I have been told that the original statue of San Francisco in Magdalena, Sonora, was intended for Mission San Xavier, while the one at San Xavier was intended for Magdalena. After attempts to move the statues failed, the statues took it upon themselves to change places by using their legs. And that is why the San Xavier statue has no legs – he wore them off!
The facts seem to be the San Xavier statue was recycled around 1911 from an image of the Entombed Christ that had originally been at Tumacácori. But it is missing its legs!
Now, back to the statue in Magdalena. The original, probably brought by Father Kino, lasted until 1934, when during a period of religious persecution on the part of the government, it was taken from the church in Magdalena, carried to Hermosillo, and burned in the furnaces of la Cervecería Sonora – the Sonora Brewery.
There are devout Catholics who believe this never happened, that the statue was smuggled out of the church by faithful Tohono O’odham and taken to a chapel near the border. Other people can tell stories concerning the horrible things that happened to the individuals who were involved in the burning.
No matter what really happened, a substitute statue appeared in the church around 1940, after the government pressure had died down. That is the statue we can see today in Magdalena, now renamed Magdalena de Kino.
Other folk beliefs center around the saint himself. In official Roman Catholic doctrine, saints do not work miracles – only God can do that. Religious images are supposed to serve as reminders of sacred narratives and focal points for prayer and meditation. But this is folk religion we are taking about, and things can be a bit different.
In talking with people, I get the impression it is San Francisco who decides to answer your requests, and San Francisco who acts to produce a miracle. Furthermore, not only can one communicate with the saint by praying in front of his statue, but he can also communicate with the petitioner.
If you stay by any statue of the reclining San Xavier, you will notice that many people lift his head off the pillow. The belief is if San Francisco allows this to happen, you are in a good relationship with him. If not, you had better mend some fences quickly. And if you promise San Francisco you will do some act of thanks for a favor granted and don’t come through, awful things will happen to you.
Next time: the Magdalena pilgrimage and fiesta.