Thursday, November 13, 2014

"The Madonna of the Monster" or The Marian Cult of “La Madre Santisima de la Luz”: Morbid Anatomy 2014 Day of the Day Tour Report by Board Member Amy Slonaker

Following is a guest post by Amy Slonaker--Morbid Anatomy Museum Board Member and two-time attendee of the Morbid Anatomy Day of the Dead Tour in Mexico. I asked Amy--who is also a bit of a dilettante in the area of religious history--to write a brief report about the phenomenon of “La Madre Santisima de la Luz” as witnessed on our Mexican travels. The information contained in her post, Amy points out, came via the world wide web, so she warmly invites any corrections or addenda; you can email them by clicking here.

The Marian Cult of “La Madre Santisima de la Luz”
The 2014 Morbid Anatomy Day of the Dead Tour was another winner that focused on experiencing the celebration of Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico. It also brought us in touch with the Marian cult of “La Madre Santisima de la Luz.” We had seen her image in a church on last year’s tour but didn’t know her name. Imagine our delight to find this prayer card amongst so many others!

In 2013, while visiting the city of Guanajuato, Mexico, we came across a unique shrine to the Virgin Mary in the Templo de la Compania de Jesus (Temple of Jesuits).

We had never seen a representation of the Virgin Mary like this one which included a fantastical monster’s head with a gaping mouth. It wasn’t until the following year, in Mexico City, that we discovered two prayer cards at the religious mall behind The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary of Mexico City featuring the same monster’s head, with the inscription “La Madre SS De La Luz,” “Most Holy Mother of Light.”

Now with a name to guide us, we traced the interesting origin of this image to Palermo, Sicily, in the early years of the 18th century.

The initial account of the creation of this image was written in Palermo in 1733, and then translated and published in Mexico in 1737(1). It goes like this:

A Jesuit priest wished to have a painting of the Virgin Mary to take with him as he preached throughout Sicily. He called upon a woman who was known to have received multiple visitations from the Virgin Mary. The priest asked the woman to consult with Mary as to how Mary would like her image to appear. Sure enough, the Virgin appeared and provided a detailed description of an image that included her saving a soul from the gaping maw of hell.

After a few missteps--including a painter who didn’t know how to follow directions, and a resulting illness/miraculous healing of the woman who received the vision--a second painting was created that successfully included the Virgin’s wish for a hellmouth.

This painting was then brought to the cathedral in Leon, Mexico, in 1732. From here, a healthy cult to the “Most Holy Mother of Light” spread in the region, accounting for the image of "Nuestra Señora de la Luz" we came across in nearby Guanajuato.

But the plot thickens. We found another example of “Santisima de la Luz” on an altar in the Iglesia de San Miguel Archangel in Mexico City, above a wax reliquary for a figure labeled "Santa Rustica." This time, all the aspects of the Virgin’s requested image existed except the Bosch-like, big-mouthed, hell-monster. What happened to the fanciful fiend from which the fellow on the left should be springing?

It turns out that the notion of Mary directly saving souls out of Hell was doctrinally flawed despite being totally in line with what Mary requested during her visitation of the woman in Sicily. Scholars have noted several versions of “La Madre Santisima de la Luz” in which the hellacious beast has been covered over or with its presence omitted in the initial rendering. While some researchers opine this was to rectify any doctrinal fuzziness, another explanation may be that the appearance of the Jesuit-sponsored cult of “La Madre Santisima de la Luz” arrived only shortly before the Jesuits were kicked out of Mexico in 1767 by order of Pope Clement XIV (2). Hence, the Jesuit-promulgated “La Madre Santisima de la Luz” became expunged and replaced with a more generic Virgin.

We look forward to more sightings of images of “La Madre Santisima de la Luz”-- some of which exist in the present-day United States in parts of California and New Mexico. But we can’t help  but hope that the next shrine we see includes a huge monster head.
  1. La Devocion de Maria Madre Santissima de la Luz, En Mexico, en la Imprenta Real del superior Gobierno, y del Nuevo Rezado, de Doña Maria de Rivera, en el Empedradillo. Año de 1737.
  2. Dominus ac Redemptor is the papal brief promulgated on 21 July 1773 by which Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love this post, and the history of this image!