Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Feast Day of San Judas Tadeo ("San Juditas"), October 28th, Mexico City

While in Mexico City a few days ago, my friend Amy and I were lucky enough to witness the festivities surrounding the feast day of San Judas Tadeo (aka "San Juditas"), the patron saint of lost causes and, over the past few years, center of a new cult appealing to the disenfranchised, gang members, criminals, and the most vulnerable members of society. The makeup of St. Judas' devotees is startlingly reminiscent of that of the cult of Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, the popularity of which, as discussed by Andrew Chesnut in his book Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint, has grown much in recent years (more here). However, unlike Santa Muerte, who is basically the figure of death personified and sanctified, Saint Judas is a properly canonized saint, and thus this cult falls within the purview of legitimate church worship.

Kurt Hollander, author of the Several Ways to Die in Mexico City (more here), explained to us over tequila one evening in Mexico City that it his belief that the cult of San Judas was a calculated effort by the church to create a kind of within-the-establishment competitor to Santa Muerte. His popularity with certain fringe groups--particularly youth from the city's poorest barrios including chakas, or those of the narco sub culture--was cultivated by American priest Frederick Loos, whose expletive-filled, urban-themed sermons drew large crowds to Mexico City's Hipolito Church. His hope was to reach the tough and vulnerable youth of the barrios by speaking in their language, and by welcome them into the bosom of the church despite their open drug and criminal activities. To find out more about this inspiring man, I highly recommend watching a really amazing short New York Times video which you can see by clicking here.

The worship of Saint Judas Tadeo still takes place at Hipolito Church on the 28th of each month, with the largest celebration taking place on his feast day, October 28th. On October 27th, we witnessed hundreds if not thousands of people streaming into the city all through the day and night, many of them carrying statues of the green-clad, flame-tipped saint; one of the devotees explained to us that the size of the statue was commensurate to the sins needing pardon. There were so many people flooding the streets that cars could not drive on major boulevards, and fireworks went off all night long.

On the day of the festival, the area around the Hipolito Church was filled with statue-toting devotees, vendors of all thing San Judas, impromptu flower-bedecked processions, traditional dancing, mariachi bands, and makeshift shrines. Those lucky enough to make it into the church, we were told, would have their statues blessed, "recharging" their power until the next mass.

All photos above are my own, taken around Mexico City between October 25 and October 30th 2013; Click here to see many more.

Special thanks to Andrew Chesnut for answering my ignorant questions, and for pointing me to this article on Saint Jude by David G. Bromley and Elizabeth Phillips, which was one of the few helpful sources I could find in English, and which I highly recommend if you'd like to go deeper. Andrew has also been tweeting on this phenomenon of late, and his wife Fabiola took some wonderful photos documenting it; click here for more on that. 

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