Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 18, 2006
Weathered building houses exquisite art
Beauteous paintings free-standing crucifix, gold trimmed dome enhance the spirituality
The Epiphany – January, 7
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
Painting of the Wise Men is just one of many gorgeous pieces of religious art in the Tetela church.
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Tetela del Monte, Mexico
While most Christians observe the anniversary of the historic arrival of the Three Wise Men following Christmas each year, the people of Tetela del Monte are reminded of the event year-round in their time-worn little parish church in the Cuernavaca city suburb.
When northern children are being bombarded beginning the day after Christmas with Boxing Week sales and gift suggestions for upcoming Valentine's Day, the fortunate youth of Tetela are still enjoying the historic Twelve Days of Christmas, ending with the ancient feast of the Epiphany, when gift-giving first appeared on the Christian scene and which was once the day for exchanging presents.
They are blessed in having as patrons of both their church and community none other than those Three Kings of biblical fame, Los Tres Reyes Magos.
Once a separate town, Tetela's absorption by the city left many residents determined to resist urbanization and to retain at least some areas as examples of traditional Mexican culture. Fortunately for visitors, the parish church is the centre of one of these precious oases.
Cuernavaca, capital city of the country's Morelos State, has historically been an attraction to those seeking an ideal climate. Conquistador Hernan Cortez, able to select a retirement site anywhere in Mexico, chose this idyllic place for his palace, now accessible to all as the Cuauhnahuac Museum.
First impressions of the Tetela church may not be positive for many. It is obviously a very old building, weathered stone with one modest bell tower and a single front entrance.
Its fa¿ade is almost obscured by the foliage of large trees which shade and crowd the cemetery in front of the building.
Even the grave markers here appear very old, including one tomb set into the church fa‡ade just above ground level. Scattered bright orange marigold petals on the graves, ubiquitous remnants and relics from the recently observed Day of the Dead (All Saints) on Nov. 1 do little to relieve the overall sombre aspect of the small, stone-walled burial ground and its church.
Those entering the church, however, are transported to a bright, white-walled world with an unexpected gold-trimmed dome rising overhead, an ideal setting for prayer and contemplation.
Ornamentation of the building culminates behind the altar, in an impressive golden retablo, designed to frame a painting of a warm, homely Epiphany scene, the Wise Men attending the new-born Jesus and his parents with expensive gifts fit for a king. Scripture and tradition tell how the visitors, three kings, followed a star to find the Christ Child in a manger at Bethlehem.
A large, free-standing crucifix and impressive paintings of the angels appearing to incredulous shepherds and of Our Lady of Guadalupe add to the attractiveness of Tetela's church.
Today, celebrations of the major feast day here include Mass and a theatrical production featuring male danzantes (dancers), costumed as devils and angels who, to the sounds of drums, perform a frantic struggle between good and evil.
The audience reacts when Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar, Los Tres Reyes Magos, appear to lead the angels and overcome evil, thus prevailing on the side of good and the Church.
Visitors leaving the Tetela church can't resist the appeal of the open-air Friday market, right outside the graveyard wall, for every kind of hot, tasty traditional snacks.
While in Cuernavaca, several popular attractions also demand travellers' attention, Asuncion Cathedral with its remarkable murals depicting the martyrdom of St. Philip of Jesus, the Borda Gardens and many elaborate colonial homes. For those exhausted by their day in Tetela-Cuernavaca, there's always tomorrow morning - mañana a la mañana.