Today a pal contacted me to find out what all the early morning fireworks were about. She assumed that I had the San Miguel Eight Ball that could answer all her questions. Oddly enough, sometimes I do. Today’s pre-dawn fireworks were in honor of St. Joseph whose local chapel, St. Joseph of the Mountain, was celebrating being here for 225 years.
Back in 1793 when the chapel was built the Inquisition was in full swing and freedom from Spain was still in the future. Then the area that is now next to Balcones was considered a remote mountain top overlooking town. The indigenous believed every mountain had its own deity, so building a chapel on one for the most powerful saint and a patron to the town of San Miguel was natural. Back then the area looked like the Botanical Gardens do today with a wide variety of cactus and little else.
The chapel was built on the Silver Route
, the major North-South trail in the Americas taking the silver to Spain and bringing back religious art, letters from Europe and luxuries like cast iron beds. The wagon trains would stop at the chapel to Saint Joseph and pray for a successful voyage to Alcocer
(behind today’s mall). In Alcocer
mules were traded out at the local hacienda before the caravan continued on towards Mexico City.
2018, locally, has been a good year for St. Joseph, the only saint revered enough to warrant two feast days. His first was back on March 19. When I went to mass that night at the church to St. Francis I was blinded by the light. It took me a bit to realize that all the chandeliers had been cleaned for the upcoming Holy Week. Removing a year’s worth of dust and candle smoke had made the church glaringly bright.
The church was packed as, to this day, many baby boys are traditionally named Jose (Joseph). They often go by their middle names, or the nickname, Pepe. Pepe is an abbreviation for the two words in Spanish for adopted father, which is what St. Joseph was for Jesus.
Jose is also the name for the local rag doll the indigenous have made for centuries to pair alongside the Mexican Maria (Mary) dolls
The following week the chapel in Obraje had their St. Joseph celebrations, leading a procession towards where the new hotel is being built. Back before the chapel to St. Joseph on the Mountain was built, this was where the big celebration to St. Joseph was. Then, the street featured folks from the countryside carrying St. Joseph statues from their local chapel’s nativity, all come to enjoy days of storytelling and dance. Back then, for athletic fun, chickens were buried up to their necks in the street and riders on horseback would gallop by and try to scoop them up. Back then, the chapel, on the zig-zag corner by the bridge, featured a hand-carved statue of St. Joseph that was the center of festivities. It was destroyed during the 1920’s Catholic war.
Instead of chickens and storytelling today’s processions feature indigenous dancing, mojigangas (large paper-mache puppets), music and many locos.
Be ready for the next big celebration for St. Joseph on May 1. Being the patron of laborers, this his second feast day became the international date of Labor Day. This is when I like to celebrate my feast day. (When I was a child I thought it was called a feast day as it was only day I could pick anything I wanted for dinner.) Folks here have the day off work and are right ready to both dance and eat too much. Either off which on the original Christmas Eve St. Joseph would have enjoyed more than looking for a room at an inn.
By Joseph (not the saint) Toone.