Lord of the Conquest is Being Restored
By Jesús Aguado
The Señor de la Conquista (Lord of the Conquest), the light-weight Christ dating from 450 years ago, is being restored. In the mid-18th century, it was attacked by moths. The early lack of knowledge for proper restoration led people to paint the sculpture with inappropriate paints. “In the end the Christ will look like our ancestors saw it,” commented restorer Pablo Amador Marrero. The weight is less than six kilograms due to its construction of corn cane paste.
According to an article published by El Cambio de Michoacán, in Michoacán history before the arrival of the European invaders, the natives used to take their gods to the field of battle because, as in the old world’s cultures—even if they were not connected—they thought that the god could guarantee a victory. In the past, they used to transport their deities made of stone, clay, or even gold with them. When they discovered that they could make lighter sculptures with corn cane paste, they found easier transportation and the comfort that the god would not be profaned by the victors if they lost.
The human sized image of San Miguel
After the arrival of the Spanish, religious images made of this material were sent to the “old world.” Restorer Amador Marrero has commented for other investigations that the sculptures made of corn cane paste were in great demand by the conquerors, so in the 16th century great numbers of sculptures were shipped to Spain.
María del Consuelo Maquíavar cites in an article that the Chronicles of the New Spain tell that when missionaries arrived in the new world, they worked with the natives to continue the technique. While the indigenous people taught them how to build sculptures with the material, the missionaries instilled religion in them. The sculpting technique, according to Pablo Amador, was amazing to the conquerors and the old world because the weight of the image was so light to carry in the processions.
The oral history of the image of the Lord of the Conquest in San Miguel, which is the only one that has existed for years, states that by the end of 1500, the Tarascan indigenous people from Michoacán sculpted two human-sized Christs with corn cane paste. One was for the village of San Felipe, and the second was for San Miguel. In 1585, the friars carrying the images were attacked by Chichimecas used to the old traditions, in the area that is now known as the Puente del Fraile. There the Chichimecas murdered the friars, which led people to think the Christ was missing. Later, according to oral history, the sculptures were found by evangelized Chichimecas.
The restoration project
City historian Graciela Cruz told Atención that three years ago, several groups that pay tribute to the Christ every first Friday of March contacted her because they were concerned about the deteriorated stage of the image and the lack of an official history. Cruz started working and contacting experts in history. They found out that the best person for analyzing the image and possibly starting a restoration process was Dr. Pablo Amador Marrero from the Institute of Aesthetic Investigations of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. After the diagnosis, the dream of restoring the Christ emerged. Thanks to Cruz’s work, a federal resource of 600,000 pesos came from CONACULTA (National Council for Culture and Arts) for the restoration and investigation.
The restoration is taking place next to the church of the Santa Escuela, adjacent to the parish church of St. Michael the Archangel. People are allowed to see the process from outside. Amador Marrero told Atención that the Christ “is a precious link to a past that too many have condemned, but it is a religious object that gave moral and spiritual peace to the ancestors of this city, and for that reason, we are all linked to it.” Dr. Pablo Amador commented that previous to the restoration, an analysis of the image was made, and they took several radiographs and conducted an internal inspection with a borescope to find pathologies. The diagnosis gave important data: now they know that the Christ dates from 1570. Amador commented that due to the lack of knowledge of how to maintain the sculpture, people used to paint it over with paint that was inappropriate for the material. “The paint became brittle, and they used to paint it again to palliate the bad work.”
The current professional and specialized restoration consists of the correction of known deterioration to the piece; the main idea is to attack the moth problem. “The structure is also being patched,” noted Amador Marrero, “because the moths had eaten it.” The dead moths found in the Christ are being analyzed at the Restoration School from the UNAM. Restorer Amador Marrero noted that people will not see a shiny image like those restored by the Santeros. He remarked that people will see a Christ like the one the old generations saw. “With this work, and if the sculpture is well cared for, sanmiguelenses will have a Lord of the Conquest for the next 450 years without more interventions.” The work will be finished the last week in June or the first week in July if more problems do not show up.
Restoring the history
Graciela Cruz said that they are working to restore the written history of the sculptures as well. Although she did not want to reveal more details, she remarked that they are taking account of the oral history, although it could have a considerable contrast.
They are working with the manuscripts of two brotherhoods that had the Señor de la Conquista as a patron: the brotherhood of the Santa Veracruz—in which the De la Canal and the Allende families were involved—as well as the Brotherhood of San Nicolás de los Naturales, which was made up of indigenous devotees. The Brotherhood of San Nicolás de los Naturales used to hold a procession with the Lord of the Conquest every second Friday of Lent. Christ was carried by the indigenous governor, district attorney, and city councilors, also known as the República de Naturales. The procession took place through the main streets of the village. The viceroyalty did not come in until 1842. The procession left from St. Michael the Archangel church and was followed by a small image of Christ (still existing) and devotees from the communities situated on the banks of the Laja River and the Concheros—people who nowadays pay homage to Christ every first Friday of March.
Cruz said in addition that they are consulting all the existent documents about the image, and they have learned when and how the chapel dedicated to the Lord of the Conquest was built at the parish.
The results will be presented in September during the International Forum of Sculptures Made of Corn Cane Paste. This will be an event that will bring international experts on the topic to San Miguel. It will be open to the general public.