Letters from Mexico
October 2, 2023
Religious Icons: Part One
Catholicism is the major religion south of the US border. But it is different here. Within a ten- minute, three-block radius from where I live, in Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico, there are many altars, along with a church and a chapel that show this difference. Join me by looking at the photos and video I took while walking around.
All of the photos and the video were shot and edited by me in Tepotzlán.
Please note that I am not a Catholic, or even a religious person. I have opinions that may not be the same as yours. My wish is that you can consider my ideas, even if you disagree.
In Mexico, pagan elements merged with the Christian ones imported by the Spanish. This is demonstrated by the placement and style of the icons. The cross, besides being the framework where Jesus was crucified, is also the astrological symbol of the earth and it signifies the four directions by its geometry.
There are four water taps on my hilly street, delivering potable water directly from a spring in the mountains. You can read about it in this article under the subheading Water. All are ceramic structures with sculptures of frogs on top. I am not sure what the meaning of frogs is, but I am sure it has roots in indigenous religious beliefs.
Below are images of two of these taps. The collection on the right, in addition to a water tap, contains an altar with a frog on top. It is on a street corner (a cross), as are most altars.
Left: Frog on a water tap and frog close-up. Right: Another water tap with a frog on top, but this one incorporates an altar.
Altars at Barrancas
A barranca is a ravine where water flows during the rainy season. Otherwise it is an arroyo, or dry stream. Where walkways have a bridge that crosses the barranca there are often altars, this layout being another cross duplicating the cross carrying Jesus. First, we'll take a look at a video showing two different barrancas. Then there are images showing the altars near them.
Altars at barrancas: Four images are of one altar, and three are of another.
The images below show the views from opposite sides of the bridge of one of the barrancas.
And in these images you can see an altar right on top of a water flow. It is at the corner of a T street intersection.
Top right: An altar above a water flow. Beneath that image is the opening with water, and to the left is a close-up of the icon.
First shown is an altar on top of a rock upon which a house is built. A close-up of that is the lead photo to this article. And there is another altar at the bottom of the long steep hill where I live. Included is an iconic tiled painting above a gate to a property at a three-way street intersection.
Church and Chapel
Every neighborhood (barrio) has its own church, with special celebrations for that locale only held twice a year. On the left are images of our church in Barrio Santo Domingo, and to the right is a small chapel across the street from it.
Left: Santo Domingo Chruch. Right: A small chapel, gate and close-up.
I hope you've enjoyed my neighborhood photo jaunt highlighting religious icons.
What did you think about my ideas of placement near water and crossroads?
Soon I'll write another article, "Religious Icons: Part Two," featuring the churches of different barrios in Tepoztlán.
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Don, I found the walk through your barrio interesting as you described the altars and images along the way. One thing I noticed is that you didn't mention the images of the Virgin of Guadalupe in many of your pictures. An explanation of what she represents would have added to the walk.--Anonymous
Glad you found the article interesting. In "Religous Icons-Part Two," I will discuss the Virgin of Guadalupe, as per your suggestion. Thanks! I'll also try to find out about the significance of the frogs that appeared often. Stay tuned!--Don
Beautiful. You are honoring Tepoztlan, you are a worthy resident.--Leonore Alaniz
The virgin Mary.... connected to former deities or/and objects of worship makes sense...following a tradition.--Maria Espinosa
Yes, Maria, and I intend to follow up on this theme when I write part two.--Don