"San Pascual (San Pasqual or St. Pascal Baylon) was a 16th century Spanish shepherd who became a Franciscan lay brother. He served his fellow Franciscans in various capacities and monasteries as shepherd, gardener, porter, and cook. Since childhood he had developed a deep sense of the presence of God and was particularly devoted to the Eucharist. San Pascual was known for his administrations to the poor and for his many miraculous cures.
"Today San Pascual is chiefly known as a patron of the kitchen in token of his work as a cook. In religious art he is shown dressed in the brown robes of a Franciscan, kneeling in a kitchen while in rapt contemplation of the Eucharistic host suspended mid-air in a monstrance [a small container, often decorated with solar rays, used by a priest to display the Eucharistic bread during a Catholic Mass]. In New Mexico his image has become a ubiquitous element of 'Santa Fe-inspired' décor. San Pascual is patron of shepherds, cooks, and Eucharistic Congresses and associations."
Br. Arturo Olivas, OSF
On our way to Ghost Ranch Retreat Center this past weekend, my wife and I stopped at the Sanctuario de Chimayo (in Chimayo, NM), where thousands of pilgrims anoint themselves each year with the holy dirt that is believed to contain healing properties. A multitude of crutches and braces line the walls of the little room on the side of the church containing the hole in the ground where the sacred earth is found - the place where the pilgrims have received their cures.
I've always loved the earthiness of this kind of folk Catholicism, so missing in much postmodern Anglo-derived spirituality. Especially meaningful to me is the local Latino art of Santos-carving that is endemic to northern New Mexico. Three or four stores surrounding the Sanctuario sell these carvings at inexpensive prices. By far the favorite subject of the cottonwood-branch carvers is St. Francis of Assisi, usually depicted with birds resting on his shoulders, or sometimes in a pose of dancing.
On several other visits, I've purchased carvings of St. Francis, which continue to bless our home with their serenity, and also make wonderful additions to my Naropa class on Christian Mysticism. On this particular occasion, I selected a 16-inch-tall carving of San Pasqual, who is honored in New Mexico as the patron saint of cooking and kitchens. I had to ask the storeowner who the "man in the feathered hat" was, because I didn't know his identity before this time, even though I'd seen the carvings on previous occasions.
According to an article in "New Mexico Magazine," San Pasqual was never canonized by the official hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, he was made a saint by a French Pope in Avignon, France - or rather, by an "anti-pope" during the "Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy" in 15th century France; thereafter, he earned the status of a folk saint, rather than one of the official variety. Never venerated in Europe, San Pasqual is honored in small enclaves in the New World, especially in New Mexico.
The thing I find so fascinating is the fact that San Pasqual is the patron saint BOTH of cooking AND of Eucharistic Congresses - large, generally open-air Masses held over a several-day period. I see this association of the two as a foreshadowing of the mystical teaching of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who viewed Eucharist as a celebration of the fact that the presence of the Cosmic Christ inhabits ALL of matter, contributing to the innate sacredness of all things. For me, this is an especially transformative and liberating teaching, one that spiritual practitioners of all faiths might also find meaningful :)
Photos: (1) San Pasqual, carrying loaves of bread in one arm, a fish in the other, and wearing a gourd filled with water; (2) Tinware decoration on one of the shops surrounding the sanctuario; (3) Front of the Sanctuario de Chimayo (constructed 1813 - 1816); (4) Aztec dancers doing a celebration outside the church. These photos were taken on May 28, 2016.
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.