Saturday, April 24, 2010


Fragment #6 -- A day in Pátzcuaro. When we return to Canada from Mexico we are invariably asked, “What do you do there?”, or, “What would an average day be like?” There is of course no typical day, but the day described here is not uncommon.

Awakened by the sound of bottle rockets at about 5:30 am. Who knows what the celebration - it could be a birthday, but today it is most likely people starting to celebrate the day of San Jose (Joseph, the saint of families, carpenters and many other trades). 10:00 time to head to the plaza for the parade for the first day of spring. All of the pre-school children take to the streets dressed as birds, elephants, trees, butterflies and so on, often carrying signs urging the audience to look after the environment. The parade takes up 5 blocks and the traffic in the centre of town is shut down for 3-4 hours. Just as the adorable kids are beginning to disperse here comes a small procession with an image of San Jose, carried by, and followed by, a dancing group of Purepehca people. What’s this? About 100 motorcycles have roared into town and parked in the main plaza. It appears to be a club of BMW owners doing their spring ride. Lovely bikes and the riders all have matching sweaters identifying their ride. After an ice cream and a quick look around the plaza they take off, following their “staff” leaders. Home for a rest and then out for a free concert of classical music. There is also a free jazz concert that night but leave that for the next day. Walking home around 9:00 pm and the bells of Templo San Francisco are clanging loudly and urgently. It is Friday, the second last before Good Friday , and the regular procession with an image of Jesus is proceeding from San Francisco to Templo Calvario, stopping at the stations of the cross. Next Friday there will be a fiesta at Calvario after the last procession prior to the fateful day. In the distance the sounds of people enjoying themselves flow down from La Loma, a neighborhood up the hill, for whom San Jose is their patron saint. Soon ready for another day.

# 7 Nuestra Senora de la Salud

Living in Patzcuaro, Michoacán necessarily means learning something about Neustra Señora de la Salud, the Virgin of Health. Her home is the Basilica, she is the Patron Saint of Pátzcuaro, a queen - having been crowned in 1899 with the authority of the Pope, the source of much religious tourism and the reason for many special masses and events. But there are at least two things about this Virgin that seem quite special. First, she is the first image of Mary actually made in the new world. Don Vasco de Quiroga ordered her fabrication in 1540 and she was made by the local indigenous artisans who were experienced in working with what is called pasta de caña. As I understand it this is created by mixing the dried and ground central part of a corn stock with pine pitch, giving a substance that can be shaped and even carved. (Her original shape was later altered to allow for the wearing of garments and this is what we now see.)

The other thing that many visitors do not know about the Virgin, is her miracle life. The miracle that interests me here is her saving of the local markets (two blocks from our house) and presumable lives during the 1995 fire. In the section of the market serving hot foods and drinks a propane tank exploded, soon engulfing the surrounding stalls and part of the building itself. People ran in panic and gave up hope of extinguishing the fire (note there is still only a volunteer fire department but one day they demonstrated their ability to put out a propane tank). In this chaos a woman appeared dressed in black clothing - she was unknown to anyone. She approached the fire and put out her hands, demanding the fire to stop. She gradually lowered her hands into the fire. The fire went out. The next day people noticed that the hands of the Virgin of health, located in the Basilica, were a little charred and then, to lend credence to the miracle story, the restorers found they could not remove the darkened parts of her hands.

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