An Afternoon Visit to an Empty Church

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church sits along the San Juan River in Northwestern New Mexico, photo by author

The Church

The church was built in 1920 and still stands on a bluff overlooking the beautiful, aqua green-colored San Juan River. It’s a small building, but apparently the congregation has moved away or now attends mass somewhere else. I just happened across this place last Sunday and was struck by the awesome locale of the small church. Not far away is the Navajo Dam and behind that is the man-made Navajo Lake, but if you approach this special place from the south, you would never know that they were there.

The interior of this church captures the afternoon light on a spring day with great grace.

Inside

In the afternoon light, the church interior took on an almost mystical air, as the intense Southwest sun filtered through the small window above the altar and illuminated the sacred space with sunlight. Fortunately, the camera easily captured this event.

 

A vase with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe sits in one of the church windows, photo by author

Our Lady of Guadalupe 

According to Catholic Online the Virgin Mary first appeared to Juan Diego, a 57 year old Aztec man in 1531, near present day Mexico City. Even from the beginning Juan believed in what he saw on the hillside, but the priests at the nearest church were not so convinced. Gradually, over a few weeks, more appearances by the loved Saint along with a miraculous cure convinced the church elders that the Holy Virgin was present in Mexico.

Here she took on the name of Our Lady of Guadalupe and her likeness, which mysteriously appeared on a Spanish tilma back in 1531, has been reproduced and copied all throughout Mexico and the Southwest USA, numerous times. Many churches of the region, both small and large, bear her name as does this small chapel built in 1920.

Is Magic Realism Just A Latin American Thing?

“Magic realism or magical realism is a genre where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment.”             by Wendy B. Faris and Lois Parkinson Zamora

Cover image for One Hundred Years of Solitude
Cover image for One Hundred Years of Solitude

The Nuts and Bolts of Magic Realism

Nowadays, it is generally believed that anybody can write Magic Realism, not just verbose Latin American authors. Just to prove how widespread this idea is, I will recent a recent article in Writer’s Digest that explains the basis of such a literary task. Among the building blocks of Magic Realism that author Kristin O’Keeffe cites is creating a realistic and mundane world from which your magic elements can spring forth. Miss O’Keefe goes on to say that no logical explanation is needed for those strange things that might occur during the course of your story……they just happen. Still, keep in mind that Magic Realism is not fantasy, for it is always grounded in a real (and often mundane) world.

The Hummingbird's Daughter introduces elements of Native American mysticism to contemporary writing
The Hummingbird’s Daughter introduces elements of Native American mysticism to contemporary writing

Golden Age of Magic Realism

The Golden Age of Latin American Magic Realism probably occurred during the 40s, 50s and 60s, culminating with the Marquez classic, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Today, the popular genre has been replaced by more realistic historical and political stories about some of the horrendous and tumultuous events that have shaped some Latin American nations in the second half of the 20th century. For example, Julia Alvarez’s novel, In the Time of Butterflies, sounds like it be of the genre. But instead it is basically a historical novel underlining the cruelty and barbarity of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic. In fact, Alvarez’s story may be typical of what is going on among Latin writers today with a movement away from the slightly unreal to the coarse reality of everyday life.

Heart of the Jaguar by Pax introduces animal mysticism to the realm of Magic Realism
Heart of the Jaguar by Jax introduces animal mysticism to the realm of Magic Realism

Magic Realism Abounds Today

Just as authors South of the Border may be moving away from floating and flying characters, numerous other writers from the U.S., Europe and Asia, seem more than ready to embrace the concept. A Magic Realism reading list put forth by Kristin O’Keeffe embraces such literary stars as Toni Morrison, Huruki Murakami, Yann Martel, Karen Russell and Alice Hoffman. The Magic Realism of Folk Tales To my way of thinking, Fairy Tales are a great source of Magical Realism that has been overlooked by this literary discussion. True they do have strong fantasy elements, but for the most part, the stories are grounded in rather real and mundane worlds, especially if you consider the time period, when they were written. What is most important here is the way fairy tales have been re-adapted and re-told by contemporary authors to convey a modern dilemma. With this genre contemporary writing has a rich and fertile ground from which to introduce new elements of magic to readers everywhere.

Ola, What Exactly Is the Cinco de Mayo

This Cinco de Mayo stamp was issued by the United States Post Office in 2005
This Cinco de Mayo stamp was issued by the United States Post Office in 2005

The Fifth of May Explained

The Cinco of May is nothing but a Spanish expression for the fifth of May; the date, when a famous battle took place in Old Mexico. The year was 1862 and the place was the Colonial town of Puebla. Though outnumbered two-to-one the Mexican army defeated the French regulars lead by General Lorencez. At the time the US was involved in a bitter Civil War and so they were unable to take sides in the conflict.

Cinco de Mayo BattleofPuebla2
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican army’s victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862

French Intervention In Mexico

During the 19th century the French made two attempts at colonizing Mexico. The first was called the Pastry War and it occurred in 1838. The second begain in 1862 and for five long years. This invasion was known as the Maximilian Affair.

After thie Fifth of May defeat at Puebla, the French retreated to the Gulf Coast at Veracruz. Here, they regrouped and then were able to dominate Mexican affairs until 1866, when the Mexican militia forced the European occupiers to begin their departure. In 1867, the Mexicans took back Mexico City and executed the French Emperor of Mexico, an unpopular fellow by the name of Maximilian. This stormy period of Mexican history underscores the difficult struggle that Mexicans faced, not only with Spain, but other countries as well.

 

Cinco de Mayo poster in the US
Cinco de Mayo poster in the US

An American Holiday

If you want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo…..don’t go South of the Border……. There’s nothing going on. To really get in the swing of things on the fifth of May, you’ll have to cross the Rio Bravo (for all you gringos that’s the Rio Grande) and visit an appropriate U.S. city or state. Go to the right place and you will see a parade and maybe some bar specials promoting liquid refreshments from our southern neighbor. Cinco de Mayo in the United States has been a time for Mexican-Americans to public celebrate their heritage.

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