The main nave and altar
José de la Borda financed the church and assembled the best artists of Nueva España to decorate the interior. Santa Prisca has always been a very popular venue for weddings, funerals, and other special masses. As a result, access for photographs is limited. We had to return several times to find an occasion when we could wander about without disturbing a religious service. Even between masses, there were always a few people praying in the pews. Fortunately, photography is a very quiet activity.
retablo means "board behind". Retablos are elaborately carved wooden structures that stand in the rear of an altar area. They are often covered with gold leaf and filled with niches containing paintings of biblical scenes or statues of religious figures. These structures originated in Europe during the period of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. Churrigueresque retablos leave no space undecorated, and this is especially true at Parroquia Santa Prisca.
Part 4 of this series. In addition to Santa Prisca, this small section of the retablo contains at least 31 other statues or faces of popes, saints, angels, and putti (cherubs). Can you find them all? Are there any that I missed? Churrigueresque truly is Baroque on steroids.
earliest known organs were invented in Greece during the 3rd century BC. The wind supply was driven by water pressure. During the 6th and 7th centuries AD, hand-pumped bellows replaced water pressure. Organs didn't arrive in Western Europe until 757 AD, when the Byzantine Emperor Constantine V sent one to Frankish King Pepin as a gift. Emperor Charlemagne, Pepin's successor, ordered another for his personal chapel in 812 AD. The golden age of organs was the Baroque period of the 17th and 18th centuries, when this one was created. Not only did the instruments gain their full musical range, but organs became works of art
La Capilla de los Naturales
Capilla de los Naturales (Chapel of the Natives) got its name when it was designated as the space reserved for indigenous people whom José de la Borda didn't want mixing with the aristocracy. Another large painting by Cabrera arches over the entrance of the Capilla between the pilasters. The theme of the Capilla has led to its use for services honoring the dead.
Passion of Jesus of Nazareth, i.e. the series of events that led to Jesus' death. The central painting shows Jesus with the cross, on the way to Calvary Hill, assisted by putti.
Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jewish people in Jesus' time. Both men are mentioned in the New Testament. After the crucifixion, they claimed the body from the Romans and placed it in a tomb on Nicodemas' property. This probably put them at odds with other Sanhedrin members, who had demanded Jesus' execution.
"Immaculate Conception" of Mary doesn't refer to her conception of Jesus, but to her own immaculate conception in the womb of Santa Ana, her mother. It's all part of the rather complicated mental gymnastics developed by the Church over the millennia to explain Jesus' family relationships. If Jesus was truly the Son of God, he obviously couldn't have been born with the stain of the Original Sin passed down from Adam and Eve. By extension, neither could Mary, his mother. The Church holds that she was conceived in the normal biological way, but that God excused her from the burden of Original Sin. All this wasn't finally settled in Catholic dogma 1854, following almost 1500 years of discussion and wrangling. Apparently the holy dispensation stopped there, because Mary's parents, Joaquin and Ana, were held to be normal mortals conceived in the usual way. Not wanting to slight them, however, the Church made them saints. Statues of San Joaquin and Santa Ana stand on the retablo to the left and right of the painting of the Virgin Mary.
Joaquin and his wife Ana are not mentioned in the New Testament. Stories about them originated in the Gospel of James, one of the books that didn't make it into the New Testament. Still, Jesus' maternal grandparents have become part of Church "traditions." Following the death of Jesus, memories of actual people and events began to fade. As ordinary people struggled to make sense of the new religion, they found it necessary to fill in a lot of blanks with myths and legends. Early Church leaders were concerned that all these evolving stories would lead devotees in directions that threatened the leadership's power and authority. So, over the centuries they gathered in a series of Councils to nail down the versions of the stories that best suited the developing institutional interests of the Church. These were political decisions clad in religious garments. Those unofficial stories which the Church was unable to suppress were gradually incorporated as traditions. The parentage and family relationships of a key figure like Mary were especially important.
Simeón el anciano (Simon the Elder). On the right side is Ana el profetisa (Anna the Prophetess). Neither wears a halo, indicating they are not considered saints. However, unlike many figures in Santa Prisca's retablos, both of these people are mentioned in the New Testament. The are part of the description of Jesus' first presentation at the Temple in Jerusalem as a baby. Under Jewish religious law, a woman was considered unclean for 40 days after giving birth and could not enter the Temple during that time. According to the New Testament, Simeon took the new baby in his arms and immediately recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Ana, for her part, announced to all that the child was extraordinary and thus gained fame as a prophetess. The occasion is celebrated as the Fiesta de Candelaria on February 2.
The Retablos of the Nave
Juan Nepomuceno (? - 1385) was cured of disease through the prayers of his parents, so they decided his future should be in the Church. He became a famous preacher in the city of Prague (modern Czech Republic) where he was invited to be the Queen's confessor. The King was cruel and jealous and demanded to know what the Queen said in confession. Juan repeatedly refused to say, even under torture. Eventually, the disgusted King ordered him drowned in Prague's Vitava River. He is known as the "martyr of the confessional" who set the example of devotion to priestly duties. For this reason his retablo is populated with the statues of many other priests.
San Pedro Arbués (1441-1485). As a member of the Spanish Inquisition, he was assassinated (the Church would say martyred) because of his atrocities against so-called heretics and Jews. San Vicente Apaulo (St. Vincent de Paul, 1581-1660) stands to San Pedro's right. A far more benign character, San Vicente was a French priest who had humble origins and a colorful life. Enslaved by Muslim pirates in North Africa, he eventually escaped. San Vicente worked with the poor and sick and founded seminaries to educate priests. To the right of the glass case is San Felix (? - 250 AD), who was beaten and tortured during the persecutions under Roman Emperor Decius. During the persecutions, Felix saved Bishop Maximus by hiding him in a vacant building. According to legend, a spider quickly built a web across the door, fooling the searching soldiers. Because of his suffering, Felix is considered a martyr, but he actually died a natural death. On the far right of the retablo is San Lorenzo Levita, a 3rd century AD Spanish deacon and treasurer of Pope Sixtus II. In 258 AD, Roman Emperor Valerian ordered all Church wealth confiscated and all its officials executed. Sixtus was beheaded and San Lorenzo was ordered to produce the treasure. Instead, he distributed it to the poor and sick and announced that those people were the treasures of the Church. In response, the Roman prefect roasted Lorenzo alive on a gridiron. Legend says that after a considerable time over the fire, the saint told the prefect to "turn me over, I'm done on this side!"
San Francisco Borja (1510-1572), a Spaniard whose father was a Duke and whose mother was the daughter of a Viceroy. Even as a child Francisco Borja wanted to become a monk but his parents sent him to serve Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. Francisco married, but after his wife died, he joined the new Jesuit Order, soon becoming one of Ignatius Loyola's closest advisors. Francisco eventually became head of the Order and greatly expanded missionary work. San Francisco Xavier (1506-1552), on the right, was another Spanish aristocrat, whose father was president of the Royal Council of the Kings of Navarre. Francisco Xavier attended university at the Sorbonne in Paris. There he met and became a loyal follower of Ignatius Loyola a fellow student and founder the Jesuits. Francisco Xavier's Jesuit evangelism took him to Africa, India, the East Indies, and even Japan. He died while waiting for transportation to China. The third figure, on the lower left, is identified only as Santo Misonaro, a Jesuit missionary.
Altarpiece of the Family of Jesus because it not only contains San José holding the baby Jesus, but parents, grandparents, and cousins. The Virgin Mary's father, San Joaquin, and grandfather, Estolano stand to the left of San José. Her mother, Santa Ana, and grandmother, Emerenciana appear to the right. Mary's grandparents, Estolano and Emerenciana, are not saints and neither are mentioned in the New Testament. More family are above, including Jesus' cousin, San Juan Bautista (John the Baptist, at top of retablo). San Juan's father, San Zaccaria, is below and to the left. His wife, and the Virgin Mary's cousin, Santa Isabel is on the right.
The retablo stands at the left end of the transept. A transept is a section of a church that lies across the nave, near the main altar. Thus, the whole structure of the church forms a cross. This is one of the most elaborate of the twelve altarpieces, befitting the Virgin of Guadalupe's position as patroness of New Spain (and later Mexico). Nationalist sentiment was already growing in the mid-18th century. In a little over 50 years, the people of New Spain would begin their fight for independence from Spain. From the very start, the rebel army's flag displayed the Virgin of Guadalupe. In addition to numerous statues and almost innumerable putti, there are a total of eight paintings.
This completes my posting on the interior of Parroquia Santa Prisca. I hope you have enjoyed it and, if so, you will leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below. If you have my email, you can also send your comments directly. If you do place a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email so that I can respond.
Hasta luego, Jim