June 3, 1879
I have met Goya’s grandson and passed yesterday afternoon in the master’s studio! It is covered with amazing murals that would surprise and shock you! They are much more fantastic and symbolic than any we have seen in Europe.
Goya’s grandson especially reminds me of Carolus Duran in his manner of assigning homework. He insisted that I go to the cathedral and examine the Cloak of St. John, so this morning Mr. Twain and I did exactly that. The cathedral is dark and heavy in the mission style. A long line of peasants was inching toward the altar rail, where a friar and two bored looking acolytes presided over an easel draped with cloth of some kind. I joined the line so that I could get close to the relic. Twain sauntered about with his hands in his pockets, murmuring satiric asides about the Catholic Church to himself, and looking decidedly too casual for the setting.
Supposedly, (Indian for “Talking Eagle”) saw a vision of the Virgin Mary, who told him to build a chapel out in the desert. The local bishop didn’t believe him. Then the Virgin told Juan to gather some roses and take them to the bishop, even though it was winter and no roses were in bloom. He found some miraculous out-of-season roses and wrapped them in his mantle, an apron of sorts, and took them to the bishop. When he dumped the roses out, they found an icon of the Virgin imprinted on the mantle.
The peasants were lining up to kiss the grime-blackened hem of the alleged mantle. When I got to the head of the queue I pretended to kiss it so I could lean in for a good look and a deep sniff. The image was dim in the poorly lit church, but I could catch a hint of turpentine and linseed oil. The fabric was a fine weave of linen, not the cactus fiber cloth that tradition says Juan Diego wore. And if the icon was of divine origin, then the Almighty used the same palette and iconographic conventions as the students of Velasquez. I worked very assiduously to present a reverential demeanor on the outside, because I was chuckling heartily on the inside, along with Goya.
If you and I and the other hopefuls of Beaux Arts cannot find employment flattering our social betters with portraits, perhaps we can cobble together “relics” for the lords of the church.
With one blasphemous foot in brimstone, I remain,
© Patrick Fanning, 2012