This wooden jaguar mask is encrusted with little milagros-- or miracles in English. We all need to believe in miracles. Maybe you don't believe in the virgin birth of Jesus or the Hanukah legend that tells us that the temple oil lasted eight days instead of just one, but let's face it, there are miracles all around us if we allow ourselves to see them. The birth of a baby is a miracle. The fact that Barack Obama was elected President of the United States is a miracle. And it is going to take a miracle for the Israelis and Palestinians to stop fighting each other. What the heck, nothing else is working right now.
The Patzcuaro artisan who made this mask also makes crosses, hearts, and picture frames all covered in milagros...which are really nice examples of quality contemporary Mexican folk art. More milagro art can be seen on www.mexicobyhand.com.
So here's the scoop on milagros:
A believer will make a vow to a saint or to a sacred object, and later they will make a pilgrimage to the site of a shrine or church and take a milagro there and leave it as a sign of gratitude and devotion. People also carry milagros for protection and good luck. Milagros can represent specific objects, persons, or even animals, or they might represent concepts that might be symbolized by the object represented in the milagro. For example, a head might represent a person, the mind or the spirit, or a physical condition such a headache. A milagro of a leg might be used to cure some condition associated with a leg - such as arthritis. Or, it might refer to travel, the leg implying walking. Similarly, a heart might represent a heart condition that one is praying for a cure, or as a thank you for answering the prayers of the lovelorn.
If you go to the basilica in Patzcuaro, as in other churches in Mexico, you will see milagros being used and the evidence of something called a "manda”. This is where a person will ask a favor of a saint, and then, in order to repay the favor after it has been granted, he or she makes a pilgrimage to the shrine of that saint, and and leaves a milagro pinned to an object of devotion. If you go to Patzcuaro, look for them just after you enter the basilica on the left side, plus look at the little messages of thanks people have written on a piece of paper. Really interesting, especially if you can read Spanish. You can buy some milagros for a few pesos at one of the stalls right outside where they sell quite a fun assortment of kitchy religious objects. You can stock up on your Jesus night-lights there too.
Try to go in the morning--for breakfast-- when the corundas are hot and fresh. Corundas are the Michoacán tamales that are made in corn leaves, rather than the usual husk. They bathe them with green salsa and crema (yes, you should get it) and they are VERY filling. A corunda and a cup of hot atole (a corn-based hot drink) flavored with canela (cinnamon), tamarindo or guayaba (guava) to go with, will cost you 20 pesos, or about $2. I like the guayaba best and I usually go to Angela's table pictured here. If you're lucky, as you eat your food and take in the sights and sounds of this wonderful town around you, you'll be serenaded by an old street musician who plays a funky, well-worn guitar and sings old Spanish love songs with an amazing soulful voice. There's nothing like it.