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The Holy Family in San Miguel

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by Joseph Toone

A hop, skip and a jump from the Fabrica Aurora is the chapel to Saint Joseph in colonia Obraje featuring one of our more notable pieces of local art.  The painting features the Holy Family (Mary, St. Joseph and baby Jesus) being led by a child aged St. John the Baptist.  The painting is displayed throughout the chapel and in many local processions and celebrations.

In art, Saint John the Baptist is frequented seen visiting Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, but it is normally just that, a visit.  This theme has been produced by artists since the 1500s including Caravaggio and Michelangelo.

What makes our painting unique is Saint John the Baptist is leading the Holy Family to points unknown.  The only other image I could find of St. John leading his cousin’s family was a 1650 image by Pierre Mignard.

Our image is more primitive than those Renaissance masters featuring several oddities that only add to the appeal, like….

  • The feet are huge and grossly out of perspective to the rest of the body.
  • The animal carrying Jesus is an odd mix of a lamb’s head, a goat’s body and a horse’s tail.
  • Mary and Joseph, instead of displaying their customary tenderness and warmth, appear to be anxious.  They look not at each other but around them anticipating not the potential of a savior but a premonition of the trials and tribulations to come.
  • The background landscape featuring no shadowing or perspective.  Saint John is heading towards water (where he did his namesake baptisms) but the dam in the background clearly symbolizes the one located today on the border of the pool at the Live Aqua hotel.

At first I thought the damn was the base of a pyramid showing how Jesus leads the viewer in between the Mesoamerican world and Spanish one (represented by the hacienda walls).  On closer examination, it isn’t a pyramid base but what appears to be the dam, still functioning protecting the pool from, uh, excess water.

I’m not sure what the hacienda walls are referring to specifically.  A local art restorer though it was part of the chapel of St. Joseph.  However, being built upon one of the Mesoamerican step pyramids that laced the area, the chapel is easily recognized visually for the terraces leading up.

In case you were wondering, St. John the Baptist in art is always wearing what appears to be a costume from the set of the Flintstones.  He liked a natural lifestyle and was known for his remarkable hair.  (Unlike Jesus sporting what appears to be a Mad Man era cut.)

More unusual is a young, not elderly, Joseph.  In his signature green and yellow he carries the lily, a symbol of Mary normally found alongside him.

I’ve never seen a signature on the painting which is normal.  An indigenous artist was not allowed to sign their work as that was an act of vanity.  The painting appears along the aesthetic lines of a retablo.

A few years back I received a collection box with this image that was once used by the chapel during St. Joseph’s day festivities.  It started my fascination to an image of a toddler St. John the Baptist leading a baby Jesus and adult Mary and Joseph to the nearby damn.

When my Baptist minister brother named his firstborn for my rabidly Catholic father, John, my Dad simply always referred to his namesake grandson as John the Baptist.

Joseph Toone

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed hereby are those of the author and not necessarily those of the San Miguel Times.

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