Saturday, March 24, 2007


Sources give different dates for the beginning of construction on the Cathedral of Morelia. The sign in front says it began in 1600; others report the date around the mid-1600s. None of them have disputed that the baroque-style structure was designed by Vicente Barroso de la Escayola and that construction was completed in 1744.

The facade is a pleasant, not over-zealous, array of columns with scrolled capitals (tops of columns) and acanthus leaves. The sculpting of the Transfiguration of Christ shows an older, more solemn Christ than those I have seen in other Mexican cathedrals.
He opens his arms to the world as he ascends into the Heavens. The stone around him comes alive with tiny angels in flight. Sculptures of the Magi and the Shepherds stand in silent respect of the image.

A few parishioners move out of the carved wooden doors; smooth pink stone rushes up through the three levels of the facade past the weathered white images of Sts. Mark, Luke, Matthew and John that stare across Madero toward the Portales - arches that line the streets and broad walkways.

I cross busy Avenida Madero; just outside the cathedral's doors sits a woman holding a sweater over her face as she holds out a cup for change. I enter the cathedral where there are polished wooden benches filled with parishioners beneath a high ribbed ceiling with gold floral designs. They've come from throughout the city; men in plaid shirts, women in shawls with purses draped over shoulders.

There is a soft echo through the cavernous structure as the priest celebrates Mass. Vaults high above show panels of geometric designs and floral patterns in subtle colors of red and sky blue. Chandeliers help balance the overpowering height of the ceiling.

The central vault has a stained glass window with a picture of Christ ascending into the clouds, strong swirling lines creating a sense of movement.

There is movement down below, too. A young man with a daypack kneels and crosses himself, a cough breaks the stillness, a door booms as it closes. Mass is suddenly finished, and everyone pours into the streets.

I move forward, past chapels with gilded altars and deep red gladioluses and candles, painting of the Virgin, brass crucifixes. At the end of the aisle, there's an image of a dark-skinned Christ, arms stretched across a crucifix, wrapped in a purple loin cloth, and gold and brass stylized trees at the foot of the cross.Drawn in by the feeling of antiquity here, I think I'd like to know more about the history of Morelia; I leave the cathedral and head across Plaza Benito Juarez on the west side of the cathedral.

Plaza Presidente Juarez is a pleasant park with manicured ficus trees, towering feathery-leafed jacaranda trees and poinciana trees with bright orange blossoms. Couples stroll along broad walkways past sparkling fountains, a gazebo, a man in a wheelchair operating a newsstand. Others sit on stone benches. Trolley buses wait for their next load of tourists while teenagers in gray school uniforms and backpacks cross the plaza.

Two old Indian women with heavy square faces walk by, both carrying heavy loads wrapped in large dark blue rebozo shawls with yellow stripes. One stops while the other adjusts her load, then they both walk on. I continue toward the Museo Regional Michoacana.

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