Thursday, September 17, 2015

Saint Elmo in Mexico

We present another in our occasional series on the depiction of catholic saints, both well known and obscure, in Mexican art. 
    Blessed Peter González, referred to in Spanish as Pedro González Telmo or simply San Telmo, was a Castilian Dominican friar and priest, born in 1190.  Educated by his uncle, the Bishop of Astorga, he became a celebrated preacher, accompanying King Ferdinand III of Castile and Leon (St. Ferdinand) on his expeditions against the Moors.
from a 1770 print by Manuel Rivera de Costoya
Thereafter he devoted his life to the evangelization of, among others, mariners along the coast of Spain. González died in 1246, and was beatified in 1254 by Pope Innocent IV. 
   Although never formally canonized, he is popularly called San Telmo in Spanish speaking countries. He was revered as the patron and protector of sailors, especially during the hazardous early years of exploration, and transatlantic voyages during the colonial period.
    He is best known for his association with St. Elmo's fire, a phenomenon that appears on ships at sea during thunderstorms and is regarded by sailors with awe for its glowing points of bluish light atop the masts.
   Although not portrayed as frequently as other popular saints in Mexico, he does appear in a handful of early colonial murals, invariably shown holding a ship or galleon, his principal attribute.  On occasion he also holds up a candle or flaming torch—a Dominican symbol as well as one of fire.
Here are portraits of San Telmo from three early Dominican missions in Mexico:
cloister mural detail. Tepetlaoxtoc, Valley of Mexico
partial cloister mural. Yautepec, Morelos
cloister lunette mural. San Pedro Etla, Oaxaca
text and color images © Richard D. Perry 
See our earlier posts in this series: 

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