Big Jim: A church and a legend

2014-06-03T00:00:00Z 2014-06-03T12:57:46Z Big Jim: A church and a legendJim Griffith Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Huépac is the next village downstream from Banámichi, on the Río Sonora. By the way, when you go through Banámichi, look at the huge stone on a statuary base in the park just east of the road. The base is modern; the stone bears a complex design of petroglyphs that some say is a map of the prehistoric local irrigation system.

The interior of the Huépac church, showing the magnificent corbelled ceiling. This kind of complex woodwork is a distant legacy of Moorish Spain. Photo by Jim Griffith.

Once in Huépac, signs will direct you to the colonial church of San Lorenzo (St. Lawrence). The roof of the church nave is supported by a complex system of carved wooden corbels that make it unique among the churches of Sonora. In addition, the church contains several colonial-period paintings and sculptures. Of these, the most interesting to me is a small statue of San Lorenzo.

St Lawrence was a Third-Century Deacon of Rome, who when ordered to turn over the church treasures to the authorities, produced all the city’s poor and crippled beggars. He was killed by being grilled over a fire, and is reported to have told his executioner that it was time to turn him over, as he was well-broiled on one side already. In Huépac, San Lorenzo is celebrated every August 10 with a fiesta and procession.

The San Lorenzo statue in Huépac. Note the milagros in the background. Photo by Jim Griffith.

When I saw it, his statue was just to the right of the main altar. It is about a foot high, and may have arrived in Sonora as early as the 17th Century. It is accompanied by small metal milagros or ex-votos. These often take the form of parts of the body. They are offered to the saint in gratitude for a miracle. Many milagros show that the image is locally important.

The same saint figures in a local legend. At some time in the past, Huépac was about to be attacked by a large party of Yaquis. While the women and children were in the church praying the Rosary in front of the statue of San Lorenzo, the men prepared to meet the enemy. Just as the Yaquis were charging, they were seen to turn around and flee the scene in terror.

Years later a young captive escaped from the Yaquis and told the people in Huépac what had happened. As the Yaquis charged, they saw a horseman dressed in gleaming white and waving a fiery sword. He led an endless army, all wearing shining white capes. The Yaquis turned and ran.

There are in Sonora at least nine communities that have legends of being saved from attack by their patron saint. In some cases the saint actually acts, as the Virgin did when she put out the fuse at Caborca. In most an illusion of some sort was involved, as it was here. I’ll write about at least one more of these stories — but not just now.

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About this blog

Jim Griffith is the former director of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona, and co-founder of Tucson Meet Yourself. He’s also the author of seven books on the folklore and folklife of our region, most recently “A Border Runs Through It.” His books can be purchased at tucson.com/wildcatgear.

If you have questions or suggestions for Jim Griffith or this blog, e-mail bigjimgriffith@gmail.com

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