My current Mexican wall calendar is a rather pleasant 12W' x 10", multi-colored Guadalupe print, with an aura of a yellowish-orange glow. It is titled "Juan Diego" and was painted by Jesus Helguera from Tlalnepantla and printed in Queretaro, Qto., Mexico. Each tear-off page at the bottom has two months on it, and under every day the saint's name appears. The phases ofthe moon are also shown. National holidays - birthday of Benito Juarez, anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, Independence Day, Dia de la Raza, etc. - take precedence over the saints. What an easy, inexpensive, and agreeable way to be reminded on a daily basis of the saint's day.
Besides the less-than-one-handful of saints in a year's span that have two days dedicated to them, one wonders if there is a retablo for each of these saints. It would be easy to make a list right off the above calendar or go to anyone of the many published books on the lives of the saints for a more complete and lengthy inventory. But how would one make a record of most of the probable retablo subjects of the Spanish Americas? How could provincial-versus-urban predilections be more balanced? How to equalize the strong thrust of each .of the clerical orders' preferences? How to place this in the 1700's and 1800's?
Holy cards, or estampas, would perhaps be a good source for such information. In any period of time, these could conceivably be the most popular and maybe the least expensive way to have a picture of a saint. It would be interesting to find a listing ofthese from the many Mexican and Guatemalan printing houses as existing old originals are probably very few and far between. There is a good chance that a strong and valid relationship existed between certain holy cards and the saints in any particular church and, therefore, order. There is also a good chance that many other holy cards were sold but had no actual three-dimensional santo to be seen inside. Of course, variously sized canvas .Q!:intings could perhaps be seen inside the temples, which could also influence the following of believers and thus be apotential retablo subject.
Prints or other etchings or engravings of saints in Mexico would probably be as difficult to find nowadays as the estampas of yore. After this category of material, novenas would perhaps be the next-best source and have some bearing as to popularity of subject and of actual use in the different communities.
We should remember that many if not the majority of church-goers probably could not read and would thus rather buy a card of their favorite saint than buy a novena. If we remind ourselves that in colonial times, there was no real interest in instructing natives or women, we can appreciate that according to the 1895 census only 14% of the Mexican population could read and write, that is approximately 1.7 million out of 12.6 million. At that same time, only 4,000 out of four million indians could read and write. If we retrogress to the 1700's and even earlier, the literacy rate would certainly have been even lower:
Nevertheless, having found two rather large repositories of collections of novenas, I decided to make a list of these and at the same time include those saints from other sources and printed lists. I am of the opinion that there are probably several more large groupings of novenas in other universities that I have not been able to access.
A novena does not necessarily a retablo make, but what was being printed and distributed to the far reaches of the Mexican world and provinces would shed some light as to what saints were being venerated. I do not know to what extent these devotionals were used in conjunction with an actual three-dimensional representation of the particular saint - santo - or perhaps an oil painting on canvas, or even a mural. But judging by the growth of the faith through churches, basilicas, convents and monasteries, schools, and hospitals, there was certainly enough room for the increase in the number of saints being reverently adored for strictly religious reasons, in the pursuit of a particular or personal favor - marriage, child-birth, or other needed assistance - or the more general or communal request - against the plague, bad air, earthquakes, and for good harvests.
Another useful purpose for novenas is the fact that some of them will have a resumen historieo - historical summary - in the front part of the booklet of the pertinent saint. Whether these events are merely repetition of historical or fictitious facts, they can be of very much help when it comes to the lesser known holy persons. Sometimes they can also be of help in identifying what the saint has said or appealed to God for and also God's response, especially when there is this type of writing on a retablo. In other occasions, Christ on the cross could be saying something to the saint in front of Him.
I have seen only a few of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novenas from both Mexican and Guatemalan sources. None of these had photos or prints of the saints on the front page. On the other hand, the currently available novenas t~at I have seen (all being from Casa Perez Ruiz, Guadalajara, Jalisco) usually have a colored reproduction of the saint inside a distinctly drawn border on the cover. It would be interesting to know when reproductions of saints started to be used on the covers and from what source they were copied. I believe that many collectors would be astounded to see a novena or estampa that has the very same image and attributes as their retablo! These of course are not exact copies in every detaiI"but surely are strongly comparable. I would venture to opine that perhaps many retablos could have been painted from a novena or estampa rather than a lithograph, especially since the former stood a good chance of being colored and the latter were generally black and white. How would retablo painters in the hinterland be able to color each particular santo subject so methodically without a "color chart"? For instance, take La Mano Poderosa. All examples of these that I have seen, the colors are the same, with perhaps slight variations in hues and also in how their garment folds are executed. The color of the sleeve of the robe that is seen on the many varies much more than the figures do. I have seen: no color, i.e., no sleeve, brown, goldish (faded brown?), violet, purple, ash gray, black, ash blue, and sky blue, which apparently was chosen by the Franciscans in New Spain in honor of the Immaculate Conception.
La Sagrada Familia has perhaps more color consistency than the mana subject above. In both these cases, I exclude the presence or lack of additional thelogically correct or invented attributes and other expressive symbols of deity.
In this listing, the quantitative aspect of each subject is not of interest as it was not our objective to do so.
It would perhaps not have been too accurate a statistic anyway, as the novenas currently available at the University of Texas or Indiana University are at best only a fraction of the overall total produced in years past. Having said this, I would like to mention that in all the various types of guides to worship - triduos, novenas, deeenarios, oraciones, letanias, ejercieios, devoeiones, etc. - Sagrado Corazon de JesUs outdistanced all other subjects and saints!
Description of columnar headings:
Column 1, indicated with a star. This is a listing of saints' names that appear in the OCLC WorldCat Database under the subject heading of novenas. Out of a total of 1,220 recorded, only 970 were chosen for sampling as these were of Spanish or Mexican origin. None printed in English or other European language were counted. Approximately 413 novenas titles were chosen. This excluded such headings asejercicios, praetieas, meditaciones, lamentos, etc., that seemed not to be oriented towards any particular saint. As a result, 96% were of Mexican origin - 54% of the 1700's and 42% of the 1800's - and 4% from other Spanish-speaking countries. Without going into further minutiae, practically all of the 970 headings are held at the Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.
Column 2, indicated with a diamond. This list is from the UTCA T Library Catalog at the University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas. Out of an approximate total of 870, only 844 were chosen for our investigation. This cut was due mainly to no place of publication and perhaps no date either. Another 170 were removed as not being pertinent to novenas. This time, more leeway was given as to oraciones, ejercicios, etc. so as to get a slightly different slant. Out of a total of 674, 88% were of Guatemalan origin - 52% in the 1800's and 36% in the 1900's - 11% of other countries mainly European and 1% of Mexican origin.
Column 3, indicated with a circle. This is a listing of saints from Santos and Saints: Essays and Handbook by Thomas l Steele, S.l (Albuquerque: Calvin Hom, 1974). This list was used not only to get some New Mexican flavor but also for being rather extensive in number. Father Steele's four listings under the heading of "Other Subjects" were not used here.
Column 4, indicated with a triangle.. This list is derived from Gloria Kay Giffords' book Mexican Folk Retablos: Masterpieces on Tin (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1974). "Part 3 - The Mexican Ex- Voto Painting" was not used for this listing.
Column 5, indicated with a square. This column are those saints that appear in Retablos Populares Mexicanos: Iconografia Religiosa del Siglo XIX, by Fernando Juarez Frias (Mexico: Inversora Bursatil, Casa de Bolsa, 1991). Lithographs, frescoes, bultos, santos, etchings, and non-religious subjects are excluded. On some of the Station of the Cross, there is no indication in any column. This was done on purpose as I know there are bound to be other stations that individual collectors have to be added.
Column 6, indicated with a #. Thanks to Nancy Hamilton's bimonthly "Retablo Newsletter" Issue No.5, February 1992, and Issue No.7, April 1992, EI Paso, Texas, for these saints' names.
In Issue No.5, a total of 1,045 pieces in eleven exhibitions were used, of which 5.3% were exvotos. Since I do not know which saints were in the ex-voto class, I cannot exclude these as in previous columns. Nevertheless, I don't think this will have too much of an effect on the whole as the ex-voto saints will probably have a retablo equivalent. Please note that she has also included perhaps one of the most recent exhibition of note, "The Art of Private Devotion: Retablo Painting of Mexico," Gloria Fraser Giffords, et al. (Fort Worth: InterCultura and Dallas: The Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University, 1991).
Issue No.7 covered 442 photos taken by Dr. Reginald G. Fisher during the period of 1962-1964. I have excluded such listings as "effigies" and "Guadalupe variation" as being too vague.
Columns 7 and 8. These were left blank in case collectors may wish to add their own retablos to the list or perhaps a future exposition or book.
Title Column. Names in parentheses are those which are alternative spellings. Many seem to have Anglicized spellings but are actually those used in one or more of the publications, i.e., San Jorge (George). The ones with question marks are those names or places that the author has added as a possibility for further use in identity but not necessarily veridical.
Besides the rather obvious duplication of names between Nuestra Senora, Madre, Virgen, and Maria Santisima - which were purposely not grouped under one root name~- there are several others that basically are the same subject, i.e., La Vendimia Mfstica, EI Varon or Hombre Euearfstieo de Dolores, La Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Senor Jesuscristo, Alegorfa de la Preciosa Sangre, EI Senor de las Vides and in Potosi, Bolivia, it is called Resurreci6n. The reader can perhaps add one or more titles to this singular subject.
What might be considered an anamoly in this list is the inclusion of the Santisima Virgen de Chiquinquini. The novena listed was printed in Guatemala in 1913 and was probably destined for use at the Basilica de N.S. de Chiquinquini in Maracaibo, Zulia, Venezuela - the old Ermita de San Juan de Di6sor at the N. S. del Rosario de Chiquinquini church in Leyva, Boyaca Province, Colombia. The main reason for including this subject was that the novena was published in Guatemala and was perhaps a for-exportonly item. The cultus is also found in Ecuador.