On the way back from Mustang Island State Park, we stopped at Goliad State Park to check out the old mission there. Back in the 1700s, before the English religious nutcases arrived and started burning so-called witches and handing out pox-infected blankets to the locals, the Spanish were having their way with this continent's original inhabitants. Using brute force they imposed their language, lifestyle and religion in the name of a land grab and the establishment of wealth. I'm hardly an historic scholar, but my eyes tell me that one big tool in their belt of forced persuasion was Creepy Jesus.
I encountered my first Creepy Jesuses in a very old church in Real de Catorce, a little village in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, about 600 miles south of here. It's a place I've been to many times, tiny but full of old artifacts that demonstrate the Spaniards' hold over the place. There are the ruins of the old silver mine. And there are not one but two churches. I'm fond of both in a sort of horrified way, but it's the older of the two that grips me most. Full of hand drawn, cartoonish images of St. Francis-- left by believers thanking the dude for milagros granted-- it also holds a number of Creepy Jesus statues. These depict JC with massive gashes, real hair, gray skin, and a genuine look of agony. One of the CJs is encased in a glass coffin, sort of like a bizarre twist on Sleeping Beauty. I still vividly recall seeing one little kid hoisting up an even younger sibling and muttering something to him in a foreboding tone. My Spanish is crap but I didn't need a translator to figure that the elder child was warning the younger that if he didn't toe the line he'd wind up answering to sleeping Creepy Jesus.
The statue of Jesus I encountered at Goliad bears quite the resemblance to the Jesuses I visit in Mexico. And always these depictions make me think of the Jesuses of my youth-- sure, Jesus is hanging on the cross in a lot of these icons. And I'm not saying that he looks cheerful necessarily. But the more modern crucifixes of my childhood depict a squeaky clean, very white Jesus. And I cannot look at one without remembering a very long Catholic wedding I attended back in 1989, when I was seated next to an atheist friend of mine who was a cartoonist. He whipped out paper and pen during the service, drew a picture of the Anglo Jesus hanging before us, and placed in his outstretched arms a beach ball. Blasphemy? Perhaps. But to me, all these years later, that cartoon-- particularly when compared to the Creepy Jesuses of Spain-- gets right to the root of how very different indoctrination was as time marched on.
When I'm in Mexico and I see believers clutching candles and crawling on their knees across the thick warped wooden plank floors I am amazed at how devout they are. And I can't help but admire-- in a very disdainful way-- the marketing techniques of the Spanish who, in force feeding their Christianity, managed to win over the locals in part through incorporating elements of their existing belief system.
Ah, religion. Wacky, wacky, wacky.
Another image I saw at Goliad that brought back an instant memory was a painting of Veronica, holding a handkerchief upon which is an impression of the face of Jesus at the crucifixion, a perfect image that allegedly appeared when Veronica wiped Jesus's tortured face. While I'd never seen this exact painting before, I knew precisely what it was because in my childhood home we had a print of a much more famous version, called St. Veronica's Handkerchief. This was as close as I came in my young life to a Creepy Jesus image, and word was that if you stared at the picture long enough, Jesus's eyes would flip open and stare back at you.
My jury is still out about how I feel having our tax dollars spent on preserving Goliad-- doesn't this fly in the face of not mixing church and state? But that said, I concede that they've done a good job at the park, and the mission is part of history, even if it's not an especially pleasant part of history. The placards are offered in English and Spanish (and hopefully the latter won't be outlawed if Leo Berman gets his way and makes English the "official language" of Texas.) And I found at least one quote that makes it pretty clear how the Spanish felt about the folks they encountered.
There's also this installation, in which a monk seems to be telling a young local why his way is wrong, and how important it is for the kid to make the religious switch... or else...
And then there was this picture, which brings us to our caption contest. Okay, can anyone tell me what the hell is happening here? Are the Spaniards readying a baby for roasting? Is this a predecessor to Burning Man? I can't figure it out. Whoever comes up with a caption that most amuses me shall win a prize.