Racial Equality by the Door
Immediately following Days of the Dead is one of town’s most visually seen saint’s day. But like St. Jude’s big day just before Day of the Dead, St. Martin’s day bookends all the celebrations and let’s face facts, bringing out the dead is exhausting. Consequently, St. Martin’s day on the third of November is largely ignored.
Born in Lima in 1579 Martin was the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman, Don Juan de Porres, and Ana Velázquez, a freed slave of African and/or possibly indigenous descent, hence Martin’s dark skin tone. Abandoned by his father, Martin grew up in poverty.
By law in Peru, descendants of Africans or the indigenous were barred from becoming full members of religious orders. The only route open to Martin was to ask the Dominicans in Lima to accept him as a volunteer who performed menial tasks in the monastery in return for the privilege of wearing the habit and living with the religious community.
Following many years as a servant responsible for opening the door to the church to let others in, the Dominicans dropped their racial rules and allowed him into their order where he served as a priest/nurse practicing indigenous herbal medicine.
Martin de Porres is depicted in art as a young dark skinned man often shown with a dog, a cat and a mouse eating in peace from the same dish. As with many saints, Martin was known for his abilities to communicate with animals and getting avowed enemies to get along harmoniously in his company.
Martin became the patron saint of Mexico, mixed-race people (which Mexicans largely by mixing the indigenous and Europeans) and all those seeking interracial harmony. Near most every church entrance in town is a statue of St. Martin de Porres to remind us holding open the door was his job and no task is too lowly.