Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Two Great Altars of the Cathedral of Mexico

The Cathedral of Mexico has at least five great altars, including the two side altars, the Altar of Divine Providence and the Altar of Our Lady of Zapopan, and the main altar in the transept. Without any demerit to these first three altars I have just mentioned, there are another two altars which are both very popular, beautiful and quite unique: the Altar of the Kings and the Altar of Pardon
 Daytime view of the Altar of Pardon

A rare nighttime view of the Altar of Pardon
The Altar of Pardon is the first altar you see as you come in from out of the street into the main body of the Cathedral of Mexico.  Mass is celebrated several times a day here and people are coming in and out all day, to pray at this altar or to come to Mass. Most of the people have a look about them as if they were "locals", people that work or live nearby. I am not sure what attracts them, whether it is the beauty of the altar itself, or the Christ of Venom. Christ of Venom?
According to the legend, there was a thief who went to confession, and told the priest what he had stolen and whom he had murdered. The priest gave him his absolution, pending he return the goods to their rightful owners, but the thief had no intention of this retribution. Fearful that the priest would break the seal of confession and turn the thief over to the authorities, the thief planed a way to kill the priest, watching his everyday movements. He notice that the priest would kneel down and pray everyday at a beautiful white crucifix, and then he would finish his prayers, rise, and give the feet of the crucified Christ a kiss before leaving.
The thief rubbed a powerful poison into the feet of the crucified Christ one morning before the priest came for his daily prayer. After finishing his prayers, the priest rose, and when he tried to kiss the crucifix-s feet, the crucifix withdrew his feet, pulling them upward, and at the same time turned black, as the crucifix absorbed the poison. The thief watch in amazement, and started to cry out, and he publicly confessed his crimes. 
Whether or not this event ever happened, the people that come here everyday have great faith in their crucifix. One morning, when I brought one of my brothers down town to see the Cristo del Veneno, I was explaining the legend in English, when someone tapped my shoulder from behind, and said to us, in a heavy foreign accent:  "Legend no! This a a true story".
The Altar of the Kings
The altar of the Kings is a an attempt to cover the entire apse of the Cathedral with a singular retablo, forming a semicircle in respect to the ground floor, and the semispherical shape of the ceiling. The Altar of the Kings retablo of the Cathedral of Mexico is the collimating point of Churigurresco Art in la Nueva Espana.

The Altar de los Reyes is a work of art of incredible beauty. But what is the meaning? It obviously alludes to the divine right of kings, and that the power and authority of kings come from God. But instead of being a vulgar portrait of the king in power at that moment, the altar displays a series of kings, who are renown not for the riches or power, but because of their sanctity. Saint Louis, Saint Ferdinand, Saint Hermenegild, Saint Henry, Saint Edward, Saint Casimir, Saint Margaret of Scotland, Saint Helen, Saint Elizabeth of Hungry, Saint Kunegunda and Saint Edith. Maybe this was a way for the Kings of Spain to say ,"this is the road we should follow in leading our people and our nation." Sainthood is a path open to everyone in the Catholic Church, not just to the powerful, nor to the poor.
God the Father looks on from the top of
The Altar de los Reyes

The Adoration of the Magi,
painted by Rodriguez Juarez,
 is one of the central paintings of
The Altar de los Reyes.

At the top of the Altar de los Reyes is
the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady,
a painting by Rodriguez Juarez

I have spent almost the entire month of May, publishing eight different articles on the Cathedrals.

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