Laura Paz reports for Pagina Siete:
The Lord of the True Cross, the image appeared in 1550. Photos Laura Paz Leaño España
The image is cataloged as the oldest of the Catholic Church in Bolivia and the second in Latin America. Appeared in 1550, in the convent of San Francisco de Asís.
The testimonies of the miracles of our Lord of the True Cross are stories that take us to the past. By the year 1749, Potosí was plagued by a plague with which the inhabitants, infected, the strongest, barely came to live 24 hours; while the weakest could not bear even three hours with the illness. It is said that the plague swelled the feet and stomach, even cause death. Given the large number of deaths, many thought of leaving Potosí, bound for Chuquisaca, but no one could leave the city, since at the slightest attempt to move began to feel pain. Then people began to think that it was a divine punishment.
No medical aid was worth, nor how much medicine was found or prepared. It is said that the plague stopped only when the Potosians recognized that it is a divine punishment.
A pilgrimage was organized through the streets of the city. There were more than 5,000 Indians ahead, formed in two rows: some carried very heavy crosses on their shoulders, others dragged large trunks tied to their bare feet. They were followed by others who were whipping their chest and back with strings that ended in nails or iron points and who were tied by their arms to a heavy log that they carried on the back of the neck.
Silver arches at the entrance to the temple of San Francisco.
They were followed behind by 2,000 Spaniards, in two rows as well, with bare feet and hands tied behind and their heads covered with ashes. In the middle walked about 500 Spaniards who self “disciplined”. They were followed by the community of the Franciscan Fathers and other religious of the orders that lived in Potosí, all with lighted candles. They accompanied the Lord of the True Cross, who again looked at his children with eyes of mercy. It was the only way to stop the plague that overwhelmed the Imperial Villa, say the testimonies that were recorded in the Potosí of the eighteenth century.
Another testimony tells that by the year 1805, a terrible drought punished Potosí. The calamity could only be remedied when the Lord of the True Cross was taken out in procession. He brought relief, listening to the clamor of the people, and as soon as he returned to his temple, an abundant rain began to fall, thus saving his believing people.
In 1870 the miraculous image again took to the streets to save the town from the flood, when the troops of Melgarejo opened the floodgates of one of the lagoons, in the midst of a great despair of the people.
In Potosí it is also said that between 1879 and 1932 (wars of the Pacific and Chaco), “when the injustice and ambition of neighboring nations forced the country to be engulfed in flames of war, the Lord of the True Cross saved many lives, healing serious wounded and restoring several soldiers, and other suffering prisoners, who were not known if they were still alive or dead.
Many families implored clemency to the Lord of the True Cross with tears of pain, wanting to know what happened to those who were crying. The Lord restored the tranquility and happiness when their relatives returned to their homes.
How many stories, legends and myths were woven in the course of time about our Christ, the patron of Potosí, whose image came 468 years ago.
The altar where the Lord of the True Cross is found
Arrival with the Spanish
The first religious images arrive in this part of the world with the Spanish conquerors and they are believed to possess miracles and powers. Although they do not always have artistic value, they have a historical testimonial value. These images are a symbol of spirituality and, therefore, an object of veneration, which has allowed their survival in the course of national history. Artisan workshops produced a variety of images, mostly from anonymous authors.
To understand the magnitude of the meaning of such a great sculpture as the Lord of the True Cross, we have to understand the origin of colonial art, faith and, above all, the religious devotion of the colonial era in Potosí. That is why colonial art, also called mestizo art, was developed in America during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
During this period, the territory of the new continent was divided into dependent colonies of the Spanish Empire, which allowed the passage of Baroque art from Spain to the New World. Colonial art flourished under the influence of baroque and Catholic ideas.
The presence of the Church
The Catholic Church was interested in showing the colonies their power and grandeur; That is why art played a decisive role in spreading religious ideas, while at the same time serving to combat the beliefs and practices of indigenous religions.
Colonial art covered several fields: architecture, painting, imagery, altarpieces, silverware, wrought iron, among others, but sculpture is the art that best represents that period. When we talk about sculpture, we do not speak only of wood carving; there are also works in ivory and stucco images.
Since the first Spaniards who entered America brought images and crucifixes, these would be models to be imitated by the first local sculptors, in colonial urban centers.
The great majority of colonial sculpture in Spanish America was linked to religious history. In order to give them more realism, and following the tradition of Spanish imagery, the images were adorned with wigs, tailored suits, jewelry and other accessories.
The altar of the temple of San Francisco that keeps the image.
The oldest image
There is no doubt that an example of the maximum expression of sculpture and colonial art of the sixteenth century to this day is our Lord of the True Cross. The sculpture, which is cataloged as the oldest of the Catholic Church in Bolivia and the second in Latin America, appeared one night in 1550 at the doors of the convent of the sons of the seraphic San Francisco de Asis, in Potosí.
Many versions surround the mystery of how and why this image appeared in the Imperial Villa, what was the message that brought us in an era full of abuse and indignation. Perhaps it could be the call of those men who needed a consolation to understand why the lack of freedom in their own lands and why the men who came, accompanied by horses and weapons were thirsty for blood.
It is difficult to understand that an image carved in maguey wood, which ironically is also known as “the tree of wonders”, would have served as an object to carve such work, which would last until our days.
To think that even the most expert friars could not arm the Christ they found in a cedar wood box in the shape of a cross, nor the most prestigious carvers and sculptures could understand which celestial hands could carve with such perfection the image of our crucified Christ.
Until one day two men appeared at the doors of the convent who offered to put Christ on the cross and all they asked was not to be disturbed.
At the end of the second day, when the friars were preparing to feed these two men, they realized that there was no one in the room, but the surprise was great when they saw the Christ already placed on the cross, waiting to take his place in the temple, in which he would be venerated. At that time, the friars thought “those were not men, they were angels in disguise”.
Formerly it was the custom to take the image in procession, every year, every Holy Friday.
The religious combed and fixed his hair and beard. The hair that remained in the comb was distributed as relics for those who deserved it. What most surprised the friars was the fact that the hair never diminished; On the contrary, it grew again.
Laura Paz Leaño is a member of the Society of Historical Research of Potosí (SIHP)
The medal that commemorates the appearance of the image.
The image of the Lord of the True Cross is the bearer of a discourse, it is a privileged means to understand what happened in the time of the Colony. What matters in the image is not the matter but what is added to it. I refer to the devotion of believers that prevails after 468 years. He sweat four times to announce that something bad would happen in the Imperial Villa:
The first time, in 1580, when with the abundance of wealth of Potosí also innumerable sins would come; the second, in 1624, shortly before fighting the fateful civil wars of the vicuñas; the third was, in 1626, eight days before the lagoon of San Idelfonso overflowed. The fourth and last occasion on which the Christ sweated was in the year 1672. Fray Dionisio de Aramayo describes the fact: “With great astonishment for the sons of the seraphic who live in the convent of San Francisco, we notice that the Christ began to sweating from twelve o’clock in the day until after five o’clock, leaving the hair stuck to his most holy head since then. They were born gray, with admiration and testimony of venerable priests who saw and felt, I declare that I took with my own hands two gray hairs from his most sacred face”.
The true cross where Jesus died
The Vera Cross or “true cross” is considered the most holy of the Christian relics and is considered the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Tells the story that was discovered by the Empress Flavia Julia Helena Augusta, wife of Emperor Constantius I and mother of Constantine the Great.
In an excavation supervised by Helena, which took place in the fourth century AD, on September 14, three crosses and three nails were found, hidden in an old cistern.
It is assumed that these pieces corresponded to the crosses in which Christ and the two thieves died. This event is known as the invention of the Cross and refers to the discovery of these remains. In 1950, the appearance of the Lord of the True Cross of Potosí was commemorated with a medal.
The piece was worked in the minting section of the National Currency House. The engraving was made by the artist Agustín Giráldez.
Declared Patron of the Imperial Villa
The declaration of Patron of the Imperial Villa was given in the Town Hall of the city of Potosí on March 26, 1973.
The act concentrated the main administrative political authorities, ecclesiastical, military, political, judicial, educational, cultural personalities and the Catholic citizenship of the Imperial Village.
The prefect of the then department, General René Gonzales Torres, participated in the act; the bishop of the Diocese of Potosí, Monsignor Bernardino L. Fey; the president of the Superior Court of the Judicial District of Potosí, René Berindoague, and the president of the Geographic Society and Potosí History, Armando Alba Zambrana.