Friday, November 21, 2008
A Mother's Faith: Santos & Milagros
My mother was named Guadalupe, after her patron saint, The Virgen of Guadalupe and she had an abiding love and faith in the virgen. This print had a prominent place on the family altar which she had formed atop a mint-green dresser in her bedroom. Always, votive candles burned before the images of saints (santos) she had brought with her from Mexico. She loved to tell the story of the virgen's apparaition to the indian, Juan Diego and of how miraculous she was. "She appeared to an indian", she would stress, "not to the Europeans or the priests, but to an indian." She seemed especially proud of that. Another image that was dear to her was San Martin de Porres, the black South American saint, pictured with his broom to emphasize his humble status. He was especially kind to the poor and to animals. One of her favorite stories of Martin was of a miracle he performed in a church that was infested by mice. "Look", he told the mice, "you must move out of the church because the priest if getting ready to exterminate all of you." The mice obeyed Martin, exited the church, and were saved. One of my favorite prints was one of San Antonio (Saint Anthony) holding a Christ child. It is a beautifully colored print and seemed almost holy to me. I knew little about him but in the print he lovingly holds the child and looks heavenward, bathed in a glow of golden light, the child with a halo around its head, peers benevolently at the viewer. He wears the traditional brown Fransican robe tied at the waist with a rope, and a rosary tied to it. The print depicting Mary was, I felt unique. It is softly colored and her expression is one of peace, tranquility and tenderness. One hand is pointing to her sacred heart (burning with the fire of Her love) and the other holds a branch of white lilies. No wonder my mother prayed to the mother of all mothers, who understands our human suffering, especially those of a mother. El Santo Nino de Atocha (The Christ Child of Atocha), was yet another of her favorite "santos". The print, a delicate black and white lithograph on old, yellowed paper, she kept in a simple wooden frame, depicts a Christ Child sitting in a chair, wearing a strange plumed hat, holding a staff in his left hand and a small basket in his right. He wears sandals on his feet. I recall thinking how the artist had failed to capture the face of a child, and how he looks too grown up in it. At the time, I had no idea about the stories of a mysterious child who magically appeared to the sick and needy, in the far off Atocha, Spain, bringing them food and water. The Virgen of San Juan de Los Lagos was yet another of her favorites. She was especially miraculous my mother said. She is pictured in a triangular shaped, elegant and fluffy blue gown, rich with gold brocade. Long and wavy locks of hair tumble down her shoulders, and an over sized crown graces her head, bordered by two cherubims holding a banner which reads: "Immaculate Mother Pray For Us", in Latin, and crescent shaped moon at her feet. I will never forget visitng the church in San Juan de Los Lagos, Jalisco in Mexico with my mom about 1965. The entrance to the beautiful old colonial church is lined from floor to ceiling with retablos (miracle boards), documenting the hundreds of miracles attributed to her. Painted by amateur artists, the child like images on tin depict the suffering of mankind, and the lettering on each one tells of the specific event, with names and dates, and the divine intervention of La Virgen in their lives. I was stunned. As I wandered around outside the church I found a large open room and stepped inside. Piled to the cielings and along its walls were stacked, dozens of old dusty wheelchairs, crutches, and old arm, leg and body casts. When I asked my mom what it all meant, she said "These are things left behind by people who came here in them and left, no longer needing them." I felt humbled, and embarrased by my stupid question.
I often scoffed her faith: "Mom, you don't really believe this stuff about miracles and Santos, do you? Shaking her head she would say "You are an incredulo! Se te ha metido El Diablo." On occasion, I would find one of the statues on its head, or a print facing the wall. When I asked about it she would say "I am punishing him. I am tired of praying and praying for your older brothers and he fails to answer me! He will stay that way until he answer my prayers!" Today, a small, abandoned altar graces an upstairs bedroom in my home, and some of her statues and prints of her santos still grace it. While I never could acquire the faith of my mother in the santos and milagros (miracles), I did learn to respect it. Maybe it was El Diablo that prevented it, just like she always said?