Tuesday, February 11, 2014

San Caralampio in Mexico

San Caralampio in the cathedral of San Cristóbal de Las Casas
San Caralampio (St. Charalampos) was an early Christian saint and martyr from the third century AD.  A bishop in the central Greek city of Magnesia, like St Denis he was accused by the Roman governor of converting too many pagans, undermining his authority and fomenting a rebellion against Rome—this during a period of religious persecution under the expansionist Emperor Septimius Severus.
Although of advanced age—over 100 by some accounts— Caralampio was stripped of his vestments and brutally tortured. Proving indifferent to his torments, the saint was finally beheaded by order of the exasperated emperor.

Miracles attributed to him before and after his death, included exorcism and healing the sick, especially during the plague, that led to the conversion of many to Christianity including, according to legend, his torturers and even the daughter of the emperor himself!
Greek booklet on St Charalampos
Devotion to the saint became widespread in the eastern Mediterranean, especially in the Eastern Orthodox church.  His cult in the Americas seems to have arisen in central America, mostly in the 19th century, in Nicaragua, Guatemala and later Chiapas in southern Mexico. 
The chapel of San Caralampio in Comitán
Caralampio in Comitán
Comitán is a sizeable town in Chiapas, located on the Pan American Highway between the colonial capital San Cristóbal and the Guatemalan border. A way station on the old Spanish Camino Real, its principal monument is the grand church of Santo Domingo, which faces the large open plaza. 
title page of litany
According to tradition, the first image of the saint arrived in Comitán in the 1850s, contained in a traveler's illustrated litany or novenaThis document impressed  a local admirer in the barrio of La Pila, who erected a simple shrine and chapel dedicated to the saint there. 
   During a visitation of the plague in the area soon after, barrio residents invoked Caralampio as their protector, with the result that the village was spared its worst effects. 
modern popular image or retrato
Devotion to the saint subsequently spread widely in the area, primarily in the barrios of communities near the Guatemalan border including, besides Comitán, Simojovel and Las Palmas. There is also an image of Caralampio in the San Cristóbal cathedral signifying his wider appeal. 
chapel interior with Caralampio shrine and Roman soldier (© Sergio C R)
The hillside shrine to Caralampio in Comitán is lavishly ornamented in neoclassical style inside and out.  The aged, white bearded saint appears in the center niche of the apse above the altar, kneeling and praying in his traditional pose, with Christ seated above him on a throne in the clouds. 
   Caralampio is occasionally accompanied by a Roman soldier wielding the executioners sword. Although there is a statue of such a figure in the chapel, it is not always placed in close proximity to the saint.

The festival of San Caralampio in Comitán is celebrated every year coming to a climax on February 11th with special masses and parades through the town that attract visitors and adherents from throughout the region.


text © 2014 Richard D. Perry. 
 Thanks to Bob and Ginny Guess for their images and information. 
All rights reserved.
See our earlier posts in this series: 
 San Antonio Abad, Duns Scotus, San Charbel Maklouf, St Rose of Lima, St Peter Martyr, San Dionisio, St Ursula.

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  1. Thank you for this info and post. My paternal grandfather's name was Caralampio. He passed when I was very young (maybe 5 or 6?). Always wondered about the origins of his name as I never came across another Caralampio in my entire life. He was from Tamaulipas (Las Norias) near San Fernando. What is "eery" , is was a gaunt man, with a white beard --- not nearly as long as the ones pictured, but hauntingly reminiscent of how I remember him. God Bless you and thank you for these photos!

    1. Even in Greece, it's not a very popular name, still we are a few.. :)

  2. Hi, I came to read your article because I heard the name San Caralampio for the first and only time, during a TV interview around the early 1970's in Mexico city conducted by Paco Malgesto in a show titled "Visitando a las Estrellas". He was at Irma Serrano's "la Tigresa" house and she showed him a statue of San Caralampio that she revered and had in her living room. Being this lady a very controversial and esoterical person, I thought this was some sort of joke because she collected a lot of weird stuff. But now after so many years and thanks to you, I know that San Caralampio is no joke and that there is people that still worship this Saint.Thanks

  3. Hola saludos desde Santa Rita Chalatenango También tenemos como patrono San caralampio desde hace más de 200 años su romería se lleva a cabo del 30 de enero al 10 de febrero de cada año