Catholic Iconography

19 Jun

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. — Karl Mark (yes, this comes right before the “opiate of the masses quote”)

2 things captured my attention at the Frida Kahlo museum and I thought I would share them as they might interest other people as well:

1) (Ex-voto) Retablos:

The tragedy here is a horse falling over clearly

The original retablo (the Spanish meaning) is the picture behind an altar (think the big pictures of the Virgin Mary or a scene from the Bible that you see in cathedrals). However, the Latin American term “retablo” refers to a small devotional painting that uses Catholic iconography. They usually depict the story that led to their comission and thus include: a scene of tragedy, illness or injury; a saint or martyr who intervenes and an inscription that describes what happened and giving thanks for the intervention. Frida & Diego Rivera collected retablos and they are on display at the Casa Azul. They have lots of them and they break them into different categories like illness, lost animals, prayers to the 3 wisemen, etc. I thought it was really neat to see them and read the stories. If I had any artistic talent I would definitely go into making retablos as a devotional practice.

Retablo de Frida (it depics the accident that she had as a young girl)

2) El sagrado corazon (the sacred heart)

The sacred heart is an image that appears a lot in Catholicism and we saw it both in the cathedral in Coyacan and in the retablos. No one is quite sure of its origin even though its a popular symbol: some say it came from France, some say Spain and some even say its related to the Aztec sacrifices. The sword through the heart is supposed to represent the sorrows of the Virgin Mary. There are many other variations with fire, crowns, swords, and flowers. I don’t know why I am drawn to the image so much. There is something about the combination of a heart which is usually associated with beauty, as well as the pain of the sword and the ardent fire of passion all in one that I really appreciate. IF I were to get another tattoo I would consider getting a sacred heart. (Although tattoos here in the Mexican church are a whole different blog post.) The sagrado corazon shouldn’t be confused with the Claggdah ring (the hands holding the heart) which Lindsay gave me for my birthday– which is good since it symbolizes friendship and not the sorrows of Jesus’ mother.

Also, I should note that the Methodist Church in Mexico strongly rejects any sort of Catholic iconography. For that reason they never use an image of the Virgin Mary in their churches or services. (So basically the background of this blog should probably be changed). Instead, they embrace the Methodist symbol of the cross & flame. However, like many confused Protestants, I do love some Catholic icons.

Me embracing the Methodist symbol (that's me in Peru dressed in the "flaming" costume)


One Response to “Catholic Iconography”


  1. Ex Voto Retablos | art for housewives - April 22, 2014

    […] y santos + La Guadalupana + retablos, Museo de la basilica de Guadalupe, Mexico + another retablo related […]

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