This cross sits to the right of my desk, on an empty chair. It is one of many crosses that we have inherited. Our home in San Miguel de Allende comes with crosses, cow skulls, pottery and milagros pegged to doors here and there.
Milagros are those little tin objects you see on the cross that look as though they might be Monopoly board pieces.
While I have always been aware of the cross — lord knows I’ve moved it around often enough — I never really paid close attention to it.
Until this morning.
I don’t know, perhaps it was the first sunlight streaming through the windows. The light captured the tiny images and seemed to magnify them, at least magnify them in my imagination. I can’t say the sun “reflected” or “glinted” or “bounced” off these milagros because they are well-oxidized to a matted sepia tone.
The whole cross is an hommage to aging and decay. The wood is severely distressed. The paint is cracked and chipped. Corrosion strikes at the heart at the very center of the cross.
And yet, I hesitate to say that this is a very old cross. Mexican artisans are masterful at crafting such artful deceptions. It may even be less than 50 years old, though it looks and feels as if the Spanish brought it here during one of their periods of maniacal conquest.
We do know that milagros originally came from Spain.
They are charms, often religious. More often than not these days, Milagros are decorative. Among the Mexican traditions, when one prays to a saint for a favor and it is granted, the recipient then makes a pilgrimage to the saint’s shrine and leaves a milagro as a token of gratitude.
These days, you see them decorating door frames, ladies’ hat bands, leather and denim jackets, and as souvenirs in the marketplace.
Milagros traditionally carry specific meanings for the one who wears it or attaches it to a saint or a doorframe. Perhaps it is blessed by a priest or healer. Perhaps the possessor attaches a prayer to the milagro as he or she taps it to wood with a tiny nail. Perhaps you carry one around in your pocket to ward off depression, encourage good luck, bolster ambition or bring you love.
A milagro becomes an amulet or talisman, a fetish or charm.
Which brings me to this cross I have to bare …
Did the creator of this object — almost 28 inches high and 20 inches across — have a story to tell through the milagros? Was it an artistic expression or religious?
I couldn’t help myself. I inventoried the milagros hoping they’d reveal themselves, like runes on the wall of an ancient temple.
I’ll save you some time. They didn’t. Not yet, anyway.
Here is what I found, starting with the left arm and going clockwise around the large tin “Heart of San Miguel” at the center:
On the left …
Leg in a boot.
On the top …
Jesus of the Sacred Heart.
On the right …
Virgin Mother & Child
Tree of Knowledge.
On the base …
Female dancer (again)
Rose (a perfect placement if you know what I mean)
Christ in the crown of thorns
Female dancer #3
Well there you go, a regular game of Clue in which nobody has died … except Christ on the cross for our sins, I suppose.
Does all this add up to a story? You tell me. Someone well-versed in psychology and symbolism ought to be able to craft a fascinating profile of the creator … a deeply religious person who loves to dance and collect animals? Something deeper?
Arms and legs often symbolize ailments in need of a cure in those specific areas. The variety of Christ images seems to cover many of the versions in which Jesus is depicted to manifest his strongest traits and greatest gifts — the crown of thorns (suffering), sacred heart (no greater love), mother and child (family).
The kneeling child is holding something in her arms, but what, I can not tell. Perhaps the key to this whole mystery.
As the saying goes, “Everyone has a cross to bear.”
I’ll make this one mine.
It serves as a reminder that we just don’t know the nature of the crosses borne by those we meet. Always be conscious that theirs might be heavier, darker, and more filled with milagros than your own.
That is my goal for 2023: Learn how to see another’s personal cross and seek out ways to lighten the burden.
Happy New Year to you.
May a thousand “little miracles” shower down upon you like a refreshing Spring rain.
Put more magic in your life!
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