Christian devotion: the figures of the Child God, from the old and the recent cult

23/02/2021

In Mexico, the custom of dressing the Child God gives a special color to the Candlemas Day, but not all their representations are a reason for collective veneration, only some that according to their followers "have demonstrated through miracles the power to alleviate the suffering of people". On the occasion of the celebration of the Candelaria, it is worth making a journey through time and national geography, to follow the "steps" of these redeeming images.

It is evident that their devotion arrived in New Spain in the XVI century, because if the Franciscans were the ones who introduced the Christmas festivities and with them the nativity, it is evident that they would have to reproduce the image of the newborn. It is not known for certain how these nativity scenes were made, but it is possible to think that they were made in bulk. Made of clay or wood, they must have been, as they are now, more illustrative for the recently evangelized natives than the paintings that contain the same theme and that are still found in many temples and museums of the country.

The Captive Child (from the 16th century), is one of the oldest sculptures of the Child Jesus and currently in "disuse". It is preserved in the Metropolitan Cathedral in the chapel of San Pedro, and it is said that it was carved by the Spanish sculptor Martínez Montañez, from whom it was bought by the inhabitants of the capital through a collection.

The Child God was shipped to the Port of Veracruz but could not arrive, since Arab pirates attacked the ship and plundered it. For several centuries the Arabs were the terror of the Mediterranean and not only captured people but also relics. This happened with the sculpture destined for Mexico: it was kidnapped and a fortune had to be paid to redeem it.

Unlike the Captive Child, El Niño Pa of Xochimilco -also from the 16th century- preserves a great fervor. Originally it was part of a group of representations with which an indigenous cacique nicknamed El Viejo (The Old Man) had founded a brotherhood. The Christian name of the lord was Martín Cortés Alvarado, which relates him to the conquistadors Hernán Cortés and Pedro de Alvarado, "let us remember that it was common for the baptized indigenous to take the name of the godparents as a sign of appreciation".

Niño Pa or Niñopan, is a hybrid word composed of the Spanish word niño and the Nahuatl word pan, which is equivalent to place: "Child of the place". The images of the brotherhood of El Viejo did not belong to the Franciscan convent of San Bernardino de Siena, hence it has remained the property of the descendants of the cacique, however, it spends seasons in the houses of the neighbors and the requests to have it go beyond 2070.

The story goes that the image usually goes out at night, when the population is asleep, to see how the crops are doing. In the mornings, those who take care of him find his little shoes stained with mud.

Another case is that of the Niño de las Suertes, which dates back to the 19th century and it is only now beginning to have greater devotion, as it is currently restricted to the Tacubaya region of Mexico City. It actually comes from Tlalpan where it was found by a couple of evangelists, when they lifted it from the ground a spring gushed forth, known as Ojo del niño (Eye of the Child).

Archbishop Francisco Lizana y Beaumont decided the destiny of the image, but the news of the discovery had spread and several convents of nuns were requesting it. In order to be equitable, he decided to draw lots, and the winner three times was San Bernardo, which was very poor. Due to the difficulties that the Catholic Church suffered in Mexico with different governments, the image of the Child was taken to Tacubaya, because the nuns took it in one of the many exclaustrations.

In a lateral altar of the parish of San Francisco de Asis in Tepeaca, Puebla, the Santo Niño Doctor of the Sick is venerated, a recent devotion in spite of being an ancient representation. It belonged to the nun Carmen Barrios, who worked at the Concepción Béistegui Hospital in the capital, where she had acquired it through a raffle held by a Josephine sister.

It is said that "when the nun moved to Tepeaca she took the child with her and began to be visited by the sick in a small room. For a while, the image was transferred to Tehuacán, but the people of Tepeaca claimed it and managed to have it returned. On April 30, 1961, the titular feast was established in the parish which is known as 'Children's Day'".

Also noteworthy is the Niño Jesús de la Salud (Child Jesus of Health). Her cult began in a private house in Morelia, Michoacán, by improving the health first of the owners, and later of friends and anyone who requested her favors, according to the versions gathered. The fame reached the ears of Archbishop Luis M. Altamirano y Bulnes, who came to meet her and from that moment on asked that she be transferred to the temple of the old convent of Nuestra Señora del Carmen, where she has been venerated since December 15, 1954.

A strange story surrounds the Miraculous Child of Tlaxcala. It is said that in that city an old woman sold to the Anzures family a small image (not very pretty) that had been carved by her husband. On Christmas 1913, when it was placed in the nativity scene, inexplicable events began to occur, and on February 2, Candlemas Day, when Conchita -the family's daughter- lifted it up, she felt it move. The image has 'renewed' itself, as it no longer shows the traces of poor craftsmanship and today it is a beautiful sculpture dressed in a talar tunic and covered with a baby's cap.

One of the most dramatic representations of the Infant Jesus is the one that receives the name of the Blind Child, which is known to have already existed in the 18th century. On the evening of August 10, 1744 - Feast of San Lorenzo - a not at all pious man entered the convent of La Merced, in the city of Morelia, and snatched the image from the Virgin's arms.

Maddened, the subject tore off his hands and feet, and as he began to cry, with a rod he also stripped him of his eyes. Sometime later, a local Mercedarian gave him to a Capuchin sister in Puebla to keep him in her convent. Evidently, the favors requested are those related to eye diseases.

Undoubtedly one of the most venerated figures in Mexico is the Santo Niño de Atocha, located in the sanctuary of Plateros, in Fresnillo, Zacatecas; however, no one knows how he came to this place. His story tells that just like his counterpart in Madrid, Spain, he also went out, but to help people who asked him for favors, which when done, turned into miracles. Both children look about 10 years old and their costumes are those of pilgrims from Compostela. The sanctuary of Plateros is full of votive offerings that thank him for all the favors he has done, but it is evident that in his origins he was above all the protector of the miners.

Christian devotions are alive and changing, but devotion to the Child Jesus is not. Although it is true that his representations are different, he will always be an attractive, sweet, clean figure, like all children.

By Mexicanist, Source: INAH