The New Year is now 3 days old. After such a busy Holiday season, we are quite ready to settle down to plain fare and a less festive schedule. But of course, the memories are never far away… today I am thinking about Christmas Eve Mass at the Cathedral of Mérida…
Our out-of-town guests came with us, and one of them asked me why the colossal church has such an austere altar. In fact, the only adornmentation is a huge wooden crucifix known as “El Cristo de la Unidad.”
Considering that the Cathedral was constructed between 1582 and 1598 (during the height of Spanish colonialism), one would expect a particularly elaborate interior… The predominant Franciscan order didn’t subscribe to the more-is-better school of religious art, but still, the Cathedral was the principal religious monument in the city…
Actually the Cathedral did at one time have an extremely opulent central altar, paintings by Cabrera and other exquisite pieces. But during the early twentieth century the government took a decidedly negative move towards the Catholic Church. Throughout the country, many of the religious buildings were sacked and the religious art was destroyed. Merida’s cathedral was but one of those affected.
In 1916 the adjacent chapels: the Capilla del Rosario and the Capilla de San José were demolished in order to separate the Bishop’s residence from the Cathedral. The empty space became a walking mall that we now call El Pasaje de la Revolución.
We heard wonderful music at the Mass on Christmas Eve. The Cathedral’s choir was enhanced by the voice of a visiting tenor from Vienna Austria: Leon de Castillo. His rendition of Ave Maria was extremely moving.
And the good news is that we will have another opportunity to hear this young tenor. Leon de Castillo will sing at the Peon Contreras Theater at 9 pm on Thursday January 5th. Admission to the concert is free and part of Merida’s anniversary celebrations. If you plan on attending, I’d advise you to arrive early to be assured a seat.
*The first photograph of the Cathedral is taken from an old newspaper clipping. It is difficult to make out but if you look hard, you can distinguish the features of the original altar. The second is one of the outside façade is one I took a few years ago