Tuesday, August 18, 2020

San Sebastian del Oeste Part 4 of 6: Cafetelera La Quinta Mari

Entrance to Cafetelera La Quinta Mari. The cafetelera (country house) has been owned by the same family for five generations. They grow and process artesanal coffee of the highest quality. After we visited Hacienda Jalisco (see Part 3 of this series), we stopped by to see their coffee operation and sample some of their products. As is usual in Mexico, the welcome was warm and we were given free rein to wander about. 

La Quinta Mari can be found on right side of the main road as you enter San Sebastian. If you reach the old stone bridge known as El Puente Recto (the Straight Bridge), you have gone too far. To locate La Quinta Mari on a Google map, click here.

The Owners of La Quinta Mari

The founders are shown here in this old family photo. The Sánchez family has owned and operated La Quinta Mari since the 19th century. The current owners are Rafael, his wife Rosa, and his sister Lola. The father of Rafael and Lola married very young, when he was only 15. The marriage lasted 68 years and produced 21 children. However, Rafael's grandfather set the family record with 28 children, although some of them were by several mistresses.

The cafetelera's rear arcade overlooks a grove of coffee trees. The old building dates back 122 years to 1898, when it was a farm producing food and other products for San Sebastian del Oeste when it was a mining town. The Revolution of 1910 was the beginning of the end of silver mining in the area. The last of the foreign-owned mining companies departed in 1921. San Sebastian's population of 30,000 shrank until only a semi-ghost town of 600 people remained. 

Comfortable chairs and benches line the rear arcade. Faced with San Sebastian's disastrous decline, the Sanchez generation headed by Rafael and Lola's grandfather cast about for some way to keep their farm going. In the 1930s, they discovered that the area has the ideal climate and altitude to grow "altura" coffee, the very best kind. Coffee had arrived in Mexico in 1796, but until the early 20th century, most of it was grown in Vera Cruz, Chiapas, and Oaxaca. The Sánchez family demonstrated that it could be successfully raised in the cool, high mountains of Jalisco's coastal range.

Ox yoke from when the property grew crops that needing plowing. I found this hanging on the wall of the arcade. For some reason, yokes like this are very popular items of decoration at many of the old haciendas I have visited. Although this is unquestionably an antique, I still see farmers plowing their fields with a pair of oxen or horses when I travel Mexico's back country roads.

A cow skull and a gourd container decorate a pillar. The use of gourds as containers for fluids dates back to Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) times. While hiking, I have often found the skeletons of cattle along mountain trails and in famers' fields. In Mexico, large animals like cattle or horses sometimes die in remote spots. Their carcasses are usually left for scavengers, leaving only the skull and some scattered bones. Upon occasion, I have found an interesting cow skull and brought it home as a hiking trophy. Carole's reaction is usually "Don't you dare bring that nasty thing into the house". The most recent of such treasures now resides in a corner of my carport.

A bandolier-strapped soldadera rides into town with her fellow revolutionaries. The photo above is one of several from the Revolution hanging on the cafetelera's walls. Notice that she is riding side-saddle, a position that must have been difficult to maintain during a cavalry charge. Soldaderas were female soldiers who fought in battles all across Mexico between 1910 and the early 1920s. 

They are sometimes called Adelitas, after the famous corrida sung by soldiers around their campfires. The song celebrates a beautiful young soldadera, who was the lover of a sergeant in one of the regiments. Although she is portrayed romantically in the song, soldaderas proved themselves to be as fierce and ruthless as any male soldier. Some commanded all-female units and others even commanded regiments of men.

La Quinta Mari's coffee process

A rustic work shed nestles among the groves of coffee and fruit trees. La Quinta Mari maintains 11 acres of trees to produce its altura coffee. The coffee that carries this label is considered to be of the highest quality. It must come from trees that are grown in regions higher than 950m (3117ft). Given that the altitude of San Sebastian del Oeste is 1480m (4856ft), it easily qualifies. Altura coffee has a strong but pleasant odor and a taste that is better than that of coffee from trees grown at lower altitudes.

Coffee beans come from berries like those seen above. The coffee berries are harvested by hand when they have attained a cherry red color. The entire operation is organic, with no use of chemicals for pesticides or fertilizer. The trees are composted with the recycled waste from the processing. There are two kinds of coffee beans grown here, arabic (80%) and robust (20%). 

Dried coffee beans with their husks await cleaning. Once collected, the berries are spread out in the sun for approximately 22 days. During this time they are regularly raked so that they dry evenly. They are ready for further processing when the moisture level drops to 11%. They are then cleaned manually, separating the beans from the dried husks that covered them. The beans are then fermented for 24 to 48 hours.

Coffee roaster, looked after by the household dog. Roasting is the most delicate part of the process. It is at this stage that the coffee beans obtain the aroma and flavor that produce a fine cup of coffee. The roasting process brings the beans to an internal temperature of about 400F. This releases caffeol, a fragrant oil within the beans. This initiates a process called pyrolysis, the key to the aroma and flavor.

Packaged beans and other coffee-related items are displayed for sale. Our group crowded around this table and relieved it of much of its wares. The bag of coffee I brought home from this trip made our stop at La Quinta Mari especially memorable.

This completes Part 4 of my San Sebastian del Oeste series. I hope you have enjoyed it. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Saturday, August 8, 2020

San Sebastain del Oeste Part 3 of 6: Templo San Sebastian Martir

The entrance of Templo San Sebastian Martir. This is the parroquia (parish church) of San Sebastian del Oeste. The church stands just behind El Portal Morelos which forms the north side of Plaza Publica. Because the steeple is the tallest structure in town, the church is easy to find. To locate it on a Google map, click here.

When I do a blog series on a colonial pueblo, I nearly always include a posting on the churches. From the earliest colonial times, Catholicism has been central to Mexico's social, economic, and architectural development. The first twelve Franciscan friars arrived in 1524, only two years after the fall of the Aztecs. They were followed by the Dominicans in 1526 and the Augustinians in 1533.

View of the Templo from a hill on the west side of town. The church was built by the Augustinian Order in 1608. The construction was supervised by the Augustinian priest Fray Sevando Alonso Poco Sangre, but the actual work was done by indigenous Teco laborers conscripted from the nearby village of Hostotipac.  The church was founded only three years after the area around Hostotipac was re-named Real de San Sebastian to designate it as a mining district.

The work of the Tecos (also known as the Cuyuteco) may have been a donation by a local Spaniard to whom they owed free labor under the encomienda system. Alternatively, the Augustinians may have made an arrangement with royal officials for native labor under the repartimiento system. Whichever method was used, it is almost certain that none of the physical work would have been done by a colonial Spaniard. For a description of the ecomienda and repartimiento forced labor systems, see Part 2 of this series.

The rear of the Templo and the gate to the churchyard. This is one of the oldest sections of a structure that was remodeled numerous times and substantially rebuilt at least once, after an earthquake. While exploring the town, my friend Jim B and I accessed the church through this gate, located just behind the east end of El Portal Morelos

Following the military conquest of the area, the Tecos of Hostotipac were forced to give up their native religion and convert to Catholicism. This was known as the Spiritual Conquest. Those who "backslid" and covertly continued to practice their ancient religion were severely punished. The Tecos responded by hiding images of their ancestral gods within the walls of the Templo they were building. This enabled them to silently pray to their old gods while outwardly following the rituals of the Spanish priests. According to one legend, this led to dire consequences.

Apparently one of the priests discovered this "devil worship" and followed the offending Tecos to where they worked. At the mouth of the mine, he took off his sandals and clapped them together, while pronouncing a curse on the workers. The mine's roof immediately collapsed, killing some and permanently trapping the rest. As the story goes, on stormy nights their screams can still be heard. In addition, the spirits of the Teco miners haunt the church each year on Holy Friday.

A statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe stands in the church atrium. The propagation of the legend of the Virgen de Guadalupe was one of the great breakthroughs in Spanish colonial evangelism. This was the first apparition of the Virgin Mary in the New World. The event was especially important to indigenous people because she was dark-skinned and spoke Nahuatl, the language shared by many different native groups, including the Tecos. Further, the person who encountered her was a recently-converted Aztec who participated in several miracles attributed to her. 

Because of these unusual circumstances, and because she was encountered at the ruined temple of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, the Virgin of Guadalupe became the subject of a rather bitter debate within the early colonial Church. The Augustinian and Dominican friars wanted to accept her as legitimate. On the other hand, the Franciscans denounced her as a fraud and a covert way to worship Tonantzin. In the end, the Augustinians and Dominicans prevailed because voluntary native conversions skyrocketed after word of her miraculous appearance spread rapidly through the native population. Practicality triumphed over purity.

The nave of the Templo. This area of a church is called a nave ("ship" in Spanish) because the arched ceiling resembles the interior of the upturned hull of a ship. At the far end of the nave is the main altar, while the walls on either side contain religious statues and paintings. The person approaching the altar is Jim B. While parts of the exterior of the church still retain the original 17th century Baroque style, the interior displays the Neo-Classical style that became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

In 1810, after the church had been in use for more than 200 years, a local priest named Remigio Sánchez Porres, complained that its condition was "not only indecent, but useless." Eight years later, in 1818, he directed the Templo's first modifications. By then, Baroque had long gone out of style, so the remodeling was done in Neo-Classic. Fifty years later, in 1868, a strong earthquake nearly destroyed the structure, so even more of the old Baroque features were replaced by Neo-Classic.

View toward the rear of the church showing the ceiling and choir loft. While Neo-Classic architecture can sometimes be ornate, Baroque tends toward over-the-top extravagance, with every square inch of available space covered with decorative elements.

In 1871, further deterioration resulted in still another remodel. The erection of the steeple in 1884 added an entirely new feature. This was followed, in 1886, with the  completion of the frontispiece (entrance facade). A final touch was added in 1897, when the ribbed vaults over the nave were constructed. That all these changes could be afforded in the 19th century is a testament to the wealth pouring out of the mines.

The central figure of the main altar is a statue of San Sebastian. Usually, the person to whom a Mexican church is dedicated will occupy the central place on its main altar. Most often, this will be the Virgin Mary or one of the saints. Here, San Sebastian appears both as a statue in a glass case, as well as in the mural above the altar. The Neo-Classic features of the altar include tall corinthian columns, topped by ornate capitals, supporting a triangular pediment. On either side of the altar are pilasters (false columns) which are decorative and not meant to carry any weight. 

If this were a Baroque altar, there would be many more niches filled with statues and paintings and the columns would be in the spiraling Solomonic style. Every square inch of wall space would be filled with floral carvings with the faces of numerous cherubs peeking out. It is probably that just such a highly decorated altar occupied this space before Remigio Sánchez Porres ordered the 1818 remodel. 

The mural above the main altar shows the martyrdom of San Sebastian. Although I am not Catholic and not even religious, I have always been fascinated by the stories associated with the Church's almost innumerable saints. San Sebastian is one of the more unusual saints because he was martyred twice. It seems the first one didn't take. Sebastian lived from 256-288 AD, during the late Roman Empire. This was a period when Christians endured severe repression by the Roman authorities. 

Sebastian was a captain in the Emperor Diocletian's Praetorian Guard when he secretly converted to Christianity. His religious activity was discovered however, and Diocletian ordered him tied to a tree and shot full of arrows. The result of his first martyrdom can be seen in the mural above. However, his executioners left before he was dead and a woman living nearby rescued him and nursed him back to health. Once he had recovered, Sebastian decided to give martyrdom another try. He waited in the street until the Emperor came by in a procession and publicly denounced the repression of Christians. 

Diocletion was, no doubt, surprised at this sudden resurrection of an executed man. At his order, Sebastian was seized, beaten to death, and his body thrown in a sewer. This time the Emperor's effort was successful. In the Middle Ages, people began to believe that San Sebastian could offer protection against plagues. The history of such beliefs dates back to the ancient Greco-Roman tradition that the god Apollo could halt plagues. This belief in this miraculous ability was later transferred by Medieval Europeans to San Sebastian. Spanish Catholics then carried the stories with them to plague-ridden colonial Mexico, where San Sebastian became very popular.

A pulpit stands on one side of the nave. This position is typical in Catholic churches. Protestant churches, in contrast, have the pulpit at the front of the nave. The term "pulpit" comes from the Latin pulpitum, meaning platform or staging. It is a raised platform, reached by a set of stairs, from which sermons or other important liturgical statements are made. 

Often the pulpit will be hexagonal, as is the one above, with each panel highly decorated. Catholic pulpits tend to have small, separate roofs above them, often in the same hexagonal shape. The little roofs are not just decorative, but help amplify the voice of the speaker. Pulpits are believed to have their origins in ancient Jewish synagogues, where they were called bemahs

A statue of San José holding Jesus stands in one of the side panels of the nave. Very little is said about José in the Bible, so most of his legend comes from later writings. José, a humble carpenter, married the already-pregnant Mary so save her life. At the time, the punishment for pregnancy outside of marriage was to be stoned to death. José planned to quietly divorce her after she gave birth. However, he changed his mind after an angel tipped him off as to the real nature of the infant she was carrying. 

José is mentioned in the Bible only a few other times and then only in two of the four Gospels. All the rest of the many stories about him were invented centuries later. San José is the Patron of Mexico and some other countries. In 1870, he was declared Patron of the whole Catholic Church. During the 20th century San José became entangled in international politics. This occurred in 1955 when Pope Pius XII declared May 1 as the Feast Day of San José. The Pope's aim was to create a counter-celebration to oppose the traditional May 1 International Workers' Day.

This completes Part 3 of my San Sebastian del Oeste series. I hope you have enjoyed it. If you would like to leave any thoughts or comments, please do so in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments box, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim