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Galloping Out of Town

by sanmigueltimes
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Expect an influx of camera carrying cowboys and cowgirls passing through town on their horses on November 7th and 8th.  Chances are, they were going to a festival for Saint Martin or San Martin Caballero (cowboy) as he is known locally.

Several thousand cowboy pilgrims travel from all over Guanajuato to congregate for a mass on their horses in the ranch area of St. Martin about 30 miles from San Miguel de Allende on the way to Guanajuato.  In honor of Saint Martin, the horses receive special blessings following their long ride.

St. Martin was born in the early 300s, the later part of the Roman Empire, and served in the army.  One day, while riding his horse, he chanced upon a nude beggar and cut his cloak in half to give the poor man a covering.  He had to cut the cape in half because he was required to return to his unit with his uniform and God doesn’t ask for more from you than you can do. That night Martin had a dream in which the beggar appeared to him as Jesus, so he quit the army and became clergy. Saint Martin is now the patron saint of those who hope strangers will aid them, and folks on horses.

In art, Saint Martin is pictured cutting his red cloak in half while on a horse and a nude man is on the ground receiving the cloak.  You can find this image on candles throughout town in many shops, whose owners invoke Saint Martin since they rely on the kindness of passing strangers buying chips or sodas for their livelihood.

When St. Martin died, the remaining half of his cape (that he kept) was considered miraculous.  A small church was built to house the cape and the Italian word for cape became the origin for the word ‘chapel’.

The popular amulet for Saint Martin here is a horseshoe, though unlike the Irish custom of keeping the ends upright, St. Martin’s horseshoes are hung with the ends pointing down to provide money or business luck.

Pilgrim cowboys flock to what is normally not even large enough to qualify as a one horse town.  Here the number of vendors dwarf our Tuesday Market specializing in ceramics, clothing, religious art and crockery.  Alongside vendors are mechanical rides and a seemingly endless procession of horses for days leading up to Martin’s November 11th feast day.

Judging by the number of tour buses supplying vast crowds alongside a stream of horses, I’d hate to be on clean up duty/doody.

Altars feature lovely appreciation to St. Martin including retablos (paintings featuring a miracle attributed to Martin), milagaros, some great head shots and even human hair.

At a young age my daughter was fascinated by all things horse until I sent her to Girl Scout Horse Camp. She came home claiming all horses do is pooh and need combed so she’d stick to the plastic versions of which many were available for purchase.

It reminded me that nearly the best gift I ever got my kids were stick horses.  Long after the horse phase they used them to be rafters in blanket forts and later really long Harry Potter wands.

The bottom line is everybody ponders the possibility of growing up to be a cowboy, especially on the feast day of cowboys, St. Martin.

by Joseph Toone

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