Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Quién Santa Fe?

If you went to Santa Fe, New Mexico for the first time you might think that the patron saint, and official icon, of the capitol city of the “Land of Sunshine” is the Virgin of Guadalupe.  And you might wonder, who is this Saint Fe anyway?

First the V.O.G.

“Official Catholic accounts state that on the morning of December 9, 1531, a native American peasant named Juan Diego saw a vision of a maiden at a place called the Hill of Tepeyac, which would become part of Villa de Guadalupe, a suburb of Mexico City. 

“Speaking to him in his native Nahuatl language (the language of the Aztec empire), the maiden asked that a church be built at that site in her honor. From her words, Juan Diego recognized the maiden as the Virgin Mary. He then sought out the archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, to tell him what had happened. The archbishop instructed him to return to Tepeyac Hill, and ask the lady for a miraculous sign to prove her identity.

“The first sign she gave was the healing of Juan's uncle. The Virgin also told Juan to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill, which was normally barren, especially in December. But Juan followed her instructions and he found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, blooming there. The Virgin arranged the flowers in his tilma or cloak, and when Juan Diego opened his cloak before archbishop Zumárraga on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor, and on the fabric was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.” (Wikipedia)

 In Santa Fe this patron saint of (Old) Mexico appears ubiquitously on T-shirts, watches, bracelets, key chains, paintings, murals and even tattoos.  Mars and I have several such images in our own collection – clothing, pictures and jewelry.

“Use of those images ‘is an expression that brings the sacred to everyday life,’ said theologian Nancy Pineda Madrid, a professor at the Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry at Boston College. ‘Having her with us is a way to feel more secure, more confident in life, especially when we have problems or are in danger.’ (

Apparently this is true of both those who have a deeply religious devotion to the Our Lady of Guadalupe, as well as those who venerate the image and its cultural and aesthetic countenance more than the spiritual backstory.

 So how come, you ask, is the image of Saint Fe not equally ubiquitous?

 Well the short answer is, there is no Saint Fe.  (Some would argue that there also was never a Juan Diego – although the Vatican canonized him as the first Roman Catholic indigenous saint from the Americas in 2002.  Whatever.)

There was however a Saint Francis.  And “the city Different” was originally called “the La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís  ("The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi")” – way too many letters for a baseball cap, so the town was rechristened to the much shorter Santa Fe.

The Roman Catholic cathedral in downtown Santa Fe is “The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi”It was built by Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy (the Archbishop to whom death comes in the Willa Cather novel) between 1869 and 1886. An older church, built in 1626 in the same location, was destroyed in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. 

But the Franciscan icon that always draws my interest and attention when Mars and I are in town lies just about diagonally across the plaza in a small, street-corner park.  The statue of Saint Francis and the prairie dog is one of our favorite public art pieces and one spot that must be visited (and photographed) on each and every one of our trips.   

(The rodent's red body-wrap is not normally a part of the image.  That’s a Mars-knitted scarf lent briefly by me to the stone-cold burrowing rodent for artistic purposes.  In spite of the snow the weather was such that my scarlet neckwear was more decorative than functional.)

 I’ve been finding images of Francis of Assisi floating into my mind frequently during this past winter – the secular, animal-loving one as opposed to the voluntarily impoverished, barefooted, clad in rough cloth mendicant who found the Franciscan order of monks – mostly when I’ve been outside in the unkind elements dispensing food to (presumably) struggling tiny creatures of the wild. 

 Most recently for example – I was re-clearing the path across the front lawn to our bird feeder complex after our latest snowstorm when I noticed a winter-green goldfinch hanging tentatively onto our upside-down thistle feeder.  He was the only bird in sight – the other multitudes having scattered to the nearby bushes and trees at the first crunch of ice crystals under my thick-soled hiking boots.

I stopped shoveling.  He ceased eating.  We exchanged gazes.  I resumed my shoveling – slowly and quietly.  He continued his staring – turning his neck as I passed him by in a way impossible for us humans to do, while still maintaining his claw-hold on the perforated aluminum feeder tube.  We came within inches.  Finally, moments after I worked my way past him, he flew hesitantly off in that bobbing-in-the-air style of flight unique to those tiny- seed-eating songbirds. 

We were that close to having what the philosopher Martin Buber called an “I-Thou connection” - a relationship in which the other is not separated by discrete bounds.  Then poof, he was gone!   It was probably something that I didn’t say.  Or maybe, in the subzero temperatures of that day, he was hoping that I might offer him my cozy, warm, red, woolen muffler.

 I did mention that I wasn’t attracted to the physically discomforted aspects of Saint F of A’s demeanor – didn’t I?

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