Tag Archives: Black Jesus of Portobello

A Cathedral, A Basilica, A Black Jesus, and Slowly Sinking Buildings

6 Dec

What is a trip to Latin America without going to churches?  You just cannot do it.

In Mexico City there were two church sites we had to visit.  The first was Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary Into Heaven.  They just call it the Metropolitan Cathedral.  I understand why.

Cristo Negro/The Black Jesus

There were several facts about this Cathedral that make it special.  The first deals with the tradition of Black Jesus/Cristos Negros of the area.  There are several countries that have wooden Jesus sculptures on a cross that have darkened and turned black over the ages.  The one in Mexico City has a story.   Supposedly the bishop always prayed at the crucifix as he entered the cathedral.  There were those who wished him to die.  So they put poison on the feet of the wooden Jesus, knowing that the bishop would kiss the feet when he was done praying.

The bishop did as he always does, and kissed the feet, but he did not die.  Instead, the Jesus sculpture turned black. 

To be honest this is not my first Cristo Negro, or Black Christ/Jesus.  I have been to Portobelo, Panama, and saw the one in the Inglesia de San Felipe. It is special because it was found in the town’s harbor and it wears a robe!   I have also seen the black Madonna in Montserrat, also known as Our Lady of Montserrat. Many go on pilgrimages to see these statues.  For me they have been a happy surprise. (See blogs below.)

This is not the only special site within the cathedral.  There is also magnificent altar and intricately carved wooden sculpture behind it.  Outside, in front of the cathedral, there is a statue of Pope John Paul with an image of the Lady of Guadalupe carved into his robes.  This foreshadows the second religious site we visited.

Statute of the Pope.

But the most obvious and unusual aspect of the building is that it is sinking.  Completed in the mid 1600s, the cathedral was built on land that was once the bottom of a giant lake.  It was also built in the area where the Aztec’s had their temples. In fact, the stones used in the construction of the church were parts of the dismantled Aztec temple.  The cathedral was built upon the ruins.  One way of saying to the Aztec, we beat you.  But not so great centuries later.  

Around the cathedral you can see the excavations of the Aztec sites. A model of what the plaza area looked like when the Spanish first came is near the excavations.

Part of the excavation of the Aztec ruins.

 Within the church, you can see how they have worked to stabilize it.  Marble stone stairs, now sit on a bed of concrete stairs.  A pendulum hangs from the high ceiling and shows if the building is still standing straight or sinking again.  By the lines on the floor, one can see how tilted it once was, and how close to straight it stands now.

Our second religious site was the Basilica of the Lady of Guadalupe.   This site is also sinking, and many of the buildings, the older basilica, the first church and the convent, were also tilting.  They have been stabilized. But you can see that much work still needs to be done.  The newer, larger, round Basilica built in the 1970s seems fine for now.

The Basilica and all the other buildings on the site, including the original basilica from the early 1700s were constructed to honor Saint Juan Diego and his visions and miracles of the Lady of Guadalupe. Sometime around 1530 a picture of the Lady of Guadalupe/Mary appeared on his cloak, which he said was a signal that the indigenous people should convert to Catholicism.  There have been visitors/pilgrims to this site ever since. And many buildings have been constructed to provide a place for them to pray.

Today the new Basilica houses the image.  Encased in two frames, one silver and one gold, it is mounted on the wall near one entrance of the Basilica. You must get on a short moving walkway to see it, which keeps everyone moving forward and no one can stay in front of it for too long.  The Basilica is constantly being used by the people for Mass.  Each hour a new Mass begins. 

Statue of the Pope along side the old basilica.

There is a large open plaza on one side of the Basilica.  It is here that Pope John Paul came to  dedicate the site. A statue to him stands between the old and new basilicas.  He also came here a second time to canonize Juan Diego.

The temple of the well.

We could not enter all the buildings. But I will admit my favorite was the one that covers the well.  It was a lovely little building.  And each of the windows was in the shape of a six-pointed star.  For my Jewish mind it was perfect.  Miriam, the sister of Moses, was known for her affinity for water. When they were in the desert, water followed Miriam.  So to know that here at the site of the visions of the Lady of Guadalupe/Mary/Miriam, there is a well with a temple with six-pointed stars, gave me a little joy.

My second favorite building was a small church that is still standing, but only with the help of metal beams.  In front of it was a small water way, with no water right now, except for a bowl of water that a mama cat was enjoying while her kitten struggled to reach it.

It is quite a site, much larger than I anticipated.  To be honest, I did not want to go.  We had spent the morning visiting the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, and I was both exhausted and not feeling well.  But our guide insisted that we had to see it.  As it was on our way back to the hotel, I figured I would say yes, but could always back out.

That did not happen.  I was hot, tired and feeling ill.  But I got out of the van and walked the many steps to the entrance of the site. And then for over an hour walked the grounds and through the buildings to see all that I could.  I was amazed that I started to feel better as we walked.  It was so interesting that I forgot to think about not feeling well.  So I have to commend our guide who insisted we visit.

Panama and The Canal 

31 Mar

Finally, we reached the Panama Canal.  The entire focus of this trip was to pass through the Canal locks and to see the workings of this major engineering endeavor. Of course the ports of call were interesting. But this was the impetus of our trip. 

We reached the entrance of the Canal early in the morning and entered the first lock of Mariflores at about 9 am. It was a Party atmosphere as everyone was on deck to view the lock process.

The electric mule at work

It is intriguing. First lines have to be attached to the electric, ‘mules,’ a small train engine, which helps guide the boats through the Canal. 

Entering the first lock.

The water used in the Canal is all fresh water from Gatun Lake and the locks are filled by gravity. There are no pumps that are needed. It helps that Panama has nine months of Rain each year with well over 200 inches of precipitation.  

Since we started by going up, 85 feet over three locks, it was fun to watch the water bubble up and slowly lift our cruise ship! We went through the first two licks, then traveled a short distance to the Pedro Miguel lock, then into the pass where we passed the mountains that has to be cut away to form the Canal. 

Gatun Lack was larger than I anticipated and filled with lovely islands and birds. A beautiful, peaceful sanctuary. 

Finally to the Gatun Locks, where the process repeated, but which slowly lowered us through the three locks to the Atlantic Ocean. 

Two boats in the locks going in opposite directions. The big beige walk is actually a giant freighter


Then on to Colon, Panama. The next morning we returned to the Gatun Locks by land and were able to see the lock process from a different view. Still intriguing and amazing to watch the boats side by side, one going up and the other going down in the two separate lanes of the Gatun Locks. 

One of the two Spanish fortifications in Portobello

But our trip to Panama was not complete till we traveled to the small town of Portobello.  It is here that the Spanish originally brought the gold that they stole from Peru and other South American countries and took overland for the trip back to Spain. 

The black Jesus is in the cabinet adorned with his golden embroidered robe.

It is also here that the Pirates, among them Sir Francis Drake (who died there) and Henry Morgan, attacked the Spanish empire and stole the gold. We visited the Custons House, the destroyed fortifications and the Church that houses the famous Black Jesus that accidentally was delivered to Portobella. Once there it was destined to stay as each time the town attempted to send it back a big storm occurred. 

It was wonderful to see the technology of the Canal used to connect the Pacific with the Atlantic. But also wonderful to see a bit of the history of this region of Panama.