Friday, December 28, 2007

Our Lady of Peace

This is the entrance to the chapel of the Virgin of Peace that I stumbled upon one afternoon after quixotically entering the indigo-trimmed cantaloupe orange church that I had passed many times. Unlike other larger churches in Cholula and Puebla, the cantaloupe church had only one chapel, this one dedicated to Nuestra Senora de la Paz. This photo is from the inside out, from inside the sanctuary. You can see the red glads.

I was alone, walking back from Tepanapa, the ancient great pyramid of Cholula, Mexico. I stepped off the street, my face as pink as the cotton visor I had picked up in the market after having burned my nose. I walked through the flower encrusted arch of the churchyard. I passed a trio of men busy in the heat of the day pruning trees into birds. A small boy-child with a pink broom swept leaves. Never too young in Mexico to put your hands to work.

I was surprised when I first tried the door, a massive wooden door, more wall than door. It was locked. The doors of most churches in Cholula and Puebla are usually wide open all day long (for they are public buildings in everyday use not just for special times). I wondered, as I glanced over at the topiary pruning, maybe they were getting reading for a festival?

I decided to stroll the grounds and visit the gravestones--or gravebeds, I should say, like this white one with a little window to another world carved into it. Maybe a portal to let the spirit through? I heard a voice call me and turned to see one of the men running to the doors of the church with a massive skeleton key in his hands. Gesticulating at the door, he was apologizing profusely in Spanish. With this huge black iron key that would never fit in any pocket, he opened the doors for me. I thanked him profusely as I stepped over the threshold.

I was the only person in the church. It was very quiet. The light was diffused. Soft. A beautiful blue talavera bowl filled with blessed water sat by the entrance. One dips a finger or two of the right hand in a ritual of purification before making the sign of the cross, before entering the sacred mysteries.

Closer to the high altar, just below Guadalupe in a black cape trimmed in gold, a white lace tablecloth was strewn with deep red rose petals. Vases of red gladiolas, the same deep dark blood red of the roses, picked fresh that morning, graced either side of the ground.

The chapel to Our Lady of Peace was on the left, on the dark side of the cantaloupe church with topiary birds. I didn't even notice it at first. It was the small window of duskiness that shimmered against the wall that signaled an opening. The lights in the church effused a soft butter yellow, the portal was darkened. Can I go in? I ducked my head and stepped through. It was so dark. Once through the small entrance to the chapel of the Virgin of Peace, the heat of the day and the noise of the street fell away. Even my pink nose quieted down! I sat on a pew, in the dark, in the silence, grateful for the sanctuary of peace that was opened for me, that the work of others had opened.

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