Peter Near and Far

Peter Near and Far

Just beyond La Comer, alongside the lake, lies the community of Don Diego, home of the largest new construction church project in San Miguel de Allende. The church, dedicated to Saint Peter features several bovada ceilings and a panoramic view of the lake. The church is funded and built entirely by local volunteers on their days off work from other construction projects in San Miguel.

When I first stumbled upon the church I was confused as to why the images of St. Peter didn’t feature his telltale keys to Heaven in his role of bouncer to the afterlife. In fact, St. Peter was dressed as a Franciscan, a clothing fashion popular long after apostle Peter’s time on Earth.

I learned that the statue, one of the sources of my confusion, was for another St. Peter, a Spaniard from the Canary Islands from the mid-1600s, whose connection to present day San Miguel escaped me. I then forgot about him until a recent foray to Antigua, Guatemala.

There I again stumbled across St. Peter, who was in fact a former inhabitant of Antigua. I came to understand there in Guatemala the respect this St. Peter commands here in San Miguel.

Peter started life as a poor child caring for a handful of sheep. Seeing his older brother escape to the Americas he decided to follow suit. Despite not having acquired the proper immigration paperwork, through pure grit, he got himself to the then capital of New Spain, Antigua. Immigration, it seems, has always been a sticky wicket issue. Years later Peter tried to return to the Canary Islands, but couldn’t. Still lacking the proper paperwork he stayed in Antigua for good.

In his mid-20s he decided to study to be a priest, but couldn’t pass the required Latin exams. (My father referred to today’s Anglican priests as “Catholic priests who couldn’t pass their Latin.”) Instead Peter joined the Third Order. Like the same named church next to St. Francis’ temple here in San Miguel, the Third Order was normally for wealthy Spanish lads that didn’t want to actually be clergy, but enjoyed the clerical fashions. They exercised their penchant for good deeds while maintaining a civilian lifestyle.

As a Third Order lad Peter build a hospital for the indigenous and introduced the practice of Christmas posadas, live action tellings of the Christmas story by children, to the Americas. Peter devoted his life to helping the marginalized indigenous, becoming known as an early advocate of Human Rights comparable to the modern St. Teresa of Calcutta, who also served the most vulnerable and needy. He is known today as St. Francis of Assisi of the Americas.

St. Peter’s presence is felt all over Antigua but nowhere more vibrant than in the Hall of Miracles. Milagros(literally “miracles”) are attached to San Miguel images of saints and Virgins to thank them for their intercession with health, work and for a variety of other reasons. In San Miguel they are small tin images or photos of the person helped. In Antigua there is a long hallway filled with milargos in the form of retablos(paintings depicting miracles), abandoned crutches, countless photos and flowers. I was so overwhelmed by both the present day and centuries old acts of appreciation in this ancient hallway that I wanted to lie down there and nap if only to absorb energy. (But then, like a cat, I enjoy naps most anywhere.)

For a saint from four centuries ago Antigua Peter has an immense collection of relics. These include some of the clothing he wore, right down to his underwear. If I ever did have to go back in time it was a note to self to pack boxer briefs as Peter’s tightie whities were made from fisherman’s net rope and leather making them both ugly and uncomfortable. Why he didn’t go commando baffles me.

He was the first saint of Central America. Combining that with his tireless work to enhance the lives of the indigenous I totally understood why this large new church in San Miguel was being created by all volunteer labor in his honor.

In Antigua, I took my stockpile of rosaries, to be given to my students here at the Senior Center and Escobedo, so that they could be blessed by the relics of St. Peter. I asked the Franciscan monk, who was facilitating this blessing, what St. Peter’s specialties were. (Most saints have an area of expertise, like St. Jude and lost causes or St. Lucy and vision.) The monk looked at me like the idiot foreigner that I am and stated simply, “Have you not been down the Hall of Miracles? St. Peter can do anything for you!”