Our Sister Republic/Chapter 15
RELIGION AND ART.
THE story of the apparition,—or rather—numerous apparitions of the Virgin Mary, commonly known by the appellation of the "Virgin of Guadaloupe," in December, 1531, immediately after the conquest of Mexico, to the Indian convert, Juan Diego, and the subsequent erection of the church of that name on the spot, has been often told by historians and travelers, and I need not again relate it in detail.
Suffice it then to say, that on the 12th of December 1531, the pious Juan Diego, praying by night on the volcanic hill of Guadaloupe, about three miles outside the north-eastern gate of Mexico, and some five miles from the grand plaza, saw the Virgin, clad in robes of wonderous splendor, with a face dark as that of the Indians, but radiant with a light not of earth, standing above in the air. She told him that in order to save the Indians of Mexico, and prove to them that she was indeed their Mother, she had appeared in this complexion, and desired him to go to the Bishop of Mexico and tell him that it was her wish, that in her honor a church should be erected at that point. He was so astonished at the apparition that he dropped his sombrero from his hand,—you can see the same old hat there now just as he dropped it—nevertheless, he rallied his wits, and talked back until he was satisfied that he had the full purport of the message, and then hurried off to the Bishop's Palace and told the illustrious Señor Don Fray Juan Zumarraga, first Bishop of Mexico, what he had seen and heard.
The Bishop listened, but doubted. In sore trouble Juan Diego went back to the hill, and at its foot the Virgin again appeared to him, and repeated, in substance, her first message, adding, that the Holy Mother Church would never be blessed in Mexico, until the church was erected in her honor at the point she had indicated. A great, flowing well or spring of mineral water, dark and turbid, but excellent for scrofula and other diseases of the body and the soul, burst out from the rock where she stood this time, and it is flowing yet; I drank some of the water just three hundred and thirty-eight years, to a day, thereafter, and it did not make me seriously sick. He went back to the Bishop, and still the worthy prelate doubted.
A third time she appeared to him, and told him to carry, as a proof of his story, to the Bishop, a bunch of full-blown roses, such as do not bloom, even in Mexico, in midwinter. He wrapped them in his blanket and hurried to the Bishop. When the latter unrolled the bundle, and saw the roses, his unbelief was disturbed; but when the roses fell apart and disclosed a beautiful picture of the Holy Virgin, miraculously painted on the coarse cloth of the country, the dark face glowing with sacred light, he knew that the message was indeed of Heaven, and falling on his knees, he kissed the hem of her garment, and declared that the church should be erected as ordered.
When the Spaniards, under Cortez, escaped from Mexico on the Noche Triste, one of the soldiers dropped a rag-doll, or image, and on their return in triumph, they found it unharmed, and christened it "Our Lady of the Remedios." They built her a great church, and she was the patron saint of Mexico until the Guadaloupe arose to contest the devotion of the populace with her. The war was long and bitter, but the Indians outnumbered the Spaniards ten to one, though conquered, and they had not a single Indian saint in the calendar—they have not one to this day, though many saints have been canonized in Mexico—and a brown-skinned Virgin was something worth fighting for. The Guadaloupe triumphed, and to this day her shrine is sought annually by the Indians of all Central Mexico, while that of our Lady of the Remedios is almost deserted.
Subsequent to the third apparition, the Virgin of Guadaloupe appeared to others, and directed where each structure should be raised. On the top of the hill, where she first appeared to Juan Diego, they raised a magnificent chapel in her honor: at the foot of the hill where the spring burst out, they erected a chapel over the well, and a small but costly church in the rear; and where she delivered to him the roses inclosing the miraculous picture of herself, they built a church which, though despoiled of much of its former wealth of gold and silver, is still a mine of the precious metals, a marvel to visitors from all parts of the world, and in the eyes of the poor Indians of Mexico the holiest shrine on earth.
For two centuries, it was no uncommon thing for one hundred thousand people to be gathered in and around the church and chapels of Guadaloupe on the anniversary of her apparition to Juan Diego, and from the 1st to the 15th of December, the place was one of daily resort for thousands on thousands of devout worshipers. A raised roadway paved with lava, and furnished with fourteen turnouts, or wide stations, each with a chapel, commemorative of the fourteen chief incidents in the life of Our Savior, are constructed from the northern gate of the city, to the enclosure of the church of Guadaloupe, and along this a thousand penitents might be seen at once crawling on their knees the entire distance, stopping at each station to spend some time in prayer and meditation. Of late years the fanaticism of the devotees at the shrine of Guadaloupe has fallen away, and the attendance is less great—though still, almost incredibly large.
FLAGELLANTES OF TWENTY YEARS AGO.
The Indians come from all their villages within a radius of one hundred miles at least, on foot, packing their luggage and loads of fruit and vegetables, to be sold to procure funds for offerings at the shrine all the way on their backs. Men and women, boys and young girls, tramp along barefooted over the dusty and stony roads, sleeping by the roadside at night; and children too small to walk, are carried on their parents shoulders, all the way. Even the donkeys and dogs belonging to the family accompanying them, and it is no uncommon thing to see a comely young Indian girl, with a sufficient dash of Spanish blood in her veins to cause her cheek to bloom like the sunny side of a yellow apricot, trudging along with a pet puppy in her arms, carrying him to taste the holy waters of the miraculous spring of Guadaloupe.
A railroad now runs along the road of the Penitents, and pilgrims are seldom seen crawling along on their hands and knees, as of yore. I went out there on Sunday, December 12th, on the holy anniversary. The road all the way from the northern gate to Guadaloupe, was so blocked with ox-carts, mule-carts, saddle-horses, and carriages, all bearing visitors to the shrine, that we could hardly force our coach along; and the multitude on foot, raised such a dust as almost to stifle us. We saw but one person —a poor old woman—crawling along upon the knees, by the side of the road; all the rest marched, or rode, straight ahead. The cars went loaded. Most of the people in the better class of carriages, and in the cars, were wholly, or partially, of European blood; but all those on foot, or in carts, were Indians. The former generally appeared to go to see what was to be seen; the latter all went, umnistakably, to worship.
We got within a quarter of a mile of the church, and leaving the carriage, made our way with difficulty through the motly crowd into the plaza in front of the church. There were probably twenty-five thousand to thirty thousand people, of all ages, sexes, and conditions there, and they were going and coming all the time.
All the bells in the towers of the church—some twenty in number—began ringing at once, and the air was filled with their melody. Those old Spanish padres were wonderful bell-makers. With the very rudest appliances, and only charcoal for fuel, they managed to cast here in Mexico, three centuries and more ago, better, and sweeter-toned bells, than we in the United States or Europe are able to produce to-day, with "all the modern improvements" and unlimited means at our command.
At last, after infinite toil and jostling and pushing through the ragged and swarthy crowd, we reached the church door, and entered it. The whole worn and worm-eaten floor of the great edifice was covered with kneeling Indians, all devoutly repeating prayers, and many carrying lighted wax-candles in their hands. Quietly as was possible we worked our way through the crowd, and reached a central point upon the floor. The air was filled with the incense burning in golden censers around the great altar, and yellow with the dust which the ever-coming and going throng raised in clouds from their soiled garments and the dirty floor.
The wealth once held within these four walls was almost fabulous, and even now when silver and gold in many places have been replaced by baser metal, heavily gilded, it is still enormous. The choir and surroundings of the great organ are all of precious metal, and the gallery, leading down from the choir through the center of the church to the great altar on the north, has on either side a massive railing or balustrade of solid silver, sufficient in aggregate weight to load a first-class railroad car, at least. The altar is surrounded by burnished metal on every side, and all the altar ornaments, which are almost numberless, huge, and massive, are of solid gold and silver.
Wrapt devotion was on every face, but the intense bigotry which once characterized the assemblages here, is fast passing away. We stood erect, though bareheaded and silent, amid the vast kneeling throng, and not a single reproachful look, so far as we could see, was cast upon us. Twenty years ago, had four heretics from a distant land thus dared profane this holiest of God's holiest temples with their accursed presence, their lives might have paid the forfeit; but while the faith survives, the fierce fanaticism is dead, and to-day we were only pitied, not hated. The confiscation of the Church property, and destruction of her temporal power in Mexico, has done much to bring about this state of things; and slowly, but surely, the light of a higher and nobler civilization is dawning on even the most benighted portion of the people of Mexico.
All around the walls of the church were tables at which sleek priests sold little books giving a full history of the Virgin of Guadaloupe, and ribbons, each about two feet in length, on which there was a black mark some six inches long, and the inscription "The true measure of the face of Our Lady of Guadaloupe of Mexico." These little ribbons are supposed to possess great virtues, guarding the wearer against many diseases and misfortunes, and every pious visitor, however humble his or her means, carries away at least one of them. Each ribbon is said to have been touched to the divinely painted picture of the Virgin, which, inclosed in a solid gold frame, hangs against the northern wall over the high altar. I saw a half bushel of them brought in at once and piled up on the table before one of the priests, who spreading out his hands blessed them in a hurried business-like manner, and then bowing politely to me said, just as a dry goods clerk in New York, might have said: "Yes, Señor, one rial each, how many will you please to have?"
I took a couple to carry home as presents to some young Catholic friends, and with them got his blessing which I propose to keep for my own use.
On one side of the church I noticed a great number of rude pictures representing miracles in the way of cures of deadly diseases, or direct interposition to save the imperiled from instant death, performed by the Blessed Virgin of Guadaloupe. These were hung there by the pious recipients of such favors, and they appear to be regarded with much reverence by the simple worshipers. I noticed that the paint on the picture of the Virgin which came down from Heaven with the roses which Juan Diego delivered to the Bishop, had begun to crack and peel with time, but have no doubt but that it will be miraculously restored again, and it is likely to outlast many generations of mankind to come.
From the church a winding pathway leads up the steep face of the rocky hill to the chapel on the summit where the Virgin first appeared to Juan Diego. Half way up the hill is a curious structure of stone, plastered and whitewashed, which represents the sails, mast, and yard of a ship. In fact, the mast of a ship is said to be really built into the masonry. This was erected many years ago by a pious old Spanish rover, who in the hour of mortal peril on the Spanish Main vowed to the Virgin, that if she would enable him to tack, and prevent his galleon going on the rocks, he would do this in her honor; she did it; and he kept his word like a man and a Christian. In the chapel, which is richly ornamented like the church, is the original picture of Juan Diego after receiving his message hurrying to the Bishop to deliver it. I was pained to notice that the picture was that of a Spaniard with thin features and a slight curling beard—not that of an Indian at all. There must have been a mistake here somewhere. However, the old clothes which Juan Diego wore are still there, and as they prove the truth of the story in the main, why should we care for a few discrepancies in the minor details.
At the foot of the hill, just below the main church, we saw where some enthusiastic explorer had been boring for oil, with regular Pennsylvania machinery. The rock is purely volcanic, and pitches directly away from the point where he was boring; nevertheless, if he had found oil there in such a sacred place, it would beyond doubt have been unusually valuable for illuminating and other purposes.
We worked our way around to the chapel on the north-east of the church, which stands over the great flowing well of mineral water which opened at the touch of the Virgin's foot. There was a dense crowd around it, and all were drinking of its waters and filling jars and earthen jugs and bottles with it, to carry away to their homes to be used as medicine until their next annual visit. I noticed that the copper kettle with which the water is drawn up from the well, is chained fast; but that is the custom of the country, and must not be construed into a direct reflection on the honesty of the pilgrims. A Mexican lady who visited the well with me, tasting the water remarked, "It is very disagreeable!" when a woman standing by her rebuked her with: "Yes, but you must remember that it is sent by the Holy Mother, and is good both for your body and your soul!"
Thousands come here from long distances to be healed of scrofula, etc., by the waters of this well, and are healed. But then I am compelled to add, that I know springs in Arizona, Nevada, and California, which yield equally healing waters, beside which no Virgin is known to have ever appeared by any sort of miracle.
The Indian-blooded crowd appeared to regard the festival as partaking, to some extent, of the character of a religious anniversary and a general holiday combined. Of the thousands who pushed and jostled each other in the plaza and the streets around the church, more than half were eating something as they went, and in all directions might be seen small family parties seated on the dusty ground, picnicing with evident hearty relish on the coarsest viands. Dried meat, mainly that of sheep and goats, particularly the latter, appeared to be the staple, and boiled or roasted calabras, or coarse pumpkin, stood next in order. Here you would see a whole family marching along, each munching quietly at some part of a dried goat, the hind leg, apparently having the preference, and there another, greedily devouring pieces of cold boiled pumpkin, without salt, pepper, or butter. One healthy young fellow, I noticed gnawing away at the head of an ancient billy-goat which he held by the horns, and evidently "as happy and content as Swimley's boarders, the best looking men in town," etc. etc.
Oranges, bananas, cheremoyas, aquacates, piñons, and other fruit and nuts were exposed on mats on the ground, for sale, all about, and the dealers in tortillas and cakes of all kinds drove a thriving trade. It is said that pocket-picking is one of the chief features of the annual festival of Guadaloupe, and many of my friends have been robbed there in the most adroit manner; but our party did not suffer from any such depredations, and one of us to my certain knowledge stood in no serious danger of heavy loss at that time.
The whole festival reminded me of the annual pilgrimage of the common people to the pagan shrines of India, in some of its features; nevertheless, there was an evident earnestness and religious conviction in the manner of all the worshipers, which must entitle them to the respect of even the greatest cavilers and scoffers at their form of faith. The great mass of the believers in every faith in the world, are honest and earnest in their convictions, and these simple worshipers at the shrine of the Virgin of Guadaloupe, are entitled to the foremost rank in that list. If simple faith shall justify and make men whole, they, surely, have less to fear and more to hope for in the future life, than most of us who claim to hold more enlightened opinions on religious subjects.
Coming home, we passed the old palace of the Inquisition, an institution which nourished in all its purity and vigor in the Vice Royalty of Mexico in its earlier days. A grand, gloomy old pile of architecture, with reminiscences of untold horrors and cruelties, indescribable, clinging to every stone in its massive walls. It was confiscated and put to better uses long ago. Opposite it is the ruinous old church of San Domingo, and by its side, the little plaza in which the French under the Empire, used to murder their prisoners of war at day-break; the wall is still pitted with the bullet-marks as if it had the small-pox. Strange, is it not, that Mexico did not love the Empire?
The Protestant movement in Mexico is something which I cannot fully understand, and which particularly surprised, and I may say astonished me, more than anything else I witnessed. I am not a member of any church, and profess no special creed, but as an enemy of every form of slavery and oppression, I cannot but regard this Protestant movement with interest and sympathy. That it will accomplish all which is expected of it by its friends, I am not inclined to believe; but that it will be the means of reforming the Catholic Church of Mexico and removing the abuses which made it a by-word, reproach, and curse to the country, I regard as highly probable. I must bear testimony to the earnestness and devotion of these "Evangelical Christians" of Mexico, and their wonderful success. I am not inclined to meddle much with the religious affairs of any people, but as a matter of fact, and as illustrating the condition of the country, I append the statement of the leader in this great movement, without endorsing his conclusions. The mere facts, I know to be as he has stated them:
The little effort already put forth in behalf of Mexico has obtained marvelous results, through God's blessing, and ought to encourage American christians to greater effort. A Mexican who has been connected with the army, purchased a Bible some time since at his wife's request. The latter determined to find the ten commandments, and by them decide whether or no the Roman clergy in their teaching were faithful to the Word of God. On reading several times the second commandment which the Roman church suppresses, dividing the tenth into two, she stood up and walked across the room to where she had a picture of the Virgin Mary, that she was specially fond of worshiping, took it down from the wall and put it into the fire. Her husband, Ponce de Leon by name, was the hero of the defence, during the recent attack made by the mob, led on by two curates dressed in citizen's dress, on some christians, when assembled on a Sunday in Pueblo. He has established many evangelical congregations and expects to gather a hundred more before the end of next year. More self-sacrificing, heroic, devoted, zealous and faithful christians than they
"May Jesus reign!"
I trust that some hearts may respond to these facts.
H. Chauncey Riley.
Among the many interesting institutions in Mexico, the National School of Art and Design is worthy of special mention. This establishment is on an immense plan like every other public institution, but is in many particulars imperfect, for want of sufficient funds to carry out all the ideas of its founders. The building, of cut stone, very costly, and substantially built, covers a great area, but is only partially furnished and occupied. Commenced in the last century, its style of art is still of the ancient order, though perfect in its way. Many really fine painters have graduated here, and their works cover the walls of the vast salons.
Among the recent graduates is Felipe Gutierrez, who two years since, attracted much attention in San Francisco, California, as a portrait painter, and after earning a respectable sum in that branch of his profession, went to Rome, and there recommenced his studies under the most favorable auspices. I heard of him a few weeks since, as one of the most promising artists of the art capital of the world. Among the pictures on the wall I saw and recognized several of his.
The Mexican people—I might say the Spanish American people—have a natural talent for music, painting, and the fine arts generally, far beyond that of our own countrymen or even of the Europeans; and the wealth of painting and sculpture, the former especially, to be found in Mexico, in public institutions and private residences, is almost beyond belief. Nevertheless, I must confess to some disappointment on visiting the School of Art and Design. Hundreds of historical, scriptural, religious and classic pictures, elaborately, and, generally, well executed, adorn the walls; but there are not a dozen, illustrative or commemorative of the grand and romantic incidents of the Spanish conquest and subsequent history of Mexico; and, stranger still, the wonderful scenery of this glorious land has been almost wholly neglected. There are dying saints and martyrs by hundreds, Abrahams leading Isaacs to the sacrifice, Judiths and Holofernes, Sampsons and Delilahs, Susannahs and Elders, Kings and Queens of old Spain and old Europe, Monks and Bishops, and Hermits and Brigands, without end.
There are a number of pictures of undoubted authenticity, from the old Spanish Masters, and more Virgins of Guadaloupe and elsewhere, than would stock any reasonably-sized heaven; but one looks in vain for the scenery of the Sierra Madre, the Barrancas of Beltran and Atenquique, Popocatapetl, Orizaba, the Valley of Mexico, and a thousand other glorious subjects for the landscape painter which this country affords.
Of the new pictures, I saw one representing Virgil and Dante looking into hell, which is magnificent in the simplicity of its design and the savage force of its execution. Another—not quite finished—representing the Indian girl who first discovered the art of making pulque from the milk of the aloe plant, with her attendants, presenting the liquor and the plant itself to the King of Tula, is very beautiful and artistic in design, gives a perfect idea of the costumes and appearance of the ancient Aztecs, and is worth a square acre of fly-blown saints, musty martyrs, damp, old hermits in mouldy cells, and the heroes and heroines of classic literature, in costumes suggestive of rheumatism, diptheria, pneumonia, and early death.
The department devoted to painting is the largest and most complete. One of the four grand salons is surrounded by portraits of the old masters and classic authors in fresco, executed quite recently by Ramon Sagrado, an artist of Mexico, in excellent style. Among the art objects in all the public and private houses of Mexico, the portraits, statues, and busts of Humboldt invariably attest the regard for the memory of that great man, which prevails among all classes of society. The art galleries are now being renovated and put in good order once more. When I visited them it was during vacation and I did not have the pleasure of seeing the students at work. There are many empty frames in the salons, and we were told that the pictures which once filled them were borne away as spoils by the French, who appear to have laid their vandal hands on everything rich, beautiful, and desirable, in Mexico.
The department devoted to sculpture is also very extensive, and contains many objects of rare excellence in art; but the same lack of originality and nationality, and the same slavish devotion to European styles and models is visible everywhere. In the department devoted specially to engraving on copper and steel crayon, and pencil drawing etc., there are many specimens of work of rare excellence, and a great number of very fine and curious old English, French, German Spanish, and Italian engravings, such as cannot be found elsewhere on the continent.
In the department of coins and medals, there is a collection embracing many thousand specimens. All the gold, silver, and copper coins and medals, struck in Mexico since the Spanish conquest, with their dies, all in perfect preservation are there, and thousands of old Roman coins, with most of the coins and medals issued in Europe within the last five centuries. There are many specimens of the coins and medals issued by Maximilian. Among the former is one in silver, representing the Virgin of Guadaloupe on one side, and Maximilian on the other, and another which represents Maximilian and Carlotta on the obverse, and the Virgin on the reverse. Maximilian was exceedingly vain of his repulsive face, and placed his likeness on every thing which could be made to bear it. "With all its faults and short comings, the National school of Art and Design in Mexico is infinitely superior to anything similar on the continent; and it will be long before we shall equal it in the United States. Some years since the students planned and erected a magnificent structure for this School outside the San Cosme Gate in the direction of Chapultepec, near the Agricultural College, but during the siege by Porfirio Diaz, the Imperialists occupied it, and his cannon riddled it into a cullender, and it is now a complete ruin. I rode out there one day, and saw where the Californians under Col. Green crawled up in a ditch to within a hundred yards of the walls, and with their Henry rifles shot down the Imperialist gunners at their posts, silencing their cannon, while the batteries of the Republicans sent their shot crashing through and through the structure, until it became a perfect wreck and untenable.
The College of Mines or Mining College was one of the noblest educational institutions of Mexico in its design, and it had been famous for half a century, before, even an attempt at founding such a school had been made in the United States. The building—cut granite, commenced in 1780 and completed about the beginning of the present century—is one of the largest, and most beautiful and substantial structures on the continent. It is three stories in height and built on the general plan in Mexico, with capacious patios or court-yards surrounded by broad corridors, everything being of stone, even down to the floors. From the flat stone roof the view of the city is magnificent. The college was intended to give young men a complete practical education in all that pertains to mines and mining, engineering, etc., etc. Provision was made for an astronomical observatory, and the scientific apparatus was always of the latest, best, and most complete character. But the college has suffered sadly from war and violence, and it will take years of peace to fully restore it. In 1846—7, the American troops were quartered there. What damage they did I am of course unable to say, but it is certain that when the French evacuated Mexico, a vast number of the richest and most intrinsically valuable specimens in the collection of minerals and metals disappeared; and a great portion of the most costly scientific apparatus had been wantonly destroyed, or rendered useless when the Republicans re-entered the city. At present there are but about thirty students in the college which could easily accommodate five hundred, or even one thousand. Efforts are being made to repair the damage, and place the college once more in a perfect condition.
The collection of minerals, all neatly arranged in glass cases, and carefully catalogued and labeled, is very large; larger, I think, than any two in the United States; and many of the specimens are of rare beauty and of great interest to scientific men. I have seen collections made in California and Nevada, by private citizens, which contained more silver and gold, and had therefore more intrinsic value, but never any which approached this in variety and general excellence.
There is also a large but heterogeneous collection in Natural History, embracing some very rare and beautiful specimens; it is not, however, equal to that which was burned at the Smithsonian Institute at Washington a few years since, and the collection of stuffed birds is not equal in artistic merit to that of the Audubon Club at Chicago.