Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Playing Detective

I am finally getting a chance to write my long-but-interesting story about this guy:

The mystery saint

This statue belonged to my great-grandparents, the family of my maternal grandmother. They lived in southern Arizona (near Tucson), which is a region that is still very heavily influenced by its Mexican heritage, having been part of Mexico until the Gadsden Purchase in 1853/54.

It was, over the years, passed to my grandmother, then to my aunt. This spring, my aunt decided to give it to me since I love history, and I'm devoutly Catholic. She'd always described it as "St. Francis," but when it was passed along to me, I quickly determined that Francis of Assisi it was not. This was no kindly Franciscan, so often depicted with animals. Not to mention that Francis was not a priest, and this saint's stole indicated that he was. Plus, weird hat.

My aunt, grandmother, and I (along with Charles) had a bit of back-and-forth about the matter, after I mentioned in this blog post that we didn't know who exactly it was. My grandmother was insistent that it was St. Francis, that she remembered getting it blessed "in Magdalena" (whatever that meant), and that it was Mexican folk art, made by someone that didn't know what St. Francis looked like. She's 96 years old, and very hard of hearing, so I wasn't really eager to argue that that is precisely why there are traditional depictions of the saints -- there were no cameras (until much more modern saints), and few portraits, so they have been, for centuries, depicted with certain identifying features.

Privately, Charles and I decided that, more likely, it was St. Francis Xavier. While it doesn't fit perfectly with traditional depictions, the black robes said "Jesuit" and would have fit in a region that first received Catholicism through Jesuit Missionaries. Plus, that would explain the insistence on it being "St. Francis."

A couple of months later, I got a text from my aunt, who had been visiting with her cousin in California:

Hi!! I was at my cousin Alice's last week. She said the saint is St. Francis Xavier. He has a statue in Mexico that cannot be picked up. She said that it was blessed there as did my Mom. She asked me where it was and very happy that you had it.

This sent me down a black hole of Googling. What I learned was fascinating to me.

In Magdalena de Kino, Sonora, Mexico (the Mexican state south of Arizona), there is the Maria Magdalena (Mary Magdalen) Mission, which was founded by the Jesuit Missionary Eusebio Kino, who, like Bl. Junipero Serra in California, founded a number of missions in Mexico and the modern United States. Fr. Kino died and is buried in the town that grew around this mission. He had a devotion to St. Francis Xavier, also a great missionary, and so a replica, of sorts, of his tomb in India was created in this location. Supposedly, this statue cannot be lifted. I cannot personally attest to this, since I haven't been there, but I do believe in such miracles. Regardless, a devotion to St. Francis Xavier around the site arose.

Meanwhile, shortly after Fr. Kino's death in 1711, the suppression of the Jesuits in the Spanish Empire began, and so the black-robed Jesuit missionaries were expelled from the region, replaced with brown-robed Franciscans.

Whether for good or ill purposes, the Franciscans, to some extent, tried to shift devotion from St. Francis Xavier to their own founder, St. Francis of Assisi. The region developed a sort of hybrid (and NOT Church-sanctioned) devotion to "St. Francis" which seems to refer to both great Francises (and a little love for Fr. Kino thrown it, according to some sources).

Even today, the town of Magdalena de Kino is the sight of a regional pilgrimage and festival to honor St. Francis. It centers around honoring the statue of St. Francis Xavier, but is celebrated on October 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

So it would seem that everyone is right. The statue of St. Francis was likely blessed in Magdalena, just as my grandmother said. (That tidbit had come down to me at some point, but I didn't know what it meant, so it didn't offer any validity to my grandmother's claims.) It is, in some respects, a statue of both great men, since both are honored at the festival where I like to imagine my (recent) ancestors traveling, praying, and celebrating. They provide a beautiful patronage to our family as well.

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.
St. Francis Xavier, pray for us.

*For anyone who is reading this, but is not Catholic, Catholics DO NOT worship saints. They ask for their intercession (ask them to pray for us), and look to them as sort of holy role models. This article explains more for anyone who is interested.

**The history major and citation queen parts of me are cringing that this whole thing lacks citations. The information is the synthesis of a lot of Googling and Wikipedia fact-gathering (for dates and such). This website provided some of my best information. :-)

1 comment:

  1. That is very cool! Combines three things I love; saints, family heirlooms and stories, and history! Thanks for sharing!


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