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Posts Tagged ‘Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad’

Last night I joined in the Oaxaca tradition of visiting seven churches (la visita de las siete casas) on Jueves Santo (Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday).  According to Wikipedia, “The tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday probably originated in Rome, as early pilgrims visited the seven basilicas as penance.”  Last year I missed it, albeit for an excellent reason, as I spent much of Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Teotitlán del Valle with the family of Porfirio Gutierrez.

This year, my first stop was just around the corner at Templo de San José, where I bought my pan bendito from a couple of women selling small bags of the traditional blessed bread from a little table just inside the front door.  The entrance to this church is small and it was crowded with parishioners trying to get to the mass that was in progress, so I opted not to stop to take photos.  As I exited and made my way across Jardín Socrates (packed with people enjoying nieves), enroute to Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, there were more blessed bread vendors set up in Soledad’s atrium.

The doors to the Basilica were closed and the “traveling” Soledad was standing under a giant tent in the atrium.  However, I followed the faithful to a tiny side chapel where a miniature image of Soledad appeared, behind iron bars and glass, like an apparition.

My next stop was along Calle Independencia — at Templo de San Felipe Neri, where I was met with gridlock.  I joined the crowd in practicing patience and persistence as I navigated my way to the entrance, which was also serving as the exit — for some unknown reason the side door was closed.

Less than a block away, my next destination was the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.  It took almost ten minutes to wind my way through the masses of people (tourists, vendors, performers, and other Jueves Santo pilgrims) crowding the street and the Alameda.  A mass was in progress and the pews were packed — even in the side chapels, it was standing room only.  However, it was here, amidst thousands, I had the good fortune of running into a dear Oaxaca friend I hadn’t seen for many months.

Leaving the Cathedral, I met the same foot traffic jam when crossing the zócalo to Templo de la Compañía de Jesús.  However, once there, leave it to the Jesuits to have the entrada y salida (entrance and exit) logistics worked out!

Exiting the “salida” door, I took a side street to avoid the zócalo and Alameda.  By this time darkness had fallen, the uneven and potholed sidewalks had become even more treacherous, and so taking care not to also fall, I headed to Templo del Carmen de Abajo.  Though not crowded, it too had separate doors marked for entering and exiting.  And here, too, I ran into someone I knew — this time a new acquaintance from Palm Sunday in San Antonino Castillo Velasco.

I couldn’t even get near the doorway of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, so I gave up on that visit and turned towards Templo del Carmen Alto and, on my way there, ran into one of my neighbors!  Even when it’s filled with tens of thousands of tourists, it’s a small world in Oaxaca.  Once at Carmen Alto, I joined a throng of people walking down the main aisle, when a procession, led by an incense swinging altar boy, came up behind us asking for permission to pass — the gal behind me had a very close call with the incense burner.

I had visited seven churches in seventy minutes and, by the time I left Carmen Alto, my feet were sore and hunger and home beckoned.  However, I was left with warm feelings of having greeted friends and been out and about with the people of my adopted city.

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Though rain began falling, clutching camera, umbrella, and my ten peso bag of pan bendito (blessed bread), I left the cozy dry confines of my apartment to join the faithful in a ritual promenade.  It’s Jueves Santo (Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday), commemorating the Last Supper of Jesus, the washing of feet,  and the apprehension and imprisonment of Jesus.

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San José de Gracia, Oaxaca de Juárez

Tradition in Oaxaca calls for visiting seven churches (la visita de las siete casas) with one’s pan bendito and palm leaves.  The faithful use the latter to touch images of Jesús and María.  This year, I again committed myself to the mission.  My first stop was just around the corner at Templo de San José and the second was even easier — the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, just across the Plaza de la Danza from the former.

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Watery entrance to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, Oaxaca de Juárez

While inside, attempting (unsuccessfully) to get a good shot of Nuestra Señora, the heavens opened up in a downpour.  Needless to say, I hung out with Soledad until the torrential rain calmed to only a steady drizzle.

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Neverías at the Jardín Sócrates, Oaxaca de Juárez

However, the rain didn’t stop the faithful and tourists, alike, from stopping to enjoy a nieve (iced dessert) right outside the Basilica, before continuing on.  I kept on moving — down the steps to Calle Independencia, on my way to the Templo de San Felipe Neri.

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Exit sign at Templo de San Felipe Neri, Oaxaca de Juárez

By the way, Jueves Santo is such a big deal, to avoid gridlock from those coming and going, the churches designate one door as the “entrance” and another as the “exit.”  It’s a great idea in theory but in practice, especially on a rainy night, it was almost meaningless.

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Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, Oaxaca de Juárez

Next stop was across the street at the inconspicuous Iglesia San Cosme y Damián, then on to the very prominent Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, where the three front entrances were providing tourists, vendors, and believers shelter from the storm.

After navigating my way through the Cathedral, I exited stage right, dashed across the zócalo and into La Compañía (the Jesuit church).  On my way out the side door, I stopped briefly to buy a bag of homemade gingersnaps and, with umbrella raised, headed to my seventh and final church of the night, El Carmen de Abajo.  Though tempted by the aroma of some yummy looking food several “church ladies” were selling in the side foyer, I didn’t have enough hands to hold a paper plate, my camera, and my umbrella.  So, home I went, basking in the warm feelings I always have after being with my Oaxaqueño neighbors.

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The calm after the storm.  What a difference 36 hours makes!

Basilica de la Soledad and blue sky

The beginning of the dry season?  Only Mother Nature knows…

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Yesterday, the Virgen del Rosario convite beckoned us to Tlacolula (more to come).  After an hour and a half of photographing and relishing in the music, marmotas, monos, impossibly cute kids, and hospitality, we began losing the light as a dark and threatening sky began moving in.  However, Mother Nature put on quite an extravaganza for our drive back to the city — towering clouds, sheets of rain, lightening streaking towards the ground, brilliant sun, and rainbows.

Basílica de La Soledad with red-gray sky

Once home, a weird and wondrous sunset.

 

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On December 18, Oaxaqueños celebrated the feast day of the Queen of Oaxaca, La Santísima Virgen de La Soledad (Virgin of Solitude).  There are several minor variations to her story, but there is no doubt that in the State of Oaxaca, she is adored and worshipped in a manner similar to the Virgin of Guadalupe and is carried through the streets of the city during many religious celebrations.

Virgen de La Soledad being carried through the streets with plain purple cape

Virgen de La Soledad in her traveling clothes

According to one legend:  In 1620 a mule train bound for Guatemala camped outside the city of Oaxaca discovered an extra mule which did not belong to anyone in the group. The mule refused to move and when prodded rolled over and died. When the pack it carried was opened, it was found to contain the statue of the Virgin of Soledad. Taking this as a sign from heaven, the inhabitants built first a shrine, later a church and finally the imposing basilica which stands today on the spot where the statue first appeared.

Another story:  a muleteer from Veracruz in route to Guatemala noticed he had one too many mules in his pack upon his arrival in Oaxaca. Outside the San Sebastian hermitage, the mule collapsed under the burden it was carrying. All attempts by the muleteer to get it back on its feet were futile; so to avoid punishment he notified the authorities. When he lifted the load off the mule, it got up and died instantly. The burden was inspected, and they found an image of the Virgin accompanied by Christ on it, along with a sign that said, “The Virgin by the Cross.” Faced with this momentous event, Bishop Bartolome Bohorquez ordered a sanctuary built in honour of the divinity.

Still another legend:  a heavily laden burro of mysterious origin appeared outside of town in 1534, fell to the ground, spilling its load next to a rock (still onsite) containing the beautifully carved Virgin (thought to be carved in Guatemala or the Philippines) and a chapel was built on the spot. However, apparently there was an adobe shrine to the Virgin of Solitude atop Cerro Fortín as early as 1532 — and the rock may have even been moved from the mountain in 1617 to the current site (immediately to the right, along the wall as you enter).

She became the patron of not only the city but the entire state, as well as of the mariners who sailed to and from her ports. She wears a purple velvet cape, and her vestments are encrusted with pearls, 600 diamonds, and she wears a 4-lb gold crown.

Virgin of Solitude with purple cape encrusted with pearls and diamonds

Virgen de La Soledad her glass enclosed home at the Basilica

She resides in the church dedicated to her, the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad.  Construction began in 1682, it was designed by Father Fernando Méndez, sanctioned by the Viceroy Tomas Aquino Manrique de la Cerda, and consecrated in 1690 by Bishop Isidro Siraña y Cuenca.  The current baroque style facade was built between 1717-1719 and is unusual because it faces east (Photos are best in the AM).  It was built with the green cantera and a pinkish stone, used in the facade.  If one looks carefully, several ways in which the indigenous masons and carpenters introduced their own “pagan” symbology and pantheon into the wood and stone are in evidence.

Facade of the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad

East facing facade

It was intentionally built with low spires and towers, to better withstand earthquakes.  The atrial courtyard is enclosed and fitted with two simple access portals, one facing south, and the other east. The latter leads to the Socrates Garden (currently undergoing a major renovation) and the Plaza de la Danza.

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