Thursday, February 18, 2016

The "Last Supper" Come to Life: Capilla de El Divino Maestro, Merida, MX

Panorama Photo of the Last Supper, Capilla de El Divino Maestro, Merida MX

Tucked away in a tiny chapel in the back corner of Merida's Cathedral Complex is a worship space unique in all of Latin America.  A life-size replica of the Last Supper, the event at the center of all Christian liturgies, is permanently housed in the corner next to the main altar.  It is the only church in Latin America like this.

Capilla de El Divino Maestro, Façade, Merida MX

Capilla de El Divino Maestro is an unpretentious place with a plain façade and the espedaña (bell tower) typical of Yucatan churches.  Although it is physically within the Cathedral building, it is an independent house of worship. 

The chapels origins were early, in 1647, when the Brotherhood of Jesus of Nazareth (Jesús Nazareno) asked the Cathedral to provide a space for constructing its own chapel. Almost two centuries later, in 1836, the archbishop gave the chapel to the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament (Santissimo Sacramento) to hold its monthly meetings and to place their images of Jesus (Divino Maestro) and the Apostles (Santos Apostoles). It also housed tombs of deceased brotherhood members. 

Today, in Merida, the chapel is an important center for the devotion to Jesus of Nazareth, whose figure can be seen in the decorative Plateresque Altarpiece. 

Front Altar with Worshipers, Capilla de El Divino Maestro, Merida MX

Figure of Jesus in Front Altar, Capilla de El Divino Maestro, Merida MX

What sets the chapel apart from all other Latin American worship spaces is the replica of the Last Supper permanently installed to the right side of the front altar.

Front Altar and "Last Supper", Capilla de El Divino Maestro, Merida MX

There is a small sign above the table listing the names of the Apostles.  

List of the Disciples represented at the image of the Last Supper, Capilla de El Divino Maestro, Merida MX

Each of the images is unique and true to descriptions  in the New Testament, and each wears a name-tag.  At the table from left to right they are: Bartolomé (Bartholomew), Felipe (Philip), Marco (Mark), Santiago (James), Judas Tadeo (Jude), Judas Iscariot, Tomás (Thomas), Santiago Alfeo (James son of Alpheus), Andrés (Andrew), and Simón (Simon). 

Saints Bartholomew, Philip, Mark, James, Capilla de el Divino Maestro, Merida MX

Saints James, John, Jesus and Saint Peter, Capilla de El Divino Maestro, Merida MX

Judas Iscariot, Saints Thomas, James son of Alpheus, Andrew and Simon, Capilla de el Divino Maestro, Merida MX

The figure of Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus to Roman Authorities, is portrayed without a halo because he, unlike the others, is not a saint; in fact he was quite the opposite. The expression on his face betrays his conflict, which Biblical accounts go on to elaborate.

Judas Iscariot, Cailla de el Divino Maestro, Merida MX

Saints Jude, John, Jesus and Saint Peter, Capilla de el Divino Maestro, Merida, MX 

To Jesus' right sits the man known in the Bible only as the "Beloved Disciple".  He looks  young, innocent and almost angelic; he is sometimes identified as John son of Zebedee.  The eyes of Jesus look heavenward.

The Power of Image in Worship:

"Ultima Cena" (Last Supper), Capilla de el Divino Maestro, Merida MX
The biblical "Last Supper" was actually a Passover meal in which Jesus instituted the Christian sacrament of Communion.  He said that his followers were to eat  bread and wine  representing his own body and blood that he was sacrificing for the sins of humanity, and to do this in remembrance of him. The church altar is the symbolic table at which this meal is prepared and then consumed by participants in the Mass who, throughout the centuries, have continued to "remember" Jesus in this way. 

Having an actual image of the "Last Supper" must make the spoken words of the Mass more tangible and  spiritually accessible  to participants in the worship at Capilla de El Divino Maestro.  Through the images, Jesus and his disciples are present in this place dedicated to their memory and, certainly,  this is a large part of what makes this tiny chapel such a powerful and popular place of worship in the city of Merida.