Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Original Villages | Culhuacán's Barrio San Antonio Atípac, Part I: A Humble Barrio With a Big Heart

Culhuacán, the Place of the Ancient Ones

We have already visited a number of times the original Pueblo Culhuacán, one of the most important of the original altepetls (city-states) in the Valley of Anahuac before the Mexica/Azteca took over in 1430.
~ We have explored its ancient roots, at the base of Cerro de la Estrella (Hill of the Star), on the Iztapalapa peninsula between Lakes Texcoco and Xochimilco, going back some 2,500 years. The Tolteca, a Nahuatl-speaking group who arrived there about 600 CE, dominated the east side of the Valley for 800 years.
~ We have seen how el pueblo (the people of the village) and its nine barrios, now divided between the two delegaciones (boroughs) of Coyoacán and Iztapalapa, actively maintain a shared sense of their history and pride in their communal identity through a system of interlinked fiestas.
~ The key to this shared identity and pride is the veneration of el Señor del Calvario, the Lord of Calvary, a carved figure of a black Christ during His Interment in the Tomb, after his Crucifixion and before His Resurrection. According to legend, He was found a couple of hundred years ago in a small cave in the Pueblo at the base of Cerro de la Estrella. As a santo popular, a saint adopted by the people (i.e., not designated by priests of the Catholic Church), He now has His own chapel, next to the cave. It was built by the community in the early 20th century and is maintained by el pueblo
~ As a symbolic but also concrete demonstration of this shared identity, the Lord of Calvary is carried to each barrio to be present in its church during its patron saint fiesta. We have witnessed how this bond is shared by the adjacent Pueblo Tomatlán and its two barrios, San Andrés and Santa María.

Barrio San Antonio Atípac

Recently, we learned that Culhuacán's Barrio San Antonio Atípac was going to have its patron saint fiesta on the weekend of January 20, honoring San Antonio Abad. St. Anthony the Abbot (i.e., head of a monastic group), aka Anthony the Great, was an early Christian Coptic (Egyptian) hermit who lived alone in the desert in the third and fourth centuries CE Barrio San Antonio Atípac is on the Iztapalapa side of the National Canal (aka La Viga, the Beam), which is the boundary between the two halves of the original Pueblo. Atípac is its original indigenous, Nahuatl name.

The fiesta announcement on Culhuacán's Grupo Cultural Facebook page lists a procession through the streets of the barrio scheduled for 5pm on Saturday afternoon. The sun sets a little after 6, meaning the light will be low and fading, so we worry about being able to get good photos. However, as it's easy for us to get to Culhuacán—a fifteen minute cab ride todo derecho, straight east along the wide boulevard, Calzada Taxqueña—we decide it's worth taking the chance. So at about 4:30 we get a taxi from our neighborhood base and tell the driver our destination.

Finding the Barrio in the Midst of an Urban Labyrinth

There is little traffic on a Saturday afternoon, so we arrive in the Coyoacán section of Culhuacán very quickly. However, finding the Church of San Antonio Abad turns out to be a challenge. Google Maps locates it on Avenida San Antonio, just northeast of the major intersection of Taxqueña and Eje 3 (Tres) Oriente (Axis Road #3 East), but it turns out that it isn't easy to get to the actual intersection, or even to find Avenida San Antonio. The way is, in fact, through an urban labyrinth of overpasses, underpasses, avenues and barrio callejas (narrow streets).

Before reaching the intersection, Taxquena goes up over a long viaduct that crosses above the National Canal and several streets, including Eje 3, only coming down to ground level as it approaches another main avenue, Avenida Tláhuac, in the center of the Iztapalapa section of Culhuacán. So. To get to Eje 3, we have to take a service road that runs beneath the viaduct. Reaching Eje 3, we find a fenced median dividing the road, which means there's no intersection that would enable us to turn north on the Eje. We have to go south some distance until we reach an intersection where we can dar la vuelta, turn around, and head back north.

As most streets are well marked in Mexico City, we have assumed that Avenida San Antonio is a wide street, with an obvious street sign. That, too, is not the case. We travel several blocks north of Taxqueña without seeing any such avenue. Obviously, we have missed it. The driver then lets us know he has GPS on his cell phone and punches in the address. The resulting map directs us through a calleja (narrow side street) crossing San Antonio to Avenida Tláhuac, on the east side of the barrio, then south to another calleja.

It is now some minutes after 5pm. We are getting anxious that we will be late for the beginning of the procession. The street is only a block long, ending at another narrow cross street. That one is blocked, typically, by juegos mechanicos, carnival rides, for the fiesta, so we tell the driver we will get out here and walk the rest of the way.

Wending our way on foot between the rides, we quickly reach another corner with a street running west. It is Avenida San Antonio, which is actually another calleja, rather than the wide avenue we imagined. Not far along the street, we spy a modern church steeple.

Avenida San Antonio
The church steeple rises 
on the right,
behind the telephone pole.

Chapel of San Antonio Abad

La Procesión

We arrive just in the nick of time! As we approach the church from the east, a banda arrives from the west (we can see Eje 3 a short distance away!). They enter the church. Before we can follow them in, some parish members exit, bearing the statue of San Antonio Abad. The band follows, playing, and the procession is underway.

San Antonio Abad

Behind San Antonio come other parishioners,
one bearing a small glass and wooden, casket-shaped box.
We know from previous visits to Culhuacán that it bears a demandita,
a miniature version of the Lord of Calvary.
Each barrio in Culhuacán apparently has one.

La banda follows behind.

Almost immediately, the procession  turns into a callejón, a narrow alleyway, and stops before the entrance to a home. The alleyway is decorated with blue and white balloons, the colors of the Virgin Mary. A table, covered with a cloth awaits San Antonio.

The mistress of the house listens while the leaders of the procession introduce themselves.
She then offers prayers to San Antonio,
followed by a gift of food, in this case, cookies, to the procession participants.

La demandita del Señor del Calvario,
Miniature version of the Lord of Calvary.


The leaders of the procession are the mayordomos, literally caretakers, responsible for San Antonio and the fiesta arrangements. They announce to the householder their respective cargos, charges, responsibilties. One is mayordomo de la banda, responsible for obtaining the band (and the funds to pay for it). The other is mayordomo de la capilla, responsible for care of the chapel. 

Mayordomos de la banda y de la capilla

There is a pause in the procession while people eat the cookies offered them, so we introduce ourselves to the mayordomos and tell them of our purpose in attending the procession and that we will publish an account and photos in Mexico City Ambles. We give them our card with the blog's URL. They promptly introduce us to other members of the mayordomía, the commitee that has organized and is overseeing the fiesta.

This young man turns out to be in charge
of the cohetes, the rocket-style firecrackers
essential to announcing the events of a fiesta,
including the approach of the procession.

We are struck by the youth of some of the
mayordomos. Usually it takes years of
helping with fiestas
to reach these positions of leadership.


The procession moves on to another home.

Copal, an ancient Mexican incense, is offered in a tradtional indigenous censer. 

A tradition that goes back centuries
before the arrival of the Spanish
and Catholicism in Mexico.

La Banda, John Philip Sousa and the Fourth of July

After the ritual of introductions and prayers, treats are again offered to the participants, this time a cup of pudding, which takes a while to consume. We use the time to talk with members of the banda while they have a break from playing. T

We tell them that su música nos encanta, their music enchants us, i.e., we love the variety of Mexican musical styles that they have been playing, all excellently. Each region, even each state, of Mexico has its own style of popular music. The banda has already played everything from ranchero, the lyrical style of mariachis originating in the western state of Jalisco, to jarocho, Veracruz style with its syncopated Caribbean rhythm. They ask where we are from and we acknowlege we are estadounidense, literally a "USian", from the United States. They tell us their band's name is "La Poblanita" ("Little One of Puebla"). They all live in Mexico City, but are from the State of Puebla. 

We also tell them that they are all muy guapo, very handsome, and take several individual photos.

Top, second from left, is the sousaphone player (see below).
We think the clarinetist, (top, far right)
is the one who got the band to play some tunes especially for us (also see below).

Then they start to play a tune, one that sounds extremely familiar. It is a march by John Philip Sousa, "Stars and Stripes Forever"! (The link takes you to a recording of the march) One of the clarinetists speaks to us, "This is for you." When they finish, the tuba player tells us that his instrument is actually a sousaphone, a variation on an orchestral tuba made at Sousa's request to be portable for marching bands. It is the rhymthic foundation of every Mexican banda and its player is telling us some U.S. music history that we didn't know.

Playing "The Stars and Stripes Forever"

We then proceed through the streets toward the next home, and they play two more Sousa marches!  One, they tell us, is "The Washington Post" march. The melody is familiar from high school and college football games, but we didn't know the name. Later, we find it was commissioned by the Washington Post newspaper for a celebration. 

We are nearly brought to tears. Here we are, a foreign outsider in the midst of a Catholic religious procession in a working class barrio of Mexico City, and it sounds like the Fourth of July! Such is the quintessential amabilidad (kindness) and calidez (warmth) of Mexicans toward estadounidenses, despite the abuses our government continues to impose on them. It is truly a moment we will savor forever.

Algunos de la Gente, Some of the People

As always, we take advantage of the procession to take retratos (portraits) of some of the people participating and watching.

El señor, the gentleman, upper right, introduces himself to us.
He is Sr. Rojas. He offers to introduce us to the cronista, historian, of Culhuacán.
The young man below him is his younger son. His is another warm reception to the barrio.

Preparations for Tomorrow

By now it is past 6 pm and the sun has set. Little light is left, so photos are virtually impossible. We decide it's time to go. We bid farewell to the mayordomos, la banda and Sr. Rojas, who has offered to share more information about the barrio and Culhuacán. We promise to return tomorrow at noon, when saints and people from the other barrios of Culhuacán will be received at the intersection of Calzada Taxqueña and Eje 3 (!) and led in a procession to the church to join in the Mass celebrating San Antonio Abad and His barrio. 

We walk west on Avenida San Antonio, towards Eje 3 where we will hail a cab. This takes us back past the church. The doors are open, and the lights are on. We didn't have time to see the church interior when we arrived, so we climb the steps and enter. 

Chancel of San Antonio Abad

As with all patron saint fiestas, the church is full of flowers, this time all white, perhaps to go with San Antonio's robes. A middle-aged man is working behind the altar, arranging huge bouquets. Two younger men, evidently his assistants, are arranging flowers along the aisles. Expecting that el Señor del Calvario is in the chancel, we walk to the front and introduce ourselves. The gentleman is Sr. Alejandro Díaz, a professional florist. He greets us warmly and gives us his card.

Sr. Alejandro Díaz, florist

We see that el Señor del Calvario is in the corner behind him, so we ask permission to come up onto the dais to take photos. Sr. Díaz replies, "¡Por supuesto, pase!", "Of course, pass (come on up)!" 

El Señor del Calvario,
The Lord of Calvary
(A demandita, smaller version is to the right.)

El Señor del Calvario,
The Lord of Calvary

The "Brother" Lords of the Caves

Using his cell phone, Sr. Díaz takes a picture of us taking a picture of el Señor del Calvario. He also tells us that on Ash Wednesday (February 14 this year), el Señor del Calvario will join his "hermano" (brother), el Señor de la Cuevita, the Lord of the Little Cave, in the latter´s Santuario (Santuary) in the center of Pueblo Iztapalapa. This is another gift to us, on an afternoon full of gifts. 

We know of el Señor de la Cuevita. Like el Señor del Calvario, he is a figure of a black Jesus the Christ enterrado (buried) who, according to legend, was found in a small cave at the foot of the north side of Cerro de la Estrella, at the edge of the original Pueblo Iztapalapa. After He was attributed with saving the pueblo from a cholera epidemic in the mid-19th century, a large sanctuary was built for Him next to the cave by el pueblo, the people, not the official church. Hence, the building is an independent "sanctuary", not a parroquia, parish church under diocesan supervision. He is another santo popular, saint adopted by the people.

We visited the Santuario last Good Friday, before leaving the Passion Play of Iztapalapa. The Passion Play evolved from processions held to celebrate el Señor's rescate (rescue) of His pueblo. We found el Señor being carried in procession from His sanctuary in order to join el Viacrucis, the Way of the Cross, the procession up the Hill of Calvary/Hill of the Star. However, evidently because of the solemnity of the Crucifixion, His casket was covered with a cloth, so we could not actually see him. (Nor did we have the energy to climb the Hill.)

We also know that, like His "brother", el Señor de la Cuevita also visits the barrios of the Pueblo Iztapalapa for their respective patron saint fiestas. We have long wondered about the parallel existence of two virtually identical Lords of the caves, on opposite sides of the Cerro de la Estrella, each the primary saint of an ancient indigenous pueblo. We have wondered, too, about their possible relationship (including, perhaps, some competition). So we know we will add an Amble to el Santuario in Iztapalapa on Wednesday, February 14. 

Hasta Mañana, Until Tomorrow

We say "muchas gracias" to Sr. Díaz and his assistants and leave the church. We are tired, but more than satisfied. In fact, we are in a state of amazement at all the gifts we have been given by the people of Barrio San Antonio and those assisting in the procession of its patron saint: a serenade of John Philip Sousa marches by la banda, an offer by Sr. Rojas to introduce us to the historian of Culhuacán and now the key to encountering "los Señores hermanos", the two "brother" Lords of the caves of Cerro de la Estrella, together! And la calidez del pueblo, the warmth of the people.

We had no expectations when we headed off to the humilde (humble) Barrio San Antonio earlier this afternoon to witness its patron saint procession. Objectively, it was a modest celebration. But personally, we certainly have been very blessed. We look forward to tomorrow.

See:  Culhuacán's Barrio San Antonio Atípac, Part II: A Gathering of the Saints of Culhuacán

Delegaciones of Mexico City
Iztapalapa is the large, medium green area on the east side.

Delegación Iztapalapa
with its pueblos and colonias.
Pueblo Culhuacán
is marked by the green/yellow star.
Delegación Coyoacán, which also has barrios of Culhuacán,
is immediately to the west.

The five barrios of  Pueblo Culhuacán of Iztapalapa are outlined in black.

Barrio San Antonio Abad Atípac (pink) is marked by the green/yellow star.
Its western border is the National Canal.
Its southern border is Calzada Taxqueña.
The line up its
 middle is Eje 3.

The dark green area to the far right is Cerro de la Estrella,
site of the Mexica/Azteca Temple for the Binding of the Years.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Original Villages | Iztacalco's Barrio Santiago Atoyac Honors the Virgin of Guadalupe

One of our goals in our Ambles through the orginal indigenous villages now immersed in Mexico City is to get to every one of its sixteen delegaciónes (boroughs). In the nearly two years we have been on this peregrinación (pilgrimage), we have made it to pueblos or barrios in ten of the sixteen.

Delegación Iztacalco

One of the remaining six is Delegación Iztacalco, which happens to be the smallest of all (and easily confused by fuereños (outsiders, Mexican or otherwise) with its large southern neighbor, Iztapalapa). Unlike the rural delegaciones in the south, such as Tláhuac (which we reached in recent months) and Milpa Alta (which we haven't), and those in the western mountains, like Magdalena Contreras and Cuajimalpa (which we also haven't yet managed to reach), Iztacalco isn't difficult to get to. Immediately southeast of Delegación Cuauhtémoc (Centro Histórico's borough), it has major highways and avenues surrounding and crossing it. And it is no more than fifteen minutes from our apartment in Coyoacán. The challenge has been finding out when its barrios, neighborhoods, are holding fiestas.

Recently, our desire to find and attend a fiesta in one of Iztacalco's barrios was finally satisfied via our now indispensible source, the Facebook page Fiestas Mágicas de los Pueblos y Barrios Originarios del Valle de MéxicoMagical Fiestas of the Original Villages and Neighborhoods of the Valley of Mexico. So it was time to begin to get to know Iztacalco.

Delegaciones of Mexico City
Iztacalco is the small, olive green delegación in the northeast.

Delegación Iztacalco
Its Pueblos, Barrios and Colonias

Island in an Urban Lake

When the Spanish arrived in the Valley in 1519, Iztacalco was an island or group of islands in the middle of Lake Texcoco. They were settled by Nahuatl speakers some time before the Mexica/Aztecas arrived in the Valley of Anahuac in 1225. A hundred years later, the Mexica, after working as mercenary soldiers for the powers in the Valley—first for Culhuacán, then for Azcapotzalco—began their search for a permanent place to found their own village. As a possible location, they tried to settle on Iztacalco, but were forced by the island's residents to move on. Iztacalcans made their living from the brackish waters of the lake (which has no outlet), drying salt that they traded with other settlements. Their activity gave rise to their name Iztacalco, House of Salt, in the Nahuatl language. 

(blue star)
was one of a group of islands in Lake Texcoco
just southeast of Tenochtitlan

The Spanish conquered the Mexica City of Tenochtitlan and took control of the Valley in 1521. In the next century, in an attempt to protect the City from flooding, they began to drain Lake Texcoco, leaving Iztacalco and other island villages both high and dry, and without their traditional sources of income. 

However, to provide a route for transport of food and other goods from Lake Xochimilco, in the south, to the Centro Histórico, the Spanish constructed the Royal Canal (after Independence it was renamed the National Canal, known popularly as La Viga, The Beam). It passed through Iztacalco, which became a major stopover for canoes coming and going from the City Center. The canal was used for nearly three hundred years, until the 1920s, when motor vehicles and roadways took its place. The route of the old Canal through Iztacalco is now the main avenue, Calzada de la Viga

The Viga (former Royal) Canal in 1850.
It is superimposed on a map of Mexico City of 1970.

Iztacalco lies about midway on the route.
Heavy red line up the center is modern outer-ring expressway.
Thin red line up the left side is Calzada de Tlalpan,
the former Mexica cuepotli, causeway across Lake Texcoco.

From the blog: Historia: Geografía y Rarezas

Paseo (trip) de Viceroy Don Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva, duke of Albuquerque, 
and his wife, Doña Juana de la Cerda, up the Royal Canal. 
Their barge is in the foreground.

The church of San Matías Ixtacalco is in the left background. 
(The pueblo's name was spelled with an 'x' until the 20th century.)

Painted by Pedro Villegas in 1706, 
it is the oldest representation of the Canal de la Viga and chinampas (man-made island gardens, on the right). 
Wikipedia en español

The original village still retains its seven barrios: Santa Cruz, La Asunción, San Miguel, Los Reyes, San Sebastián Zapotla, San Francisco Xicaltongo and Santiago Atoyac, along with the adjacent Pueblo Santa Anita Zacatlalmanco Huéhuetl. These barrios lie near the western boundary of the modern delegación, mostly along the Calzada de la Viga.

Original barrios of Iztacalco
and Pueblo Santa Anita Zacatlalmanco Huéhuetl
(Santa Anita is the large, light green area on north side.)

Barrio Santiago Atoyac, the focus of this post, is marked by green/yellow star.
For some reason, it has been divided into North (dark green) and South (tan) sections.

The Church of Santiago (St. James) Atoyac sits on Avenida Santiago,
which is the boundary between the barrio's two sections.
The church is near the eastern end of the avenue, at about the star's right point.
The north-south road marking the barrio's eastern boundary is Calzada de la Viga.

Barrio Santiago Atoyac and the Virgin of Guadalupe

Recently, the Facebook page, Fiestas Mágicas de los Pueblos y Barrios Originarios del Valle de MéxicoMagical Fiestas of the Original Villages and Neighborhoods of the Valley of Mexico, posted an announcement of a fiesta in the Barrio Santiago (St. James) Atoyac, to be held the weekend of January 12. Curiously, it is to be a celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe, whose feast day was exactly a month prior, on December 12. We wonder why this fiesta is being held a month after the biggest saint's fiesta in Mexico, but we jump at the chance to visit a barrio in Iztacalco.

The posted schedule says a procession through the barrio will begin at noon on Saturday, the 13th. So half an hour before, we take a taxi north on the Calazada de Tlalpan, the main highway into Centro, which passes near Iztacalco. Our driver then takes us east to Calzada de la Viga, turns north and soon turns west into Avenida Santiago. Immediately, we see that the street is closed by juegos mechanicos, mechanical carnival rides, so we know we have found the fiesta and get out of the taxi. 

As we walk past the rides, empty and awaiting their evening customers, the steeple of the church comes into view. At the same time, we hear a banda playing, directly ahead of us in the street. 

Church of Santiago Apóstol Atoyac
Church of St. James the Apostle, Atoyac.

As we get to the church, we see the banda and a small group of people moving away from us along the avenue. It is ten minutes before noon, but obviously, the procession has started early. We hurry to catch up. Fortunately, the procession turns at the first corner it reaches and then stops, so we are easily able to join it.

La Procesión

An image of the Virgin of Guadalupe
being carried through the streets of Barrio Santiago Atoyac;
a banda and some barrio residents follow behind

La banda Principes de Oaxaca
Princes of Oaxaca Band
(The phone numbers are for Mexico City; it is likely that
band members live in one of the City's Oaxaca neighborhoods.)

Papel picado, cut paper, announces the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
The neighborhood appears to be a mixture of newer apartment buildings
and older, one- and two-story, single family homes.

"Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe"
"Long Live the Virgin of Guadalupe"
(At this point we still don't know why the Virgin is being honored
 a month after Her Feast Day)

Turning into a narrow callejon, alleyway, the procession enters the patio
of a modest cinderblock home, typical in working-class neighborhoods.

Waiting is a comparsa de caporales,
a group of cowboy and cowgirl-style dancers who accompany processions.
The procession will be much more colorful and lively with them. 

Passing the tradition from mother to daughter.

¡Belleza mexicana!
Mexican beauty!

Authentic (ones) of Ixtacalco
(The old spelling of the pueblo's name is used. )

preparing to join the procession.
Charros are fancy, Spanish-style
traditional to the western
state of Jalisco.
They have become a symbol of
traditional (rural, pre-20th century)

The residents of the house provide drinks of agua de jamaica (hah-MAE-kah),
Jamaica water,
a kind of cold tea made from red hibiscus flowers.
Delicious and full of vitamin C!

El patron y la patrona de la casa.
The owners of the house. 

The Virgin of the Day and Wax Virgins

We approach a family—the homeowners—standing in the patio. Introducing ourselves, we ask about today's celebration of the Virgin. They kindly explain that the barrio does participate in one of the many peregrinaciónes, pilgrimages, carried out by pueblos and barrios of Mexico City (as well as others coming from surrounding states) to the Basilica of the Virgin during the weeks leading up to December 12.

It is, however, the barrio's tradition that they carry with them Virgenes de cera, wax Virgins. The image displayed today always remains in the Church of Santiago Atoyac and is specially honored on this day as the barrio's Virgin.

El Señor 

We are puzzled by what a Virgin of wax is. We have never heard of such before. A young man accompanying the homeowners, apparently their grandson, is also a serious photographer and will be following the procession to photograph it. He has a portfolio of his photos with him and shows us a photo of a Virgen de cera. He explains that this is what is carried to the Basilica.

Vigen de cera,
Virgin of wax. 
Created by an aunt of the family.

The Procession Moves On

With everyone refreshed and las caporales and el charro ready to go, the procession once again gets underway.

(Literally, foreman of cattle herders,
i.e. another name for cowboys),
dressed in blue jeans and cowboy boots,
leads the procession to direct its route
through the streets.

As the procession moves back into the streets,
more charros are waiting at a corner
to join it.

The procession, now with several charro and caporal dancers,
moves through the barrio.

Charro del muerte,
Charro of death.
(Our term. We have yet to uncover
an explanation for these.)


Spanish-style charro mask

This joven (young man)
has all the moves!

As does this one!

Beautiful mother!

Beautiful daughter!

This girl spreads petals of mums
in the path of the Virgin.

People of the barrio
watch as the procession goes by.

(The woman, upper right, had a teenage granddaughter with her who was shy
and didn't want to be photographed.
But la abuela was most happy to greet us and our camera.

Church of Santiago

Eventually, the procession returns to Avenida Santiago and arrives back at the Church. While we expect it to enter the atrio and end there, it moves on. We do not. Tired, the shaded atrio, with benches, beckons us as a most welcome and tranquil place to rest. We find we are not the only ones attracted to the oasis of peace in the midst of urban bullicio (boo-YEE-ceeoh, hubbub).

Fiesta portada (archway) portrays and honors
the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Legend says, "You are the light that illumines my way."

Carved doors portray the church's and barrio's patron saint,
Santiago Matamoros,
St. James, the Moorslayer.

Santiago Matamoros,
St. James the Moorslayer

The Apostle St. James is believed to have come to
the Roman province of Hispania after the Ascension of Christ,
to preach the Gospel
(Good News of Christ' victory over sin and death),
and convert the residents,
thus founding the Catholic Church in Spain
(separate from Sts. Peter and Paul, and Rome).
He then returned to Judea and was martyred.

According to Spanish Christian legend, in the mid 800s,
St. James reappeared 
at the Battle of Clavijo. Riding a white
horse, he helped the outnumbered Christian forces defeat the Moors,
(Muslims from North Africa),
in the early stages of the Reconquista of the land.

He was then called Santiago Matamoros
and became the patron saint of Spain.

The Reconquest was not completed until 1492.
The victorious King and Queen, Ferdinand and Isabella,
first rulers of a united Spain, celebrated by
commissioning Christopher Columbus to sail west to reach Asia.
He happened upon the "New World".

Nearly thirty years later, Hernán Cortés undertook the Conquest of Mexico
(the Aztec Empire).
The Spanish conquistadores prayed to Santiago
to help them defeat the Mexicas and their allies.

So Santiago Matamoros, 

representing this new Christian Conquest of a "pagan" people,
is the patron saint of many Mexican churches and their barrios.

While the church and parish of Santiago Atoyac date back to the 16th century,
the building was restored in 1953. 
The doors are quite new;
carved at the bottom right is the name,
Maximo Díaz, and the date, July 1986.

Atrio muy arboleado y sombreado
(Well-treed and shady atrium.)

Amigos descansando

Barrio Holding onto Tradition

Iztacalco, as we have said, is the smallest delegación in Mexico City, and not far from the Centro Histórico. Ixtacalco, once upon a time a village on an island in Lake Texcoco, is now surrounded by urban neighborhoods that have developed in the last century as the City expanded into the former lakebed. As our walk through Barrio Santiago revealed, even this original barrio has been invaded by modern apartment buildings. Generally inhabited by outsiders lacking roots in the neighborhood, the support for maintaining traditional fiestas is hence weakened. 

The fiesta for the Virgin of Guadalupe was a modest one, with the procession attended by fewer than two dozen people. It was not, of course, the barrio's primary fiesta. Held in July, the fiesta for the barrio's patron saint Santiago, St. James, would likely better represent the barrio's support for tradition. 

Nevertheless, we did get to witness and experience the animo (spirit, vitality) and beauty of the comparsa Autenticos de Ixtacalco. We got to meet a traditional family, learn about Virgenes de cera and walk some of the callejas (narrow side streets) of Barrio Santiago. And we have finally taken our first steps in the original barrios of Iztacalco