The entrance facade
the Assumption which, according to Catholic dogma, occurred at the end of Mary's earthly life when both her body and soul were borne up to heaven. This dogma is relatively new, having been officially adopted only in 1950. There is no mention of the Assumption in the New Testament. However, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, people began to ask "what happened to Mary after she died?" After all, if Jesus was the Son of God, surely his mother wouldn't have died as an ordinary mortal. In all cultures, when in doubt, people make up legends. According to one early story, the Apostle Thomas heard Mary was dying and came to visit but arrived too late. Her tomb was opened so he could pay his last respects, but it was empty except for her grave clothes. Over the centuries, the stories became more and more elaborate. Great disputes broke out among theologians about the details. In 1950, almost 2000 years after the supposed fact, Pope Pius XII settled the issue. Exercising his power of "papal infallibility" he declared a particular version the Assumption to be Catholic dogma.
San Sebastian was a young captain in the Emperor's bodyguard. He was also a secret Christian who tried to save other Christians imprisoned by the Emperor Diocletian (244 AD - 312 AD). Ultimately, the young officer was exposed and the Emperor ordered him to be tied to a tree and shot full of arrows. Their work done, the archers left Sebastian for dead. Miraculously, he survived and a local woman nursed him back to health. After recovering, Sebastian sought out the Emperor and loudly denounced him for persecuting Christians. Needless to say, Diocletian was both surprised and annoyed. He ordered Sebastian seized, beaten to death, and his body thrown into a sewer. This time, the martyrdom succeeded. The statue above shows Sebastian's body--contorted but still living--tied to a tree stump. The distinctive spiral columns framing the niches of both Santa Prisca and San Sebastian are carved in a Baroque style called Solomonic. According to legend, similar spiral columns were recovered from the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem by Constantine, the first Christian Emperor. It's a good story, but archaeologists have established that the original Solomonic columns actually came from Greece.
local legend, a miracle occurred during the construction of the church. One evening in 1751, masons and sculptors were busy at their work. They swarmed over scaffolding that covered the facade and steeples at the time. Suddenly, the sky darkened and wind howled through the streets. Bolts of lightning lit up the scene as terrified workers scrambled down the rickety scaffolding. Townspeople feared the church was about to be destroyed by demons. Then, a vision appeared. A beautiful woman dressed in Roman robes floated over the church carrying the palm of martyrs. It was, of course, Santa Prisca. The storm died away and the vision gradually dissolved into the evening air. The new church was saved by the saint to which it was dedicated.
Satyrs were companions of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, women, and song. Greek pottery from the 6th century BC sometimes contained artistic representations of satyrs drinking from goblets and playing pipes. Others show them chasing nymphs. Satyrs are creatures of physical pleasure, altogether a curious feature to appear on a Catholic church otherwise dedicated to the concepts of suffering and martyrdom.
The dome and side walls
talavera tiles. At the very top is a cupola with a cross. The cupola appears to be a smaller version of the dome below. Along the railings and positioned around the dome just below the tiled area are finials. These architectural decorations are solid carved stone in the shape of vases. They were a very popular feature in both religious and secular architecture during colonial times and right up through the 19th century.
Archangel Michael also appears in the Old Testament's Book of Daniel. This reference pre-dates Christianity by centuries. He is a powerful symbol, particularly when used to justify violent action against the supposed enemies of God, such as Spanish Muslims and the followers of various pre-hispanic New World religions.
This completes Part 4 of my Taxco series. The next part of the series will focus on the exquisite interior of Santa Prisca. I hope you have enjoyed this posting and, if so, that you leave any thoughts and questions in the Comments section below, or email them to me directly.
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Hasta luego, Jim