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Churches in Mexico

oax-jesus

Christ

Churches in Mexico – Paganism in Catholicism?.

The floor is carpeted with fresh pine needles. The smell of candles, incense and pine is the first sensory stimulation. You become aware of chanting. Your eyes focus on groups of people huddled around rows of candles burning on the floor. A healing ceremony is going on. Eggs, live chickens, bottles of Fanta, Coca-cola and other mysterious liquids serve as offerings to the saints.

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Cathedral at San Cristobal

A woman picks up a black hen, offers it to the saints by making circular motions with her hands, runs it down from head to shoulder of the girl next to her. Suddenly, she twists the hen’s neck and it is dead, presumably taking with it the bad spirits plaguing the little girl.
We are in a Catholic church in San Juan de Chamula. Familiar saints dressed in colorful and opulent garb line the walls staring out from behind glass cases. Like all Mexican churches that we have seen, Christ and Mary are elaborately robed in an extremely graphic crucifixion scene. There the similarity ends.The healing ceremonies remind me of similar scenes in India when perspiring, hyperventilating women who are “possessed” presumably by a deity, flagellate themselves or dance to the thrumming of drums, and are sometimes called upon to bless people on auspicious occasions.

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Candles in church

In Ocotlán, I wandered into a side chapel where people were kneeling around a (dead) tree, festooned with milagros, objects of (precious) metal that are offered to the saints as a thanksgiving for services rendered. The air was so thick with devotion that you could cut it with a knife.
In another corner, a man was kneeling at the feet of a saint. He repeatedly bowed and kissed every part of the saint, hands, feet, knees. Candles were everywhere.
In Oaxaca, our landlady told us, “Here Catholicism is a thin veneer over the indigenous religion”. The indigenous people, forced to convert to a new religion by the Spanish, seem to have found the best way to reconcile their beliefs with Catholicism. An indigenous woman once told me, “Do you know why there are so many saints? Because if there weren’t, all the children would be named Jesus or Mary!”

ocot-jesus apostles

6 Responses to “Churches in Mexico”

  1. Fred says:

    Jesus!

  2. abeline says:

    I remember that the church in San Juan de Chamula made me cry. The faith and devotion of the church goers is impressive. Add to that the candles, the chants, the scent of pine in the air ..

  3. Joan Johnson says:

    We look forward to every E-mail from you. Oaxaca seems very interesting. I must put it on my travel list.

  4. madhuri says:

    Beautiful pictures! Churches, like temples, have something soothing about them (if you ignore the hulla gulla happening around).

  5. madhuri says:

    oh, and how come there is no Shreesh-in-Lime-Green-Tee in this post? :-)

  6. Suhasini Taskar says:

    Beautiful pictures of the churches !! Rituals going around seem weird.
    I would not have liked to hang around these places too long.

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