« FöregåendeFortsätt »
we reached the top. The scenery was wild and grand, I have no doubt; but the fact is, it rained very hard all the time; and while I was floundering among mudholes I would have given the chance of the sublime for a good Macadamized road. Mr. Catherwood, who crossed on a clear day, says that the view from the top, both ways, was the most magnificent he saw in the country. Descending, the clouds were lifted, and I looked down upon an almost boundless plain, running from the foot of the Sierra, and afar off saw, standing alone in the wilderness, the great church of Esquipulas, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and the Caaba in Mecca, the holiest of temples. My muleteer was very anxious to stop at a collection of huts on this side of the town, and told me first that the place was occupied by Carrera's soldiers, and then that he was ill. I had a long and magnificent descent to the foot of the Sierra. The plain reminded me of the great waste-places of Turkey and Asia Minor, but was more beautiful, being bounded by immense mountains. For three hours the church was our guide. As we approached, it stood out more clearly defined against mountains whose tops were buried in th» clouds.
Late in the afternoon we entered the town and rode up to the convent. I was a little nervous, and presented my passport as a letter of introduction; bnt could I have doubted the hospitality of a padre? Don Gregorio's reception made me feel more deeply the welcome of the cura of Esquipulas. None can know the value of hospitality but those who have felt the want of it, and they can never forget the welcome of strangers in a strange land.
The whole household of the cura turned out to assist, and in a few minutes the mules were munching corn in
CUR A OF ESQUIPL'LAS. 167
the yard, while I was installed in the seat of honour in the convent. It was by far the largest and best building in the place. The walls were three or four feet thick; a large portico extended in front; the entrance was by a wide hall, used as a sleeping-place for servants, and communicating with a courtyard in the rear; on the left was a large sala or reception-room, with lofty windows and deep recesses; on one side of the wall was a long wooden settee, with a high back, and arms at each end; before it was a massive unpolished mahogany table, and above hung a painting of our Saviour; against the wall were large antiquated chairs, the backs and seats covered with leather, and studded with nails having large brass heads.
The cura was a young man, under thirty, of delicate frame, and his face beamed with intelligence and refinement of thought and feeling. He was dressed in a long black bombazet gown, drawn tight around the body, with a blue border around the neck, and a cross was suspended to his rosary. His name was Jesus Maria Guttierrez. It was the first time I had ever heard that name applied to a human being, and even in him it seemed a profanation.
On a visit to him, and breaking the monotony of his secluded life, was an old schoolfellow and friend, Colonel San Martin, of Honduras, who had been wounded in the last battle against Morazan, and was staying at the convent to recover his health and strength. His case showed the distracted state of the country. His father was of the same politics with himself, and his brother was fighting on the other side in the battle in which he was wounded.
They gave me disagreeable information in regard to my road to Guatimala. Carrera's troops had fallen back from the frontiers of San Salvador, and occupied the whole line of villages to the capital. They were mostly Indians, ignorant, intemperate, and fanatic, who could not comprehend my official character, could not read my passport, and, in the excited state of the country, would suspect me as a stranger. They had already committed great atrocities; there was not a curate on the whole road; and to attempt traversing it would be to expose myself to robbery and murder. I was very loth to protract my journey, but it would have been madness to proceed; in fact, no muleteer would undertake to go on with me, and I was obliged to turn my eyes to Chiquimula and the road I had left. The cura said I must be guided by him. I put myself in his hands, and at a late hour lay down to rest with the strange consciousness of being a welcome guest.
I was awaked by the sound of the matin bell, and accompanied the cura to mass. The church for everyday use was directly opposite the convent, spacious and gloomy, and the floor was paved with large square bricks or tiles. Rows of Indian women were kneeling around the altar, cleanly dressed, with white mantillas over their heads, but without shoes or stockings. A few men stood up behind or leaned against the walls.
We returned to breakfast, and afterward set out to visit the only object of interest, the great church of the pilgrimage, the Holy Place of Central America. Every year, on the fifteenth of January, pilgrims visit it, even from Peru and Mexico; the latter being a journey not exceeded in hardship by the pilgrimage to Mecca. As in the East, " it is not forbidden to trade during the pilgrimage;" and when there are no wars to make the roads unsafe, eighty thousand people have as
CHURCH OF ESQUIPULAS. 169
sembled among the mountains to barter and pay homage to " our Lord of Esquipulas."
The town contains a population of about fifteen hundred Indians. There was one street nearly a mile long, with mud houses on each side; but most of the houses were shut, being occupied only during the time of the fair. At the head of this street, on elevated ground, stood the great church. About half way to it we crossed a bridge over a small stream, one of the sources of the great Lempa. It was the first stream I had seen that emptied into the Pacific Ocean, and I saluted it with reverence. Ascending by a flight of massive stone steps in front of the church, we reached a noble platform a hundred and fifty feet broad, and paved with bricks a foot square. The view from this platform of the great plain and the high mountains around was magnificent; and the church, rising in solitary grandeur in a region of wildness and desolation, seemed almost the work of enchantment. The facade was rioh with stucco ornaments and figures of saints larger than life; at each angle was a high tower, and over the dome a spire, rearing aloft in the air the crown of that once proud power which wrested the greatest part of America from its rightful owners, ruled it for three centuries with a rod of iron, and now has not within it a foot of land or a subject to boast of.
We entered the church by a lofty portal, rich in sculptured ornaments. Inside was a nave with two aisles, separated by rows of pilasters nine feet square, and a lofty dome, guarded by angels with expanded wings. On the walls were pictures, some drawn by artists of Guatimala, and others that had been brought from' Spain; and the recesses were filled with statues, some of which were admirably well executed. The
Vol. I—Y 15
pulpit was covered with gold leaf, and the altar protected by an iron railing with a silver balustrade, ornamented with six silver pillars about two feet high, and two angels standing as guardians on the steps. In front of the altar, in a rich shrine, is an image of the Saviour on the cross, " our Lord of Esquipulas," to whom the church is consecrated, famed for its power of working miracles. Every year thousands of devotees ascend the steps of his temple on their knees, or laden with a heavy cross, who are not permitted to touch the sacred image, but go away contented in obtaining a piece of riband stamped with the words " Dulce nombre de Jesus."
We returned to the convent, and while I was sitting with Colonel San Martin the curate entered, and, closing the door, asked me if my servant was faithful. Augustin's face was an unfortunate letter of recommendation. Colonel M'Donald, Don Francisco, and, as I afterward heard, General Cascara, distrusted him. I told the cura all I knew of him, and mentioned his conduct at Comotan; but he still cautioned me to beware of him. Soon after, Augustin, who seemed to suspect that he had not made a very favourable impression, asked me for a dollar to pay for a confession. My intelligent friend was not free from the prejudices of education; and though he could not at once change his opinion so warmly expressed, he said that Augustin had been well brought up.
In the course of the day I had an opportunity of seeing what I afterward observed throughout all Central America: the life of labour and responsibility passed by the cura in an Indian village, who devotes himself faithfully to the people under his charge. Besides officiating in all the services of the church, visiting the