Yesterday, we talked about the Hospital de Jesus, the oldest operating hospital in the American continent, initiated by Hernan Cortes, the Conqueror of Tenochtitlan, who is buried in the adjoining church, Jesus Nazareno.
Over the last few days, we have talked about how this daring conquistador, Hernán Cortes, seems to have looked death straight in the eye, and kept on going in his cavalier way, without missing a step. This was the case during most of his life, and you are about to find out, even after death.
1823 was a difficult year for many in this new country named Mexico. 10 years of conflict had left its toll. There were many disabled veterans, and as the first years of independence past, a growing feeling of deceit, deception, and mistrust. There were riots against stores that people knew were owned by foreigners, especially Spanish merchants. Supplies were scarce, and people presumed that merchants, especially foreigners, were hoarding and speculating. Hatred towards everything related to Spain, Spaniards, and 300 years of what was seen as an oppressive colonial government was seen with contempt.
One such night, the mob became particularly vicious. With torches in hand, they marched from the Palacio de Gobierno or Head Governments Offices right beside the Cathedral of Mexico City, as they chanted death to the Spaniards. The crowd headed south, towards the Church of Jesus Nazareno. Lets put Hernan Cortes out of his grave, and burn him to ashes.
The parish priest at Jesus Nazareno knew this might happen. Weeks before, he took the bones out of Hernan Cortes Crypt and put them in a box under the altar. When the angry mobs started to pound on the Church door, he let everyone in. When they explained their intentions, he took them up to the altar, and showed them the empty crypt. My dear Children! The last Spanish regiment that left out City at the end of the war came in here and stole Cortes bones. They told me that they wanted to take him back to Spain, to Sevilla, to give him a proper burial place. But I think those Spanish soldiers were just looking for gold.
The priests lie seem to convince the mob, as they slowly turned their back on the altar and walked out of the Church. So even hundreds of years after he died, Hernan Cortes was still capable of making a narrow escape from an angry mob of Mexicans.
Besides its relationship with the famous next door hospital, and being the final resting place of this famous historical personality, Jesus Nazareno seems to be just one more of what seems like an infinite collection of XVI century churches in downtown Mexico. Except for a painting, a ceiling fresco of sorts. The Apocalypses, by Jose Clemente Orozco.
The painting might seem out of place. For two reasons.
First the Jesus Nazareno Church is a XVI or XVII century construction, made out of Tezontle stone. Clemente Orozco is decidedly XX century.
A side view of Jesus Nazareno Church with it s bell tower in the background
Secondly, Orozco usually paintings on social issues and on subjects related to social justice or Marxism or the Mexican Revolution. Orozco is not a painter of religious art.
Yet here it is...the painting of the Apocalypses...up there in the second floor choir.
The Apocalypses, Jose Clemente Orozcos Mural Painting on the Ceiling of the Choir
Orozco was very keen to human suffering. He was evidently very appalled at the reports coming over from Europe at this period on the atrocities of World War II, and this was the background for this painting. Beyond that, I have not been able to ascertain why Orozco picked this specific Church to do this masterpiece, or if it was the other way, the Church picked him, so to speak.
General Information on the Church of Jesus Nazareno.
Pino Suarez 35, or Republica de Salvador 119
Colonia Centro, Ciudad de México, Mexico
Phone 5542-6501 and 7908
Opening hours: 8:00 am to 8:00 pm