill a bishop who came daily to adore the statue, kissing its feet. An enemy of this bishop put poison on the statue's feet, but when the bishop went to kiss its feet, it absorbed the poison and turned black, saving the life of the bishop.

Señor de Veneno at Altar of Pardon, Cathedral Metropolitano, Mexico City MX

Cristo de las Ampollas (Cristo de Ichmul) was carved in the Yucatan village of Ichmul and is now located in the Cathedral of Merida, Yucatan.

El Santo Cristo de las Ampollas

In 165, during a celebration, there was a fire in the Ichmul church where the image was located and the building was destroyed.  The image of Christ survived covered with blisters, ampollas in Spanish.   In honor of its miraculous preservation, the image was moved to the cathedral in Merida, the Yucatan capital, and a special chapel was built to contain it.
It was believed that the miraculous statue saved the city from a pestilence.  During the early 20th century anti-Christian persecution in Mexico, the original Señor Ampollas was destroyed and a replica build that is still in the Merida Cathedral.

1 comment:

  1. It's very hard to get information about any special spirituality concerning the Cristos Negros except that they "just got that way" or they were more miraculous that other Cristos, or common people liked them because in Latin America class and color go together in the popular mind. Is there nothing spiritual drawn from the Negros?