Black Jesus

Trip Start Jan 31, 1996
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Monday, March 17, 2008

 Here's a shocker for all of the God-fearing white Christians up yonder. The oldest Catholic image in the Americas was brought here by the Spaniards in 1528. It's a beautifully crafted 2.5 metre or so carving of the crucifixion. But it looks quite different hanging in the Cathedral of Leon in northern Nicaragua. It's called "El Cristo Negro" - the Black Christ.

Legend has it that the plans for the cathedral in this not so large town, in a not so large country, were mistakenly switched with those for the much grander city of Lima, Peru. The enormous Baroque-style weather-worn masterpiece dwarfs all else in the town centre.
"Please don't ring the church bell." the young woman who allowed Ellen and I, the only visitors, entry to the bell tower said.
"Wouldn't think of it." I replied.
A gentle breeze blew across the cathedral rooftop under an otherwise sun-baked morning. To the east, about 30 km away, are a string of volcanoes. Smoking Cerro Negro, once a flat cornfield, erupted in 1850, spraying husks and kernels throughout the countryside. The violent eruption lasted 10 days shooting magma and ash 8000 metres into the sky. It's been active ever since and has grown to a height of 450 metres.

I looked at the church bell then walked towards it. And just like the kid who'd been told not to put his tongue on the frozen iron bar in the dead of winter, I slowly pulled on the bell rope. "Bong" it sounded long and loud. People in the town square took pause and wondered why the church bell was ringing at 10:20 a.m. I quickly slinked down the stairs and out into the town square, Ellen close behind taking the Lord's name in vain at me.

I was raised Catholic, but haven't practised for more than 40 years. I realize oh so well that the first Christians in the New World, the Spaniards, did a lot of nasty work in the name of God. Still, being Catholic, albeit a poor one, I feel an odd sense of pride. Whether I wander the churches of Old World Europe or New World Latin America, I feel a part of them, them a part of me.

As time goes by, I'll not likely become a better Christian. But I will look at Jesus - El Cristo Negro - a little differently.
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