15 February 2009

Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen

The man who watches over our neighborhood, Concepción Cisneros Rangel (“Don Concho”) invited my wife Gina and I to a festival in his home town that is dedicated to "La Virgen del Carmen”. Note that the Spanish "Virgen" is pronounced (VEER-hen). In English we call her “Our Lady of Mount Carmel”. The Mount Carmel being referred to is a place in Israel where the Carmelite Order was founded. The difference between the name “Carmen” and “Carmel” depends on how the name was translated into Spanish or English from either the Hebrew or the Arabic version of the name. The festival took place on February 14th (St. Valentine's Day) in a nearby community called Lo de Juárez which is part of the Municipality of Irapuato (State of Guanajuato) and is home to about 4000 inhabitants. It was formally a large estate or “hacienda” that was later turned into an “ejido” (collective farm). I can already hear you asking, “Why is the festival for “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” held on February 14th when her official saint's day is July 16th?”. Well, as they say, I am glad that you asked that question.

In the year 1792, Mexico was still "New Spain", and the City of Irapuato was called "San Marcos Irapuato" and Lo de Juárez was called "Manzanilla". Most of the men who lived in what is now Lo de Juárez were "caleros". They collected "caliza" (limestone) which they would heat in a fire and turn into "cal" (slaked lime) which could then be sold for use in processing maize into nixtamal for making tortillas or for making hominy and also for mixing with sand to make mortar. The collecting of limestone and the burning to make lime was very crude and laborious work and the people who did this work were very poor, simple and uneducated “campesinos”. One day, on February 14th to be exact, a man named José Maria Galicia" was extracting pieces of limestone from the rocky soil. As he was extracting one rock in particular it got away from him and rolled back into place where it had been. He extracted it again with his iron bar and before he could pick it up it rolled back into place again. This happened a third time and becoming impatient he gave the rock a big whack with his bar and it broke in half. He was amazed to see that the shades of coloration inside the rock bore an amazing resemblance to the figure of La Virgen del Carmen. He showed it to his neighbors and they made a little shrine at the spot where they venerated this image of the Blessed Virgin and years later, when they finally obtained sufficient resources, a chapel was built on the spot in her honor and where she is venerated to this day. A feast is held every February 14th to mark the occasion of the discovery and another feast is held on the official feast day of La Virgen del Carmen on July 16th. However, the February 14th date is the most important of the two for the people of Lo de Juárez.

In the pictures below you can see a photograph that I obtained that shows a close up of the image in the rock. it looks like someone long ago has enhanced the rock with black ink to make the outlines of the Virgin Mary carrying the Christ Child more visible because unaided, you have to look at the rocks from very close up to see the image. Then too, it is not an actual photographic image of the Virgen on the rock faces but it is a remarkable resemblance to a popular contemporary characterization of the La Virgen del Carmen as shown in another photo below. You can see that the Virgen is holding a “scapular” in her free hand in both the rock picture and the picture of the statue. This refers to a promise that the Virgen made to St. Simon Stock at Cambridge, England on Sunday, 16 July, 1251 to the effect that anyone who dedicates their life to her and is wearing the scapular will be under special protection from her. That is why July 16th is her official feast day. Then in 1322, the Virgen appeared to Pope John XXII and told him that she would rescue from purgatory those that wore the scapular and followed a specific discipline of abstinence and prayer called the called the Sabbatine Privilege. Yes, I know, this all sounds pretty complicated and it is. I just wanted to give you some background so please bear with me. In 1726 the promise of the scapular was extended to the entire Latin American Church by Pope Benedict XIII. Since the Carmelites were active in Mexico the story of the scapular and the image of La Virgen del Carmen would have been widely known by the time the rock was discovered and who wouldn't want to have the spiritual equivalent of a "get out of jail free" pass?

The church or La Virgen del Carmen in Lo de Juárez is simple and plain. It does have a small bell tower and also a small dome, however, and the inside is very pretty. The split rock is displayed in two special cases high above the altar for safe keeping. I noticed that the people were very emotionally and spiritually attached to these artifacts and my friend Don Concho had tears running down his cheeks as he prayed. I think that it is not so much that they think the rock halves are a miracle rather than a unique coincidence but that the images are their own private connection to the Blessed Virgin and a special way for them to honor her. I was personally touched buy the love and the good will of these poor people as they shared with me their joy in honoring their “Santa Patrona”. We had a very nice time. There was a girl band called “Las Primas” (The Cousins) from the community of Churipitzeo near Pénjamo. There were young girl “danzas” in costume performing for the La Virgen. There was a “Danza del Torito” and there were Mariachis. There were vendors of various foods and there were Carnival rides of every variety. It made for a very happy outing indeed.

One thing I would like to mention before I go is that the very old people are quite fond of the particular spot where the rock was found and where the church was built over it. When they were young the church was out in an open field and there was nothing around it. My friend Concho who is now eighty years old used to herd cattle there as a boy. Now the small houses of brick, cinder block, and adobe are built right up to the walls that surround the church. Within the walls nothing has changed in many years except for some needed repairs to the church in 1962. There are some very old trees in the atrium that give wonderful shade. These trees have been there longer than anyone can remember. They must be at least one hundred years old if not much older. To me they appeared to be olive trees and I could already see what appeared to be many small green olives on the branches. While I was doing some research I found out that the olive trees that came from Spain in 1769 with the Franciscans were called “Manzanilla” olives. Then I learned that the original name of Lo De Juárez was “Manzanilla”. Suddenly there was a connection! There must have been an olive orchard there at one time. The only trees that I saw of this type though were those in the atrium of the church where they have no doubt been protected all these years. I can't tell you how much I enjoy making little discoveries like this on my own. It is just like a little electric shock of joy goes through me. It's better than sex...or maybe even chocolate.









9 comments:

Babs said...

I can remember wearing a scapular when I was a little girl in Chicago in Catholic school. I don't think I ever knew what it was all about.......

Steve Cotton said...

Bob -- Whatever happened to olive oil production in Mexico. It seems to be a rarity.

glorv1 said...

How exciting to find that out. Manzanilla, that sounds beautiful. Those trees are very old and how wonderful that they are still producing olives, be they small or not. I have olive trees Bob. The olive trees I have are branches from my dad's yard and from that branch we now have 5 olive trees out in back. My dad lives on in those trees. Thanks for sharing. The unfortuante thing is that I don't know how to process them. My dad used to do it with lye, but I understand you can do it with just salt and water. Do you know how? Nice post. Take care.

Anonymous said...

ES UNA ALEGRIA ENCONTRARME CON ESTAS IMAGENES DE LA VIRGEN DEL CARMEN Y QUEDE SORPRENDIDO POR LA BUENA INFORMACION SR. BOB SOLO QUE QUE NO SON ARBOLES DE OLIVO SON ARBLOES DE FICUS; MI NOMBRE ALEJANDRO RODRIGUEZ NACI Y CRECI EN LO DE JUAREZ , SI ALGUIEN ESTA INTERESADO EN CONOCER MÁS SOBRE LA VIRGEN DEL CARMEN O DE LO DE JUAREZ ESTOY A SUS ORDENES aleja_@live.com.mx

Bob Mrotek said...

Muchisimas gracias, Alejandro. Mucho gusto de conocerlo. Usted es muy amable.

Anonymous said...

I was born and raised at Lo de Juarez,but actually i been living in USA about 11 years ago,Im glad to read about my town my name is Sandra Bustos thx so much Mr Bob, your blog brought me a lot of memories and made me happy at the same time,hope you post more pics or a video...that woul be awesome!!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Bob, about the history of Lo de Juarez. It is my understanding, from primary sources and oral history, that after being named Manzanilla, the place was named "Congregacion Libre de Lo de Juarez." According to oral history, this happened after the town helped the retreating Juarez's forces; during the French interention. The town was autonomus, never belonging to a particular Hacienda. My name is Fernando, a trained historian from UIC, now living in my native Lo de Juarez.

Bob Mrotek said...

Mucho gusto, Fernando, y gracias para tus comentarios. Me gustaría platicar contigo cuando haya una oportunidad.

Anonymous said...

I would love to have a conversation any time. When I lived in Chicago I used to enjoy reading your blog. You may contact me at ferny0263@yahoo.com
My name is Fernando Escobar from Lo de Juarez. But people here know me as Fernando Arteaga, brother of the "tortilleros."

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.