Wednesday, April 22, 2009

La Capilla de Don Silvestro

Back in the 70s, Judy and I had every topo map for our area. One of my hobbies was reading topo maps in search of interesting hiking destinations. On one of my topo maps was the cryptic notation, "La Capilla de Don Silvestro," which in English means "The Chapel of Don Silvestro." Or, "Sly's Shrine." Since the map showed a dirt road leading to it, we inevitably drove there one afternoon, and found a little hilltop shrine, about the size of a large outhouse -- 6x6 feet or so. We liked shrines, still do -- they appeal to the primitive within us. So I've gone up there every few years ever since.

When Laura and I were first married, we went there every year for a while, but eventually fell out of the habit. Monday afternoon we decided to take a little drive to the shrine, since it had been several years since we had been there. Imagine our surprise when we saw a small building on the hilltop where the little shrine used to be!

Here's the view from the road. That's the Black Range in the distance. Everything in the foreground is new -- what used to be a narrow footpath is now a driveway, stabilized by a tire retaining wall. We did a quick calculation and figured out that we hadn't been to the shrine in 10 years! My, how the time has flown... which gives us fair warning of what to expect from the future. Grab it while you can, kids, life gets shorter by the second!

We climbed up to the shrine and went inside. The centerpiece of the shine is a statue of the Santo Nino de Atocha, a popular saint in these parts. Notice how people have left jewelry and other mementos for the saint to hold, and have decorated the statue with silk flowers.

This is my favorite piece of folk art in the shrine, made with glitter glue.

Laura meditating on the floor. There were several lit candles when we arrived, so the shrine receives visitors on a regular basis. The building is about 16x16 feet, with a tile floor. The walls are painted a beautiful shade of sky blue. There are about 15 chairs along one wall, so services are held here. Like all shrines of this type, the walls and altar are covered with religious paintings and statues, flowers, candles, Christmas decorations, family photographs, and handwritten requests for healing and notes of thanks.

The Virgin of Guadalupe was painted on the outside wall earlier this spring.

The view from the top. Those are the Caballo Mountains in the background. The concrete slab in the foreground looks like it was poured by a cement truck; we could not discern its purpose. The concrete retaining walls look like they were poured by crews using a cement mixer. People have gone to a lot of trouble to stabilize the hilltop with concrete and tire retaining walls.
We feel grateful to have discovered such a wonderful example of folk authenticity such a short distance from our home. It seems like the world is drowning in media bullshit, so it's refreshing to encounter such a down-home example of people working together to express their faith.


Anonymous Jacques Conejo said...


And as you described it, in contrast to our "media bullshit" world... particularly rich.
Reading your story and looking at the pictures, one gets a feeling of being in on the discovery of a lost culture or tribe, somehow surviving in the nooks and crannies of our bizarre civilization - hidden in plain sight, just a few degrees off from the dimension most of us inhabit - A reality just slightly outside the arc of the industrial,
robotic laser - the searing compliance tool of the big corporate eye, that burns and blinds the eyes of our souls.

Thanks for sharing this...


7:38 AM  
Blogger Gordon Solberg said...

I've always thought it's the women in particular who carry the spiritual weight of any culture, since they are so well-attuned to primal realities such as birth, death, relationships, and bodily fluids.

I'm in awe of the amount of hard physical work that went into building the retaining walls, tearing down the old shrine, and building a new one. Many families participated; the number of people involved totalled 100 or more.

And the irony is: I'm sure these people watch several hours of TV every day.

8:24 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home