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Friday, October 30, 2009

Mexico: Chamula and the Church

Photography is not allowed in the church in Chamula, one of the towns near San Cristobal.  While I could wander around, and watch people worship, I couldn't take any pictures.  So it's descriptions only for the interior experience.

The Catholic Church and the traditional religions of the area have merged in ways that often seem more traditonal than Catholic.  As Christianity spread throughout the world, missionaries would try hard to tie local beliefs and rituals to Catholic beliefs in rituals. Christmas is in December because it coincided with the birthdate of a Persian god.  Christmas trees come from German traditions.  In the New World, priests li ked local gods to Catholic saints, and churches developed their own, distinct, Catholic rituals.

In Chamula, the walls and altar of the church look like any other, with the stations of the cross and statues of Mary.  The center is different.  The space usually occupied by pews is empty, and the floor is covered by straw.  Small altars, votive lights, and offerings are spotted around the area, tended by the worshipers who set up temporary places of worship.

Walking around among them is a bit eerie, and feels intrusive.  I could feel the intensity of their worship.  Unlike going into a normal service, I was very aware of not actually belonging, not being part of anything taking place.  While I'm not Catholic, I usually don't feel rejected by the church.  Here I did.  My visit was short.

In fact it was so short I had to wait quite a while for my guide to come back.  I tried to talk to some of the men who were sitting outside the church. My minimal Spanish was a real handicap.  The men did manage to tell me it was OK to take pictures of the outside.

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