Early Celtic Saint Rests in the Oratorio
Columbanus was an early (543 to 615) Irish missionary notable for founding a number of monasteries in France and Italy. Columbanus was a ruggedly handsome man known for his love of the open road (hence all the missionary work) which later earned him the patron of motorcyclists.
He also enjoyed spending times with animals, particularly birds and bears which he is normally pictured alongside in art.
In the Oratorio’s chapel of the house of Lareto is a wax effigy of Saint Columbanus containing some of his relics. However, many believe it to be his actual corpse, or at least, portions of his incorruptible body encased in wax. He is particularly venerated on Day of the Dead receiving many offerings of food and flowers.
But why is the wax effigy of an early Celtic missionary noted for his work in France and Italy here in San Miguel anyway?
Dr. Juan Benito Diez de Gamarra y Davalos was a noted philosopher influential in the concept of an independent Mexico. In 1767 the doctor traveled from Mexico to the Vatican and met the Pope. At the time, Europeans often considered people from the Americas to be silly fools. The doctor played to this stereotype when meeting the Pope, requesting he be able to return to Mexico with the remains of five martyrs. The Pope was aghast at his audacity and granted him the ability to return solely with St. Columbanus.
When later asked about his impertinence, the doctor joked “I knew if I asked for one martyr I would be lucky to bring back an arm, so I asked for five in hopes of receiving one.”
That one now rests in the Oratorio.