Sunday, August 4, 2019

Original Villages | Santa María Magdalena Atlitic, Magdalena Contreras:

We have said previously that one of our goals in exploring Mexico City was to get to every one of its sixteen delegaciones, now called alcaldías (mayoralties, i.e. boroughs). Before this current amble, we had made it to thirteen. With this one, we get to the fourteenth, Magdalena Contreras, which lies on the southwestern side of the City, mostly on the slopes of the Sierra de las Cruces. (See our post: Mexico City's Many Volcanoes: Giants on All Sides.)

It has been a challenge to get to Magdalena Contreras, as no Metro train lines or Metrobuses go there. Public travel is via small jitney buses or "combis", vans holding a dozen people (or more). A taxi was the only way for us to get there, but drivers in our Coyoacán are not familiar with the distant delegación, so we were stumped.

Delegación La Magdalena Contreras
is the blue-green area in the southwest
of Mexico City

Then one day, some time ago, chatting as usual with a taxi driver, we asked where he lived, hoping as always when we ask that it would be somewhere we hadn't been and wanted to go. "Magdalena Contreras," he replied. Excitedly, we told him of our desire to visit one or another pueblo there during a fiesta. He said he would be happy to come to Coyoacán, at least a half-hour drive from the entrance to his delegación, pick us up and take us wherever we wanted to go in the borough, then return us home. His first name was unusual, Venacio.

Not long after, an announcement of a fiesta in the delegación appeared on Facebook and we made the arrangements to go with him. It worked in so far as Venacio got us to the site of the fiesta, a small one. However, the banda didn't show up, so the chinelos who had come to dance couldn´t dance and there wasn't much else to witness or photograph. We called Venacio and he came and took us back to Coyoacán.

This July, our luck changed. One of the patron saint days of the month is for Santa María Magdalena, the supposed prostitute who repented her sins to Jesus and became a loyal follower. There are several pueblos in Mexico City dedicated to her. One happens to be Santa María Magdalena Atlitic in Magdalena Contreras, called simply Pueblo La Magdalena for short. (Curiously, the delegación/alcaldía is named in part after this pueblo and part after a 19th-century cloth factory that used the Río Magdalena that comes tumbling down the mountainside and passes through the pueblo to create electric power with its generators, called dínamos in Spanish.)

So, we made arrangements with Venacio and early on the designated Sunday morning, he arrived as scheduled at our building and we set off to his home territory.

The entrance to the delegación is marked by an arch, as many original pueblos are. Shortly after entering, we begin a gradual climb up the lower slopes of the Sierra de las Cruces. A wide main street runs pretty much straight through various colonias and pueblos. María Magdalena Atlitic lies at the far southern end of the inhabited northern half of the delegación. Just beyond, the mountains rise up steeply, covered with an evergreen forest. They take up the other half of the delegación. As we get closer, we enter typically narrow barrio streets, where two cars can barely squeak by one another.

We come to an intersection where the street ahead is closed for a road race, so we take a roundabout way toward the center of La Magdalena. We are even more glad Venacio knows his way around the area. Soon, he stops his car and points to a stairway going down the side of the hill. He tells us that if we go down these steps, we will find the church at the bottom. He arranges to meet us a few hours later on a street at the far side of the church, which he points out on the map we have brought with us.

We have each other's cell numbers in case we need to change plans. So with his assurance, we get out and start down the stairs, which continue for the length of at least a city block.

Pueblo in the Hills

Stairway leading down to the center of La Magdalena

Arriving at the bottom, we see an archway announcing that we are entering the pueblo. Not far beyond, we can see the creamy yellow spire of the church. Beyond that rises another steep hillside. The center of La Magdalena lies in a narrow ravine, very different from the flat valley floor we are used to in the majority of the City.

As we near the church we find the street full of people. Looking south we see more evergreen-covered hills. We are truly in a town in the midst of the mountains.

The bright sign above the street points the way to Parque de los Dinamos,
Dynamo or Generator Park.
We have read about this park and its wild beauty, which exists within the City's boundaries.
We would very much like to see it.

The Plaza

We discover that the people crowding the small plaza have just watched the end of a road race. Under a tarp covering most of the plaza, prizes are being given out. 

First and third prize winners in the teenage girls group are sisters,
perhaps even identical twins.

Proud older brother


The plaza is surrounded on two sides by a very attractive mercado (indoor market), built of brick and having a portal (por-TAHL) running in front where people can sit and eat meals purchased in the mercado.

Portal in front of the mercado.

Dramatic Mural

Across the plaza from the mercado is a wall bearing a surprise, a very striking mural.

Mural of masks

The mural portrays many figures wearing masks, as well as masks displayed alone. Some are ancient indigenous ones, such as the one at the top, left of center, with large, circular eyes. He is Tlaloc, the god of all waters. The very top, center figure is Huehueteotl, the old god of fire. All are set in and around a lucha libre, free-style wrestling ring, a highly popular professional sport in Mexico. The wrestlers always wear masks in aggressive, devilish styles.

Lucha also means struggle, which is a keyword in all Mexican protests against injustice. The woman dominating the top, center, is gritando, shouting, most likely, "la lucha sigue", "the struggle continues."

At the bottom left, a figure in a suit and tie, wearing a dog mask, holds a banner that says:
"A mask is a bridge that stretches between the spiritual world and the natural world of our daily life. The man who puts on a mask transforms himself, even though it may be temporarily."
This is a succinct description of the archetypical spiritual or religious function of masks in indigenous Mesoamerican culture and many other primal cultures in the world. A tarp covers up the lower right side, so we cannot see if the name or names of the creator of the mural are given. In any case, it is a quintessential combination of the Mexican tradition of mural painting and a primal theme of how humans, through the ritual use of masks, may communicate, or even "temporarily" become one with the gods.

It is so very Mexican to find such a remarkable work, blending the ancient, indigenous world with the modern, via the theme of masks, in a small, working-class pueblo on the fringes of the huge City.

Church of Santa María Magdelena of Atlitic

On the fourth, northern side of the plaza is the Church of Santa María Magdalena of Atlitic, with its walled atrio (atrium) in front. 

Entrance to the church atrio, with a fiesta portada decorating the archway.
It is made with fresh flowers.

Church of Santa María Magdalena of Atlitic.
The diamond pattern on the facade is
mudéjar, Moorish Islamic.

The portada around the church door
is unusual, as it is not made of flowers.
The inscription u
sually thanks
 or asks for the blessing
of the patron saint being honored.

But this one reads,
"The Civic Association of Merchants
of Los Dínamos gives thanks."

The design of the portada is made of seeds, primarily beans of various colors.
Much labor is required to make it, but unlike flowers, it is reusable for many years.

The inside of the church is simple (with some ornate Baroque touches),
reflecting its 16th-century origins.
Bountiful arrangements of flowers, typical of a patron saint fiesta,
cover the side pillars and the altar

Santa María Magdalena sits in the center of the retablo (reredos),
which is a combination of Baroque (wavy columns, cherubs, ornate surfaces)
and Neoclassic (pediment) styles,
indicating it is likely from the mid-18th century
when the transition from one style to the other was occurring. 

We are always awed by the abundance and beauty of the flowers decorating a fiesta, a tradition that goes back to indigenous times, but we are struck here by two unusual arrangements:

A pavo real (literally, royal turkey), i.e., a peacock
whose tail is made of gorgeous 
There is one on each side of the stairs to the altar.

Perhaps, the Tree of Life, from the Garden of Eden?
Inventive and dramatic,
we have never seen anything like it at a fiesta in any
of the many Catholic churches we have visited.

Leaving the church, we notice the patio of the convent next to it.

The convent or monastery, all of stone,
has a simple, solid, somewhat somber but tranquil, meditative feel.

Parque de los Dínamos

While the announcement of the fiesta schedule, which we found on Facebook, says there are to be Azteca dancers at this hour, none are in sight. As nothing else seems to be happening, we decide to walk up the hill leading south toward the Parque de los Dínamos. We don't know how far away it is or how far our old legs will carry us up a moderate incline, but we would love to see the park, so off we go.

About a quarter-mile uphill, we arrive at the end of town. Getting there, we see a large sign, like the one over the street in town, announcing that we are at the entrance to the park.

Welcome to the Park of the Dynamos

At the entrance, the Río Magdalena runs under a bridge on its way downhill and into the City. It is the only remaining river out of many in the Valley of Mexico with portions still open to the sky and undisturbed. In Coyoacán, at its western boundary, there is an open section of the river in a small, street-side park. It continues into los Viveros de Coyoacán, the Coyoacán Nurseries (actually an arboretum). After that, it is entubed, taken underground to join the Río Mixcoac, coming from the west and from Río Churubusco, both rivers now beneath highways bearing their names. 

el Río Magdalena

Walking into the park, we see a large, open, grass-covered field where families are picnicking and kids are kicking soccer balls around. We head across the field in order to see more of the river in the woods on the other side. Partway across the field, we are stopped in our tracks by the view to the south.

Cliffs rise at the top of forested mountains.
And this is in Mexico City!

Awed by what is a wild, hidden valley at the outskirts of the City, we wish we were younger and could go hiking further into the park. But we are the age we are, and we are here for the fiesta, so we continue walking across the field and enter the woods.

el Río Magdalena

el Río Magdalena

Most happy that, by pure chance, we have been able to experience a bit of Parque de los Dínamos, we head back downhill toward the plaza. On the way, we encounter another mural:

The mural summarizes the unique identity of Pueblo Santa María Magdalena Atlitic,
the church and the Río also named after the saint.

¡La Fiesta!

Azteca Danzantes

Arriving back at the plaza, we find that the Azteca danzantes (dancers) have arrived. One group is already dancing in the plaza, but they can't be photographed as they are dancing in relative darkness underneath the tarp. However, entering the atrio, we see that another group has entered the church to venerate the patron saint, a traditional ritual of such groups performed either before or after they dance.

The dancers have brought with them a large cross decorated with a 'V' shaped cloth.

Outside, in the atrio, they begin their dance, circling around the cross.

This centering of their dance around a cross is also a tradition of some other conchero or Azteca dance groups. We witnessed an elaborate and dramatic enactment of this ritual, centered on three such crosses, last fall at the fiesta for San Francisco in the Quadrante de San Francisco in Coyoacán.

It is called La Danza de la Conquista. Its meaning is expressed in a saying, often displayed on the groups' standards, "Conquista, Conformidad y Unión, (Conquest, Concord, Union).

This motto and the dance embody the means by which some groups of indigenous people came to terms with the Spanish Conquest and their required conversion to Catholic Christianity. They embraced the new faith as their own on the condition that their indigenous traditions, specifically their dances, be incorporated into the rituals of that faith.

The Franciscan monks and those of other orders saw the wisdom of permitting and supporting such syncretism. La Danza de la Conquista is the result. The tradition began in the 1530s in outlying provinces of Nueva España. It did not become present in the capital City of Mexico until after the Mexican Revolution (1910-17) when government efforts to forge a national Mexican identity turned to recognizing the people's indigenous heritage as a foundation for that identity. (See our post: Traditional Indigenous Dancers: Concheros y Danzantes Azteca.)

La Danza de la Conquista
These dancers are known as concheros because of the stringed instruments,
introduced by European monks, that they play.
They have a concho, skin of an armadillo, on the back, marking their indigenous adoption.
(See the instrument on the right.)

This group is from
the Corporation of Concheros of Mexico,
Founded Feb. 25, 1922,
in the decade
when other "corporations of concheros"
were also founded in the City.

Their symbol is
the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The top left and top right dancers are Eagle Warriors.
The second from right is a Jaguar Warrior.
These were the two elite groups of Mexica/Azteca warriors.

Outside the atrio, in the street, another group of dancers is engaged in their ritual dance. They are not concheros, but Azteca dancers, for they do not play any European-derivative stringed instruments, using only indigenous drums and rattles. 

The Danza Azteca
of Magdalena Contreras.
Founded by Juan and Gregorio
This is a replacement standard,
inaugurated Apr. 9, 2009,
donated by the Mandujano Family.

The standard of this group reminds us that Conchero and Azteca dance "corporations" are traditionally composed of a number of families from the same pueblo who pass their heritage and leadership structure down through successive generations. This was confirmed for us by the answer one dancer gives us today when, during a break, we asked him, "Why do you dance?" "It is the tradition of my family," he replied. 

At another fiesta, an elder conchero told us, with obvious pride, that he was the fifth generation of his family to dance (thus encompassing one hundred years) and that his son and grandson were also dancers. This also explains the presence of all generations in the dance, from seniors, through middle-aged and young adults to adolescents and children. All tradition lives via this continuity across generations.

This one has lived for a century in Mexico City, nearly five centuries in the country and still going strong. Either time span is only a small portion of the forty or more centuries of civilized indigenous culture in this land, but they are nonetheless significant spans.

The Procession of Visiting Pueblos

At nine AM this morning, the time that we arrived, a procession was forming on a street corner a few  blocks north of the church. It was a coming together of representatives of various other pueblos, each with a statue of their patron saint or a standard with the saint's representation, to be greeted by representatives of La Magdalena. Such attendance by other pueblos and their procession to the host church is another strong tradition of patron saint fiestas. We thought of going to find it, but arriving at the top of the staircase and seeing that the street to the north went uphill, we decided against that and headed south, down the stairs to the church. 

The procession wound its way through the streets of the pueblo for three hours and was scheduled to arrive at the church in time for the main celebratory Mass scheduled for 12:15. So we figured we would meet it on the street leading to the church. Thus, shortly before noon, we leave the danzantes and head back up the southbound street we had taken earlier to Parque de los Dínamos

We have a while to wait, but find a shady spot next to a typical tiendita, a little shop open to the street as an extension of its operator's house. A middle-aged woman and her middle-school-aged son are selling simple jewelry and related items for women to passersby. We introduce ourselves and our purpose in being here. We tell her we need to sit down to rest and start to sit on the curb. She immediately takes out from under her table the standard plastic stool and muy amablemente (very considerately) offers it to us. We thank her in full Mexican style for her generosity and sit down to wait for the procession.

Chinelos lead

After some minutes pass, we hear the sound of cohetes (rocket-style firecrackers) that always announce the approach of a procession getting closer and closer. Soon, around a corner come the leaders of the procession. They are, as is typically the case, a comparsa (troupe) of chinelos, dancers "disguised" (as their name means in Nahuatl) in elaborate Moorish-style headdresses and long, usually velvet robes. 

They are the Group of Wolves
of  San Francisco.
(St. Francis is reputed to have tamed a
marauding wolf into a protective canine.)

The chinelos jump and twirl.

The wolves of San Francisco

Pueblos and Their Saints

Then comes the procession of the saints.
The hostess, Santa María Magdalena, leads

Santa María Magdalena

San Pedro, St. Peter, the first pope, follows.
He is likely from a Colonia named after him in
Delegación/Alcaldía Tlalpan.

The standards of many other pueblos and their saints follow.
They are from Magdalena Contreras, Tlalpan and Álvaro Obregón.

Here two Virgins of Guadalupe,
which every pueblo has and honors.

The all-essential banda follows the pueblos,
keeping the rhythm of the procession moving.


Bringing up the rear of the procession, still lively after three hours of marching, is a comparsa of caporales, cowboys and girls, in their "Western" dress. 

Comparsa of the Friends

They have the moves,
even the littlest guy.


It has been quite a day, quite a fiesta. We are pleased with ourselves that we have finally made it to Magdalena Contreras, our fourteenth delegación/alcaldía. It has taken us three years, but now we have only two more to attain, Azcapotzalco and Cuahjimalpa.

For today we visited a pueblo in the far reaches of the city, huddled at the entrance to a spectacular valley surrounded by forest-covered hills, seemingly impossible to believe it is part of the city. We have visited the Parque de los Dínamos and seen the Río Magdalena flowing freely through the forests that cover the mountainsides. And we have enjoyed a fiesta full of Conchero and Azteca dancers with their brilliant headdresses, chinelos in their colorful robes, the banners of numerous pueblos and cowboy and cowgirl caporales. Oh, and we caught the end of a road race. Yes, it has been quite a day. 

We meet up with Venacio at our agreed upon place behind the church and he carries us, tired but happy, back to Coyoacán, chatting with us all the way and offering to bring us back to Magdalena Contreras anytime we may wish. Arriving home, we thank him profusely for making this trip possible and bid him hasta luego, until the next time.

Northen end of Delegación/Alcaldía Magdalena Contreras
with its Pueblos and Colonias.

Pueblo Santa María Magdalena Atlitic
aka "La Magdalena"
is marked by red/yellow star
Parque de los Dínamos
is immediately southwest of it.

No comments:

Post a Comment