NEW WORLD IMPORTS, INC.

SAINTS AND SANTOS IN GUATEMALA: FOLK ART ICONS AND LIFELIKE FINE ART

In the Roman Catholic Church the title of Saint refers to a person formally canonized (recognized by the Church) and believed to be in Heaven. Patron Saints are heavenly advocates. Every town in Guatemala and many individuals have patron saints to ensure that their prayers reach God. The carvers of saints are “santeros”.The Spanish colonists living in the cities brought their Saints to Guatemala as did the religious Orders that founded the Mayan villages. The choice of a Mayan community patron saint was arbitrarily chosen by the Orders. It was common that the traditional village festival day coincided with the celebration of the village patron saint. Thus the traditional Mayan community festival was preserved in the context of celebrating a Catholic Saint’s day. The patron saint’s day today is the most important event in the community. The chosen patron saint is the most important and powerful religious figure. This saint’s image is included in all other religious ceremonies both Catholic and traditional since his power protects the community. The Maya promise their patron saint they would celebrate him for favors received and preserve his images through their religious brotherhoods called Cofradias.
Santos are Christian religious art forms usually statues made of wood that depict various saints, angels, or personages of the Holy Trinity.
The carving of wooden santos in Guatemala began in the eighteenth century when Guatemalan artisans started to imitate the religious art imported from Europe. There were two types of imported art. The “fine art” placed a premium on beauty and the lifelike reproduction of images. Europe had experienced the Renaissance and the art reflected this change in culture. The post Renaissance santo was like a portrait of a human being. Before the Renaissance and especially in the Orthodox Catholic traditions religious art was different. The carved or painted image of a saint was an Icon that imitated the known prototype and previous images and was not realistic nor a portrait. Saint Anthony was depicted exactly the same in every Icon and thus was judged holy. This known holy image had a holy purpose.
The Guatemalan santeros made santos in both the pre-Renaissance and Renaissance traditions. Many Guatemalan/Mayan individuals have a home shrine to their patron saint. Few can afford the finely carved lifelike santos of the Renaissance tradition and thus the majority of Guatemalan santos were and still are icons. The Mayan village santero made mostly orthodox icons and this position required moral demands on his behavior and lifestyle.
Today a new type of santo has emerged in the streets of Guatemala, the Postmodern Santo. In this style all previous traditions have been thrown away. What is important is the visual impact upon the viewer. These santos use color and imagination to capture the eye of the viewer.

Share this post