Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Cathedral of Mexico in the XIXth Century in the Writtings of The Marquise Calderon de la Barca

Life in Mexico", letters written by the Marquise Frances Calderon de la Barca.

Fanny  (as she was called by her friends) was born in 1804 under the name of Frances Erskine Inglis, in Edinburgh,  Scotland, but moved with her family to America, where they took up residence in Boston, where she met her husband-to-be, Angel Calderon de la Barca, in 1836. Angel was a direct descendant of Calderón de la Barca, the famous Spanish playwright.

They married, and at the beginning of the 1840's, Angel was commissioned by the Queen of Spain to take up residence in Mexico, in an effort to reestablish normal diplomatic relations. During her couple of years of residence, Fanny provided a woman's view, a glimpse into everyday life in Mexico.

Her letters were published in London and in Boston, but not under her name, as was the custom then for women writers. The following are some of the excerpts of her Life in Mexico, directly related to the Cathedral, a Catheral that was already completed and inaugurated during her lihetime, and maybe we can say, at this point, the Cathedral was in the "prime of its life".

Fanny is a candid witness: she is not even a baptized Catholic, until much later in life, years after having published her Life Iin Mexico. Fanny visited the Cathedral and wrote:

"The Miserere was to be performed in the cathedral late in the evening, we went there, though with small hopes of making our way through the tremendous crowd. Having at length been admitted through a private entrance, "per favour", we made our way into the body of the church; but the crowd was so intolerable, that we thought of abandoning our position, when we were seen and recognised by some of the priests, and conducted to a railed-off enclosure near the shrine of the Virgin, with the luxury of a Turkey carpet. Here, separated from the crowd, we sat down in peace on the ground. The gentlemen were accommodated with high-backed chairs, beside some ecclesiastics; for men may sit on chairs or benches in church, but women must kneel or sit on the ground. Why? "Quien sabe?" (Who knows?) is all the satisfaction I have ever obtained on that point."

"I made my debut in Mexico by going to mass in the cathedral. We drove through the Alameda, near which we live, and admired its noble trees, flowers, and fountains, all sparkling in the sun. We met but few carriages there, an occasional gentleman on horseback, and a few solitary-looking people resting on the stone benches, also plenty of beggars, and the forcats in chains, watering the avenues. We passed through the Calle San Francisco, the handsomest street in Mexico, both as to shops and houses (containing, amongst others, the richly-carved but now half-ruined palace of Yturbide), and which terminates in the great square where stand the cathedral and the palace. The streets were crowded, it being a holiday; and the purity of the atmosphere, with the sun pouring down upon the bright-coloured groups, and these groups so picturesque, whether of soldiers or monks, peasants or veiled ladies; the very irregularity of the buildings, the number of fine churches and old convents, and everything on so grand a scale, even though touched by the finger of time, or crushed by the iron heel of revolution, that the attention is constantly kept alive, and the interest excited.The carriage drew up in front of the cathedral, built upon the site of part of the ruins of the great temple of the Aztecs; of that pyramidal temple, constructed by Ahuitzotli, the sanctuary so celebrated by the Spaniards, and which comprehended with all its different edifices and sanctuaries, the ground on which the cathedral now stands, together with part of the plazaand streets adjoining."

"There were gods of the Water, of the Earth, of Night, Fire, and Hell; goddesses of Flowers and of Corn: there were oblations offered of bread and flowers and jewels, but we are assured that from twenty to fifty thousand human victims were sacrificed annually in Mexico alone! That these accounts are exaggerated, even though a bishop is among the narrators, we can scarcely doubt; but if the tenth part be truth, let the memory of Cortes be sacred, who, with the cross, stopped the shedding of innocent blood, founded the cathedral on the ruins of the temple which had so often resounded with human groans, and in the place of these blood-smeared idols enshrined the mild form of the Virgin."

In a future blog,  I will give you a further sample of our friend Fanny.

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