Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Truth About the First US Thanksgiving

Artists rendition of the First Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving Day is the iconic US holiday and is among the central founding myths of this country.  From time to time it is debunked as in Charles Blow's editorial in today's New York Times. But whatever really happened on that very first Thanksgiiving Day, there is a broader backstory that is too fascinating to be ignored. 

If you haven't already read my article from 2015, please take a look at it to see the unlikely but true role that the Spanish Colonial World played in the event-

Monday, October 21, 2019

Dia de los Muertos is Almost Here

Grave decorated for Dia de los Muertos, Oaxaca, MX
Dia de los Muertos Altar, Oaxaca, MX
Dia de los Muertos door decoration, Oaxaca MX
Dia de los Muertos Altar Items for Sale, Oaxaca MX
Dia de los Muertos, roughly Oct. 31-Nov.2, is fast approaching.  It is one of Mexico's most colorful holidays and a fabulous time to visit Mexico, if you can.   But if events keep you at home this year, you can enjoy the holiday second hand through this post. Please follow the link to see Dia de los Muertos as it is celebrated in different parts of Mexico.  Included is a link to a video of a rarely seen observation of the holiday in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas.

I hope you enjoy Dia de los Muertos as much as I do!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

All That Glitters is Gold: La Compania de Jesus, Quito Ecuador

La Compania de Jesus, Quito Ecuador
For many tourists, Quito is simply an overnight stop en route to the Galapos Islands and they have no idea of the city’s colonial riches.  Quito, along with Cusco in Peru, was one of the two main cities of the Inca Empire with which the Spanish fought for an extended period from 1532 util its eventual victory in 1572.

There are many colonial era treasures in Quito and most famous among them is La Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus which is also the least photographed, due the prohibition of tourist in the church.  I received special permission to photograph for educational purposes.  

Two Roman Jesuit churches, the Church of Gesu and that of Sant’Ignazio de Loyola, were the inspiration of the Quito Jesuit church, which was begun in 1605 and completed over a century and completed 160 years later in 1765.

Partial Ceiling and side view, La Romania de Jesus, Quito, Ecuador

Behind the stone façade of La Compania lies a glittering world; La Compania is sometimes call a gold box, and rightly so.  There is not a square inch in its interior that is not covered with elaborate carving, inlay and gold leaf.  As in so many Baroque churches, it is difficult to stay focused on any one detail, because the visual environment, with the Churrigueresque decorative style of the interior, is so extraordinarily complex, it is difficult to focus on any one thing. 

Front Altar and Nave, La Compania, Quito Ecuador

Front Altar, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
A Miraculous Image:
In the bottom tier of the altar there is a very significant painting, that of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Main Altar: Our Lady of Sorrows, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
This painting once hung in St. Garbriel's Academy, a Catholic boy's boarding school in Quito. On April 20, 1906, a boy noticed the eyes of this painting slowly open and close and this, seen by others as well, repeated itself for a period of about fifteen minutes and later on a few occasions. The church declared it miraculous and six weeks later, the image was carried in procession to La Compania where it now hangs on the main altar.

Marianna de Jesus:

Statue of Marianna de Jesus, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
Part of memorial to Marianna de Jesus, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
Mariana de Jesus, a 17th century Ecuadoran miracle-working holy woman, in1853 became first Ecuadorian to be canonized; she is the patron saint of Ecuador.  During the 1645 earthquakes and epidemics that followed, Mariana de Jesus is said to have publicly offered her life as a sacrifice for the salvation of the city. She died soon after and miraculous events accompanied her death including a white lily springing up from her blood.  Her remains are entombed at the base of the altar of her chapel in La Compania.

Tomb of Marianna de Jesus, La Compania, Quito Ecuador

Mudejar Elements:
Mudejar, (Spanish Muslim) architectural elements persisted in Spain and later in its colonies even after the country was re-captured from its former Moorish rulers in the Reconquista. Mudejar design is seen throughout La Compania as in other Spanish Colonial churches.  
For more information on this phenomenon, please read:

Mudejar architectural elements, La Compania Quito
Mudejar architectural elements, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
Mudejar elements around pulpit, La Compania, Quito Ecuador 
Mudejar elements in wall ornamentation, La Conpania, Quito, Ecuador

Arches also reflect Mudejar design.

Mudejar influences in arches, La Compania, Quito, Ecuador
Indigenous Elements:
As is typical in Colonial Latin American churches, indigenous influences are present, reflecting both the artistic hand and culture of the people these churches were built to serve.  Much of the artwork in colonial churches was made by local indigenous craftsmen trained in schools built by the Spanish  The carved figures in the first photo are not in a European style, but reflect local convention.

Figural group from altar carving, La Compania, Quito Ecuador

The ceiling of this baroque doorway with its Solomonic columns merges Christian and indigenous symbolism with a sun containing the Christogram IHS, the monogram that symbolizes Jesus Christ. This merging of the Christian and the indigenous was aimed at reinforcing an association in the minds of the newly converted people between Christ and local solar deities.

Entrance Doorway, La Compania, Quito Ecuador

Entrance Doorway Ceiling Detail, La Compania, Quito Ecuador

As is typical of Latin American colonial churches, La Compania has many side altars dedicated to various saints and all of them very are beautiful, Baroque and ornate.

Side Altar, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
Side Altar, La  Compania, Quito Ecuador
Side Altar, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
Side Altar, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
A Unique Trinity:
The altar dedicated to the Trinity is one of a kind.  You will see numerous and varied figural representations of the Trinity throughout Mexico and the rest of Latin American,  but this writer has never seen one showing Jesus as a child with his parents.

Altar dedicated to the Trinity, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
Many paintings by local artists are seen throughout the church. All of these artists were indigenous Ecuadorians trained by Spanish missionaries and there are important stylistic differences between these paintings and their European prototypes. 

From La Compania, Quito Ecuador
From La Compania, Quito Ecuador
From La Compania, Quito Ecuador
From La Compania, Quito Ecuador
From La Compania, Quito Ecuador

Password Protection 17th Century Style: the Missing Image
Sadly, there is no photo for what may be the most unique object in the church.  For background on the missing photo, while photographing anything in La Compania, it was mandatory to wear the photographer's vest used to identify officially-approved photographers.  Otherwise, photography is strictly forbidden. 

Photographer's Vest, La Compania, Quito Ecuador
When I was done photographing La Compania's glittering beauty, I returned my vest and paid  one of the guides for one of the short tours they offer.  My guide took me to some back rooms and in one I encountered something truly unique.

On a table was a very large square wooden box, several feet in width and length,  with many tiny drawers on each of its sides.  My guide told me that this was used both for safe-keeping items and in passing secret messages. There were special combinations for each drawer and the writer of the message would give the code to the intended recipient. Here, before my eyes was the "cloud", centuries before its time and it was a cloud that did not crash or get hacked.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Oldest Madonna in the U.S.

St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral Basilica, Santa Fe NM
Santa Fe's St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral Basilica is home to the Oldest Madonna in the United States.  Built in the Romanesque Revival the cathedral is a structure that has been significantly renovated and modernized over the years.

St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral Basilica, Santa Fe NM
Situated on the grounds of a church, La Parroquia, that was built in 1717, the new cathedral was begun in 1869 and a small chapel from the old church was kept.  This is the Chapel of La Conquistadora, seen below.

La Conquistadora Chapel and Retablo, St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral Basilica, Santa Fe. NM

The small wooden statue known as La Conquistadora,  was brought by Fray Alonso Benavides, Franciscan Superior of the New Mexico Missions, to the small Santa Fe church that preceded La Parroquia.  Her name, La Conquistadora refers to the time of the conquistadors in which she had arrived. Beloved by both indigenous inhabitants and Spanish colonists, from the start the figure was dressed to look like a Spanish queen. 
When the Spanish were forced to flee Santa Fe during the 1680 Pueblo revolt, they took the statue and during the 1693 battle to reclaim Santa Fe, La Conquistadora was the patron saint of the reconquest. 

La Conquistadora, St Francis of Assisi Cathedral Basilica, Santa FE NM
Processions honoring La Conquistadora began in 1694 and to this day she is an important figure in the life of Santa Fe.  Her chapel is considered the oldest Marian Shrine in the United States.

Dressing La Conquistadora has been a part of her veneration from the very earliest days, stemming from traditions in both the Spanish and indigenous American cultures.  She has an extensive wardrobe which is changed seasonally.  Having La Conquistadora wear one of your creations is considered a great honor.  

La Conquistadora, St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral Basilica, Santa Fe NM

La Conquistadora, St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral Basilica, Santa Fe NM
For more information about the ancient tradition of dressing religious figures, please read:

 See also  for a fascinating look at two other madonna statues that are central to the cities in which they are located.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Dressing the Divine

Processional Figure of Virgin Mary, Merida, MX

Many believers in the Latin American world have a very personal and intimate relationship with their religious images.  Their interactions with them are complex and In many ways they are treated more like people than statues.  This is true for the large images found in churches, as well as the smaller devotional figures found in home altars, such as the Divino Niño in the photo below. This Divino Niño, which portrays Jesus as a young child, is very popular.

Divino Niño, Chiapas, Mexico  
Divino Niño, Xquerol, Quintana Roo, MX

Images of the Divine Child are available for purchase and the clothing is sold separately.

Figures of Divino Niño, Quito, Ecuador

Clothing for Divino Niño, Quito, Ecuador

In may places, people sew the clothing for the images by themselves, as a gift for the image, and it is an honor to have an important religious statue wear your clothing; some religious images have extensive wardrobes that are rotated. In the more indigenous churches of Chiapas statues sometimes wear many of the clothes gifted to them at the same time, resulting in statues completely swaddled in many layers of clothing.  

Magdalenas Aldama, Chiapas

The statue of La Conquistadora, located in her own chapel in Santa Fe New Mexico's St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral, dates from 1625, a time when what is now  New Mexico, along with much of the southern US was still part of Mexico. To this day, Santa Fe's culture remains very Mexican.  Below are photos of La Conquistadora and a very small part of her extensive wardrobe.

Retablo of La Conquistadora, Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe, New Mexico

La Conquistadorra, October 2018, St. Francis Cathedral, Santa Fe,  New Mexico

La Conquistadora, July 2013, St. Francis Cathedral, Santa Fe New Mexico
La Conquistadora, July 2012, St. Francis Cathedral, Santa Fe, New Mexico

In Roman Catholicism, the Holy Cross (Santa Cruz) is very significant and the Cross itself, is venerated.  In Spain and in many places in the Latin American world, May 3 is the Feast of Santa Cruz.  In Mexico, this celebration has its roots in the early 16th century when the Spanish explorer Juan de Grijalva named the island of what is now Cozumel, Isla de la Santa Cruz.  Although throughout the world, crosses sometimes have a cloth draped over them, in the Mexican states of Quintana Roo, and Yucatan, crosses are often actually dressed in clothing.

Dressed Crosses, Xcabil, Quintana Roo

Crosses wearing huipils, Xcabil, Quintana Roo, MX
Cross wearing Huipil, Xcabil, Quintana Roo, MX
Maya Church Altar,  Quintana Roo MX
In Yucatan and, especially, Quintana Roo, the Cross has an additional kind of meaning
stemming from the time the 19th to early 20th century Caste War.  During this overthrow of the Spanish, the Maya redefined Christianity and the Cross in the Maya Cruzob movement. for themselves. You can read about this fascinating episode in Mexican history by following this link:   The Maya Church and its adherents, the Cruzob, still exist in Quintana Roo and Yucatan, today.