Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Original Villages | Mule Drivers of Santa Ursula Xitle and Tlapan

Encountering a New Form of Fiesta Dancers

Virtually every amble we have made to an original indigenous village in Mexico City has brought us surprises: some new experiences, something new learned about Mexican popular (the people's) culture, the culture of el pueblo mexicana.

When we saw an announcement of a fiesta in the pueblo of Santa Úrsula Xitle we were intrigued by two things. First, fulfilling one of our primary criteria, it was a pueblo we had not previously visited and, additionally, it was in Delegación/Alcaldía Tlalpan, the city's largest but one where we had explored only a few of its original pueblos.

Second, the announcement said cuadrillas (qua-DREE- yahs) of arrieros would be performing. In all of our many experiences of fiesta performers, we have seen many types of comparsas (dance troupes) representing various parts of Mexican identity, but never cuadrillas de arrieros:
  • Chinelosdancers "disguised", as their name means in Nahuatl, often with bearded masks with blue eyes, as caricatures of colonial Spaniards, but dressed in elaborately decorated velvet gowns and headdresses which strike us as imaginative, orientalist representations of Moorish or Muslim attire;
  • CharrosSpanish hacendados, wealthy hacienda (rural estates) owners, like the chinelos often masked, dressed in fancy cowboy attire,  elaborately embroidered in gold thread with a wide range of symbols;
  • Caporales or vaqueros, in much simpler, working cowboy attire (think your old "Western", with everyone dressed up for a square dance).
But we had never encountered a cuadrilla de arrieros. A quick consultation of our Spanish-English dictionary told us a cuadrilla was a work crew or team and arrieros were mule drivers. Hence, a team of mule drivers. Thus, like charros, cuadrillas de arrieros as participants in fiestas are an incorporation of Spanish culture into Mexican popular culture, but they aren't like the elegant charros in their gold embroidered jackets, tight pants and huge sombreros. They are something more like caporales, a representation of a working-class segment of indigenous people created by the needs of the Spanish ruling class in the Colonial period.

Arrieros: Key Links in a Global Trade Route

Before the Spanish Conquest, the indigenous had no beast of burden. Men called tamemes in Nahuatl carried everything, including members of the upper class, on their backs. After the Spanish took over, they introduced mules and horses — eliminating the need for human carriers. Mules became the "trucks" of cross-country commerce and those who gained the skills to manage mule trains during what could be long trips, that is, los arrieros, achieved a certain level of increased status.

During Colonial times, the Spanish, after they conquered what is now central Mexico, conquered the Philippines on the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean. In 1513, the Spanish explorer, Vasco Núñez Balboa discovered the Pacific from Panama and declared that it and all lands adjoining it were possessions of the Spanish crown. The Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Philippines in 1521, where he was killed in battle with the resident people. The Spanish explorer, Ruy López de Villalobos, landed there in 1543, and in 1565, the Spaniard Miguel López de Legazpi, sailing from Mexico, conquered the islands. Like Mexico, they became part of the globe-spanning Spanish Empire that endured for some 300 years.

Thereafter, each year, the Spanish sailed what they called the Manila Galleons across the Pacific, bringing goods from China and Japan to the port of Acapulco on the southwest coast of Mexico. From Acapulco, these luxury goods were then carried by mule trains, led by arrieros, 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) up to the pass in the Chichinautzin mountains that form the southern boundary of the Valley of Mexico, and down 3,000 ft. (915 meters) to Mexico City. (See our post Encountering Mexico City´s Many Volcanoes: Giants on All Sides.) From the city, other mule trains carried the goods on to Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico, where they were shipped to Spain.

Santa Úrsula Xitle, like its neighbor, Chimalcoyotl, and others along the trails leading up the Chichinautzin mountains provided the mules and drivers needed for this arduous trip. Mule drivers worked for Spanish businessmen. So, we wonder why this manifestation of Spanish colonialism is, like charros and caporales, actively maintained and celebrated by the descendants of those who did the actual hard work, essentially as peons on haciendas or low-paid employees of the owners of mule trains.

Why maintain memories of a life of full of hard labor, repressive relationships and poverty? The answer, we surmise, lies in the fact of their awareness that they were an essential link in Spain's global trading network. Without them, that chain from the Philippines to Spain via Mexico would have been broken. So we were most curious to meet these arrieros in the fiesta at Santa Úrsula Xitle.

Fiesta at Santa Úrsula Xitle

The fiesta at Santa Úrsula Xitle was likely to be a modest one. It was not the pueblo's patron saint fiesta, which is held in October. It was a fiesta sponsored by a cofradía, a brotherhood of parishioners of the church dedicated to venerating la Virgen de San Juan de los Lagos. We had previously encountered this advocación of the Virgin Mary, a manifestation of the Virgin, related to a particular time and place, as an advocate for the forgiveness of her followers before her Son, the Christ, and his Father in Heaven. That had been last autumn at the Fiesta de San Francisco in the Quadrante de San Francisco in Delegación Coyoacán, where a conchero comparsa was dedicated to her.

Despite the fiesta's likely modest size, we set off on a Sunday morning in early February to Pueblo Santa Úrsula Xitle in Tlalpan, eager to become acquainted with a new pueblo and a new form of fiesta dancer. Although the pueblo is some distance southwest of our base in Delegación Coyoacán, it isn´t difficult for our taxi driver to find, as its eastern border is the major Avenida Insurgentes, which crosses much of the city from north to south on its western side.

Just south of Santa Úrsula, the avenue merges with the Calzada de Tlalpan to form the Expressway 95D following the ancient trail that climbs over the mountains, and then descends 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) to the state of Morelos and its capital Cuernavaca, and then, more gradually, another 5,000 ft. (1,524 meters) to Acapulco, on the Pacific Ocean in the state of Guerrero. Santa Úrsula lies just south of Tlalpan Centro (the original altepetl (city-state) of Tlalpan and north of Pueblo Chimalcoyotl, whose fiesta of the Immaculate Conception we attended in December 2017.

Reaching Avenida Insurgentes, we turn south and soon find Calle Santa Úrsula. Traveling into the pueblo some blocks, we come to where the road divides, one half turning left, the other to the right. There is no sign of a church. Facing us is a tall wall we cannot see over. Not sure which way to turn, we ask our driver to wait and we get out to ask some people on the street where the church is. They smile and point to the street going to the right and then left, around a corner. We thank them and then our driver, pay him and walk around the corner to the right. Immediately we see people gathered at an entrance in the wall. It is the wall of the church atrio (atrium).

The original, well-preserved 16th-century Franciscan chapel
sits at the far end of the spacious, 
tree-filled, tranquil park-like,  atrio.

The blue and white papel picado, cut paper,
tell us this is a festival dedicated to the Virgin Mary

The decoration of the small chapel also announces this is a fiesta for the Virgin.
Two small representations of the Virgen de San Juan de los Lagos sit on the altar.
Santa Úrsula stands above and behind them.

of the Virgen de San Juan de los Lagos
of the cofradía of Santa Úrsula, Tlalpan.

Las Cuadrillas de Arrieros

Outside the chapel, we notice two gentlemen wearing cowboy-style sombreros. They appear to be in charge of the proceedings. They introduce themselves as the leaders of two cuadrillas de arrieros, one from Santa Úrsula, the other from Pueblo San Andrés Toltótepec, a short distance south of Pueblo Santa Úrsula and Pueblo Chimalcoyotl, where the climb up the mountains begins to be seriously steep.

Heads of the Arrieros of San Andrés Totóltepec (left) and Santa Úrsula (right).
They hold a standard representing Santa Úrsula.
The leader from San Andrés invites us to their patron saint fiesta in November.
Ojalá, hopefully, we will be able to attend.

We tell them that our purpose in being here is to get know the pueblo and to take photos to share their fiesta, including the dance of the cuadrillas de arrieros, on the internet via our blog, Mexico City Ambles. We tell them we consider it an honor to be able to witness and record the fiesta and their dance. They invite us to join in the meal being served to participants by a group of women at a table just inside the atrio entrance. We courteously and gratefully accept. It is a simple comida of beef boiled in a broth, accompanied by the indispensable corn tortillas.

When the meal is over, the men of the two cuadrillas line up for their dance. The majority are dressed in the white muslin shirts and pants, some with embroidery, and straw sombreros that were the standard dress for campesinos (rural Mexicans workers) beginning after the Spanish Conquest until the 20th century, that is, for over 400 years. U.S. style "Western cowboy" dress was not adopted until the latter half of the past century. 

La cuadrilla de arrieros de Santa Úrsula

La cuadrilla de arrieros de San Andrés Totóltepec.
Note: This cuadrilla includes one young woman.
Also, unlike those in traditional campesino dress,
the leader is attired as a gentleman cowboy, in a suit, dress shirt and tie, with a felt sombrero,
definitely a "step up" from the campesino class.

The dance, like those of most comparsas of charros and caporales, is a simple line dance to a basic four-beat rhythm. 

The Arrieros Closeup

At every fiesta, one of our passions is taking retratos, portraits, of the individuals who are participants and the people who make up the audience. Here are some of the arrieros and those attending the fiesta close up.

The embroidery says "Cuadrilla de Arrieros Águilas del Sur"
Mule Drivers Team Eagles of the South.

At the end of the dance, the leader of the Santa Úrsula Xitle arreiros introduces us to the mayordomo (chief caretaker) responsible for organizing the fiesta for la Cofradía de la Virgen de San Juan de los Lagos. He introduces himself simply as Fausto, with his wife, Tere. 

Tere and Fausto

We thank them profusely for the opportunity and privilege they have provided of being able to attend today's fiesta and photograph it. We tell them we will share our photos via the internet and give them the link to our Facebook page. 

As almost always in our ambles to pueblos and their fiestas, our desire to get to know Santa Úrsala Xitle and to meet and learn about a new group of fiesta dancers, las cuadrillas de los arrieros, has led to an experience full of Mexican ánimo (spirit) and alegría (joy).

And it has led to our learning about a key link, centered here in the pueblos of Tlalpan, in the global trade network that maintained the Spanish Empire for 300 years. The role of los arrieros in that network still gives their descendants mucho orgullo (much pride). It is the same pride we see daily that Mexicans take in mi trabajo, my work, no matter how humble in the economic system it may seem.

Post Script:

By pure chance, we encountered the Arrieros de San Andrés Totóltepec the very next day at the Fiesta of Candelaria in the pueblo of that name in Delegación/Alcaldía Coyoacán. After the main procession and Mass, they sang songs called mañanitas (morning songs, commonly sung on a patron saint's day or an individual's birthday), accompanied by a group of mariachis, to the Virgen de Candelaria in her church. Then they performed their dance outside the church.

Cuadrilla de arrieros from San Andrés Totóltepec
sing mañanitas in the Chruch of Candelaria, Coyoacán

Arrieros de San Andrés Totótepec (left) and
Arrieros of another pueblo we didn't manage to identify.


Clearly, we have only scraped the proverbial surface of cuadrillas de arrieros in Mexico City. We wonder where and when we will encounter them again.

Delegación Tlalpan (mustard yellow)
is at the southwest corner of Mexico City.
It is just south of Coyoacán (purple), our home,
and west of Xochimilco (pink),
and Milpa Alta (light yellow).

Pueblos of north-central Delegación/Alcaldia Tlalpan

Santa Úrsula Xitle is dark blue area marked by green/yellow star.
Tlalpan Centro is the green area to its northeast.
Chimalcoyotl is green area to its southeast.
San Andres Totoltepec is large yellow area to the south. 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Original Villages | Santa Cruz Atoyac, Benito Juárez: Fiesta of the Lord of the Precious Blood Renews Ties Between Nearly Forgotten Pueblos

In the early days of our living in Mexico City, we frequently returned via taxi from Centro Histórico to delegación/alcaldía Coyoacán, where we live, down Cuauhtémoc, one of the main, one-way axis roads. As we traveled through the southern end of delegación/alcaldía Benito Juárez, we would notice what appeared to be a very old, simple, yellow adobe church, mostly hidden behind its atrio (atrium) wall.

Church of Santa Cruz Atoyac,
glimpsed from Avenida Cuauhtémoc.
The colorful portadas
over the entrances to the atrio and the church 
mark the celebration of a fiesta.

From its simple style and adobe composition, we thought it might be one of the original Franciscan chapels from the 16th century, a landmark of the so-called Spiritual Conquest by which Franciscans and monks of other religious orders turned the "pagan" indigenous into Spanish Roman Catholics. Some research told us it was the Church of Santa Cruz de Atoyac and that Atoyac had been an originally indigenous pueblo, now almost totally replaced by contemporary commercial establishments and high rise apartment buildings typical of upper-middle-class Benito Juárez. While we eventually explored other original pueblos similarly virtually buried by modernity in Benito Juárez, for a variety of circumstances, it took us until recently to visit Santa Cruz de Atoyac.

Pueblo Atoyac

Atoyac means "place of a spring or river". It stood near the southwest shore of Lake Texcoco, likely where a spring erupted from the ground and flowed into the lake, making it a good place to create an agricultural village. It was possibly first settled by people during the epoch of dominance by Teotihuacan, located in a side valley to the northeast of the main Valley (see map below), which was the dominant power in the area from 100 to 600 CE. Nearby Coyoacán, just south of Atoyac, was first settled about 200 CE. Archeologists believe Lake Texcoco had been much larger before that era, so the land where Coyoacán and Atoyac were established had previously been under water.
See our post on the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception in Coyoacán, where we describe how archaeologists recently discovered the earliest settlement in Coyoacán in the area around and under the chapel, built on Hernán Cortés' orders as the first Catholic church in the continental Americas.  
Valley of Mexico
(called Anáhuac by its Nahuatl residents)
at the time of the Spanish arrival in November 1519.

Atoyac is not shown, but lay just east of Mixcoac,
near the shore of the bay forming the southwestern portion of Lake Texcoco.

At the time of the Spanish conquest in 1521, Atoyac was subject to the rule of Coyoacán, to its south, which was itself part of the territory on the west side of Lake Texcoco previously under the rule of the Tepaneca, based in A(t)zcapotzalco (near the north end of the bay). When the Tepaneca were defeated by the Mexica of Tenochtitlán and their allies, Tlacopan and Texcoco in 1428, they took over all of its territories, including Coyoacán and Atoyac.

Southwest bay of Lake Texcoco,
with Tenochtitlán of the Mexica in the center.

It shows all the altepetls (city-states) that had come under
the dominance of the Mexica and their allies of the Triple Alliance,
together with most of their subordinate villages.
The Triple Alliance, led by Tenochtitlán and including
Tlacopan (on the west shore of the lake, northwest of Tenochtitlán
and Texcoco (on the east shore of the lake),
defeated the Tepaneca of Azcapotzalco (north of Tlalcopan) in 1428,
and took control of the entire area around Lake Texcoco.
The Mexica then built the causeways
to make access to their dominion easier.

Atoyac is located near the southern end of the bay,
not far north of Coyoacán (spelled here Coyohuacan).

From the magazine Arqueología méxicana.
The title says it portrays the Basin (Valley) of Mexico, but it does not.
It is only the southwest bay of Lake Texcoco,
by far the largest of five lakes in the Valley.

After Hernán Cortés, his Spanish troops and indigenous allies defeated the Mexica of Tenochtitlán, on his own initiative, he made grants of land (encomiendas in Spanish) to various of the conquistadores and to indigenous leaders (tlatoani, "speakers", heads of the royal altepetl councils) who had joined him in defeating the Mexica. As the tlatoani of Coyoacán, Ixtoñique, a Tepaneca, had given him access to the causeway to Tenochtitlán for his attack on the city, Cortés granted the area around Atoyac to him. Ixtoñique, baptized a Christian with the name Juan Gúzman Ixtoñique, used the land for grazing sheep introduced by the Spanish for the production of wool. He then delivered a portion of the wool as part of the required tribute to the Spanish.

Over time, as happened all over the Valley and Nueva España, the land was purchased or taken from Ixtoñique's descendants by Spaniards and became a rancho, a small hacienda; that is, a private agricultural estate owned by Spaniards, which it remained, amazingly, until the end of the 19th century. The indigenous pueblo also remained, but with the loss of what had been their communally held and worked land and the intentional draining of Lake Texcoco to prevent the flooding of Mexico City, the villagers were left with no other source of livelihood than to become gañanes (from the Spanish verb ganar = to earn), paid laborers on the rancho.

The area remained rural, a  rancho for sheep raising for four hundred years, up until the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917). In the 1920s, the owner sold off his land for its development as an urban residential colonia. This was part of a process of planned urban development that had begun near the end of the 19th century, under the reign of President Porfirio Díaz (1876-1911), first farther north, to the west of the original Mexico City (now Centro Histórico).

The Church of Santa Cruz

On the doorway of the chapel of Santa Cruz is engraved the date September 29, 1563. Other documents say the building of the chapel was begun in 1568. At first, because of the limited number of Franciscans, who had begun arriving in Nueva España in 1524, it was a chapel de visita, that is, without resident monks but visited by them on a rotating schedule to preach, baptize the indigenous as Catholic Christians and marry couples as the basis of Christian families. Probably, also at first, like most such chapels de visita, it was an open-air chapel with a large atrio (atrium) where the indigenous would congregate and stand to listen to the preaching and, once baptized, participate in the Mass.

The covered part would have included the altar and baptismal font. Likely, its construction reused already cut stones from a prior indigenous temple. In 1587, a convent was built for a resident monk. Built of adobe (clay), with a straw roof, comfort would have been a challenge in the summer rainy season. Probably, about this time, the full chapel was constructed in the simple Franciscan style it maintains to this day.

Church of Santa Cruz Atoyac
The tower was added in the 17th century.

Simple sanctuary of the church during Mass.

It is believed that the stone cross in the atrio was carved from a statue of an indigenous god. The atrio also contains ancient olive trees. Olive trees were often planted in the 16th century in atrios of other churches. Baptized persons were buried in the atrio, as was the custom, so as to lie in sacred ground.

Stone cross from the 16th century,
believed to have been carved
from an indigenous idol.

In 1529, the Dominicans arrived in Nueva  España and began establishing chapels in the Coyoacán area. First to be constructed was San Juan Bautista in the center of Villa Coyoacán, followed by other chapels to the west, away from the lake. Meanwhile, the Franciscans were also establishing churches, such as Santa Cruz in Atoyac, near the lakeshore. At some point in the 16th or 17th century, Santa Cruz Atoyac was transferred to the Dominican order. Competition for control of chapels and, therefore, their pueblos, between the various orders was not uncommon.

In 1569, the Archbishop of Mexico removed the Franciscans from control of their chapels in the four parcialidades (quarters) of San Juan Tenochtitlán and the one in Santiago Tlateloloco and assigned "secular", i.e. diocesan, clergy under his direction. However, in 1571, the leader of the Dominican Order, Fray Fernando de Paz, complained about this to Pope Pius V, who responded by directing the Archbishop to distribute the five churches among the Franciscans, Augustinians and Dominicans.

In the 1750s, the Archbishop of Mexico received permission from the pope to take over all the chapels of the religious orders and place them under the control of "secular", i.e. diocesan clergy. The chapel of Santa Cruz Atoyac was made a chapel of the larger parish of Cristo Rey, Christ the King, in what is now the nearby colonia of Portales. The church was declared an official historical monument by the federal government in 1932. It became an independent parish church only in 1960.                                                   

Special sacred objects of Santa Cruz

The church contains two objects of special sacred value and veneration.

The Lord of the Precious Blood, the parish's santo popular

El Señor de la Preciosa Sangre.

The first is a statute of el Señor de la Preciosa Sangre, The Lord of the Precious Blood. He is an avocación, manifestation of the crucified Christ, believed to have been created in the 16th century. However, it is not known when he was brought to Santa Cruz Atoyac, by whom or why he remained there.

Usually, there is a legend attached to the arrival of such sacred statues to a parish and what is perceived as their deliberately choosing the church as their own. This decision is often manifested by their becoming too heavy to be carried away from the church by the people who were carrying them from their home pueblo on a pilgrimage to some other shrine and who stopped at the church to rest overnight. These people readily accept the saint's immovability, or other sign, as miraculous proof of his or her choice of the church as his or her proper new home. The members of the original pueblo often return for the annual fiestas subsequently held to celebrate the date of the choice, concretely manifesting the ongoing connection between the two pueblos.

These sacred figures are usually some avocación of the Virgin Mary or the Christ; that is, an appearance to the faithful in the form of a particular function or moment in their sacred lives in order to serve as an advocate to God the Father or His Son in Heaven for protection from the evils of the world and forgiveness of sins.

These avocaciones (advocates) are, therefore, saints of el pueblo in its double meaning of both the people and the particular village in which they live together. They are santos populares, the people´s saints. Because of this special, intentional choice of a parish as its advocate before the divine Trinity, they become more highly venerated than the church's patron saint that was originally assigned by whatever religious order first established the church in the pueblo. The Virgin of Guadalupe is the most famous of all such santos populares, as she appeared as an indigenous woman to an indigenous peasant in the open countryside and adopted all the people of Nueva España (now Mexico) as her special children.

Although el Señor de la Preciosa Sangre lacks the usual legend attached to his arrival at Santa Cruz Atoyac, by virtue of his physical place in the sanctuary and the intensity of his veneration, with his own fiesta in early January rivaling that of the patron saint fiesta of the Holy Cross on May 3, he is definitely its santo popular.
MCA Note: For more on this very common Latin American Catholic phenomenon of the Christ, the Virgin or other saints miraculously and deliberately choosing a specific home church, see our post: Santos Populares, Popular Saints.
As it is, el Señor is not made of heavy wood. He is hollow, made of very light pasta de caña, a paste made from corn stalks. It is believed that the indigenous made statues of their gods from the paste, in place of the stone versions in temples, in order to have light versions to carry into battle. In the 1530s, Don Vasco de Quiroga, a church lawyer and member of the second audiencía, the council established by King Charles to govern Nueva España from 1531 to 1535, was ordained a bishop at the request of the king and archbishop of Mexico in order to bring order to the efforts at conversion and protection of indigenous Purépecha in their territory to the west of Mexica/Azteca territory (now the state of Michoacán).

Don Vasco brought the sculptor, Don Matias de la Cerda, from Spain to instruct indigenous sculptors in the making of Roman Catholic images of the Christ, the Virgin and the various saints. Instead of carving them from wood, they used pasta de caña to produce many of these Christian images. (See more of Don Vasco de Quiroga's history and his saintly veneration in Michoacán in our post: Indigenous Purépecha Traditions of Michoacán Live On In Mexico City.)

El Señor de la Preciosa Sangre is made of such pasta de caña. The delicate, realistic style in which his virtually naked body is composed, producing a profound effect of vulnerability and suffering, leads some art critics to think he may have been created by de la Cerda himself, as it is very much like ones known to have been made by him.

He is also a quintessential version of a "Mexicanized" Christ, where pathos, sorrow and death displace the neoclassic European image of a serene Christ on the cross. This image of the suffering Christ is central to Mexican popular Catholicism, a reflection of their own history of repression, suffering and self-sacrifice.

El Señor de la Preciosa Sangre is also a "black Christ", like the Lord of Calvary in Culhuacán. Black Christs are thought to have originated from what is now southern Mexico and Guatemala and to be reflections of indigenous black gods of the underworld and death. There is a highly venerated Black Christ in a church in southern Michoacán, where Quiroga worked. There is also one in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City.

The Holy Cross of Jerusalem

The second holy object in Santa Cruz is a Holy Cross of Jerusalem. These are small crosses ostensibly made from the wood of olive trees from the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed after celebrating the Last Supper with his disciples the night of Maundy Thursday. Later that night, he was betrayed there to Roman soldiers, and the next day, Good Friday, he was tried and crucified. There are numerous versions of this Holy Cross of Jerusalem, believed to be encrusted with pieces of the actual cross on which Jesus was crucified and with fragments of the Rock of Agony, on which he prayed in Gethsemane.

One such cross, which had been in the possession of Franciscans in the Curia in the Vatican in Rome, was donated by Pope Pius XII in 1951 to the High Priest of the Basilica of Guadalupe, who was visiting Rome. Brought to Mexico, it was displayed for a short time in the Basilica and then in the Metropolitan Cathedral. It then traveled from church to church throughout the Diocese of the City of Mexico.

Initial Visit of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem to Santa Cruz Atoyac in April 1952. 

Photo provided by Sr. Fernando Elizalde Casas 

Population growth in the area subsequently led church authorities to consider making the chapel of Santa Cruz de Atoyac into a full parish church. At that time, the chaplain of the chapel, Carlos Villaseñor, petitioned the archbishop and the chaplain responsible for the security of the cross that it be permanently placed in Santa Cruz Atoyac. The petition was granted and the cross was placed in the church's care in March of 1959. The following year the chapel was officially designated the Parish Church of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem.

Santa Cruz de Jerusalén

Cross from wood of olive tree
in Garden of Gethsemane

Fragment of the Rock of Agony
encased in center of a silver cross.

Certificate testifying to
the delivery of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem
by the Archbishop of Mexico
to the Chapel of Santa Cruz, March 13, 1959.
MCA Note: We are deeply indebted to Sr. Fernando Elizalde Casas for providing us with a copy of the monograph, "La Parroquia de Santa Cruz de Jerusalem: Reseñas históricas y servicios pastorales" | "The Parish Church of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem: Historical Review and Pastoral Services," by Father Arnulfo Hernández H. It is the source for the specific historical information shared here regarding the church and its sacred objects. Creation of this post would not have been possible without the generous contributions of Sr. Elizalde Casas.

The Fiesta of the Lord of the Precious Blood  

According to tradition, the statue of el Señor de la Preciosa Sangre arrived at the church the first week of January. Henceforth, a fiesta in his honor is held the weekend of the first Sunday of each year. Its patron saint fiesta, that of Santa Cruz, the Holy Cross, is held on May 3, as it is in every church sharing that patron. We were able to attend the January 2019 fiesta of el Señor de la Preciosa Sangre.

Entering the church atrio from busy Ave. Cuauhtémoc, we find a large group of concheros (so named from their concho, skin, of armadillos traditionally used to cover the backs of their lute-like instruments) engaged in a ritual in preparation for their dancing.

The Holy Cross in the atrio
is venerated
with indigenous copal incense.

Two additional banners join that of el Señor de la Preciosa Sangre, identifying where some of the concheros are from:

"Union, Conformidad y Conquista"
"Unity, Acceptance, Conquest"
is the maxim used by all conchero groups
 to express the indigenous acceptance
of their conversion to Catholicism
as an outcome of the Spanish Conquest,
while maintaining their indigenous identity.

Barrio Huametla is in the state of
Tlaxcala, not far east of Mexico City.
Santa Cruz Ayotusco
is a pueblo
in the Municipality of Huixquilucan,

in the State of Mexico,
just west of Mexico City.



The "beak" of the headdress is an armadillo skin.

A group of chinelos, the "disguised ones" in Moorish-like dress, who jump and spin,
join the celebration.

Santiagueros, Warriors of St. James
are from Santa Cruz Atoyac.

We have seen them at numerous other fiestas reenacting the battle
between the Spanish Christians
and the Muslim Moors in the Reconquest of Spain,
which became a rehearsal for the Spanish Conquest of the Americas.
For their full performance see: Santa María Tepepan, Xochimilco: Part I - Drama of the Christians vs. the Pagans)

The procession of the saints through Pueblo Santa Cruz Atoyac begins.

Santiago Matamoros, St. James the Moor Killer
The Apostle James the Senior is reputed to have come to the Iberian Peninsula
in the first century CE and preached the Christian Gospel
of Jesus Christ's sacrifice for human salvation,

thus independently founding the Spainish Catholic Church.
Returning to Judea, he was martyred.
In the 9th century, he is believed to have appeared in Spain on a white horse
to lead Spanish Christians to victory in a battle against the Muslim Moors.
He is the patron saint of Spain.
In Mexico, he is also believed to have appeared to help the Spanish
defeat the Mexica/Azteca and their allies.

San Sebastián from Pueblo San Sebastián Xoco (HO-ko),
(Xocotitlan, southwest of Atoyac on the map of the bay above.)

Banners of Pueblo San Simon Ticumac,
originally an island pueblo directly east of Atoyac
Church of St. John the Evangelist,
which is just north of Mixcoac (see below).

 of Pueblo Mixcoac, directly west of Atoyac,

with Image of the Virgin of Candelaria
and Infant Jesus

and Church of S
an Lorenzo Xochimanca
in what is now called Colonia Tlacoquemécatl,

which was actually yet another pueblo just north of Xochimanca. 
Both are just north of and between Mixcoac and Santa Cruz Atoyac.

The honoree of the day.

Pueblos Holding Onto the Survival of their Identity

As we watch this rather small procession, with a few statues of saints and a number of banners representing saints of other pueblos that are neighbors of Santa Cruz Atoyac, all of which we have previously visited, we realize we are watching an assertion of the continuing existence of the identity of virtually every original pueblo now incorporated within the Delegacíon/Alcaldía of Benito Juárez

The delegación is an historical newcomer, created in 1970. It was one of four new delegaciones (boroughs) formed by dividing up what had been the Central Department of the Federal District. The Central Department had, itself, been formed after the Mexican Revolution, in 1928, along with twelve delegaciones to compose the DistrictIn 1941, the Central Department was renamed "Mexico City".

The Central Department/Mexico City and the delegaciones were a synthesis and replacement of a large number of long-standing Spanish-style municipalities, consisting of a cabacera (literally, head town), municipal seat and numerous dependent pueblos that had been subsumed into the Federal District is the mid-1800s. These municipalities, in turn, had been indigenous altepetls (city-states) before the Spanish Conquest. The pueblos represented in today's fiesta were communities subject to one or another of these ancient altepetls. In this long-range historical context, Delegación Benito Juárez is an anomaly. The pueblos are the norm. (See our page: How Mexico City Grew From an Island Into a Metropolis.)

The average chilango (Mexico City resident) thinks of Benito Juárez as a modern, upscale, yuppie part of the city, but these pueblos represent its true origins and they continue to make their ancient presence known. Their manifestation at today's fiesta may be modest, but it says,
"We were here long before not only Delegación Benito Juárez was created, but long before Mexico City came into being with the Spanish Conquest of Tenochtitlán. And we are still here."

Delegación/Alcaldía Benito Juárez (bright yellow)
sits south of Cuauhtémoc, site of Centro Historico,
and north of Coyoacán.

Delegación/Alcaldía Benito Juárez
with its pueblos and colonias.

Santa Cruz Atoyac is the purple area marked with the green/yellow star,
near the southern border of the delegacion.
Delegción Coyoacán is to the south.