As a child, I wanted to be a poet and photographer, so I set my sights on the art scene in New York City.
My first project was a series of photos depicting the faith of New York City. The Hasidic neighborhoods, the churches, the synagogues. NYC is a melting pot of people’s, cultures, and religious faith.
My favorite thing to seek out and photograph was relics and the Catholic Church in New York City possesses so many of them. It seems almost every church had something.
Fast-forward a few years and a few miles, I’m in El Paso and one local church – San Jose Church – has to be demolished. After San Jose met its fate, I decided I wanted to start photographing our churches here in El Paso, before any more were lost.
I also wondered what relics, if any, were here.
So, last year, with the blessing of Bishop Seitz, I began to visit and photograph churches in El Paso. I was amazed at what I had found.
LITTLE FLOWER CHURCH – 171 Polo Inn Road.
Little Flower Church is in the Lower Valley. What made this Church unique to me was two things I did not expect to find. The first is a hand carved crucifix that contains three containers with relics from the Holy Land.
The other item that came as a surprise to me was a reliquary that contains an El Lingeo Pulvere of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. El Lingeo Pulvere is the remains of the wood, mixed with the dust of the body of St. Therese. So, essentially, this is a first-class relic.
MOST HOLY TRINITY – 1000 Pheasant Road
A million years ago I was a student at Most Holy Trinity. I remember the school had only one hall of classrooms, and the Church was attached to the school. Today the school is much larger, and the Church is now off to the side.
Holy Trinity gives me a greater connection to the death of Christ. Not everyone can visit the Holy Land and Sepulcher where Jesus laid after His Crucifixion. A small stone, in front of the altar, can give you that connection.
In a small space, before the altar is a square with a small stone. That stone is from the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Several times I have visited this Church, and just contemplated the significance of that small stone, and the events it witnessed.
How I wish it could talk!
ST. STEPHEN DEACON AND MARTER – 1700 George Dieter
St. Stephen’s, was a huge surprise. That’s why I have saved this one for last.
The first thing you notice when you enter the Church are these huge tapestries that adorn the walls. International artist John Nava creates the tapestries. The only other church where his work appears in is the Los Angeles Cathedral.
These are tapestries in the classic sense. These are not just huge pieces of cloth on which the images are printed. No. These are woven, by hand.
The next item that is housed at St. Stephen’s is a relic of Pedro de Jesus Maldonado Lucero. Fr. Maldonado is a Saint from Mexico. His connection to El Paso comes during the Mexican Revolution.
Fr. Maldonado was forced to study here, in El Paso. According to the Knights of Columbus, “Father Pedro de Jesus Maldonado Lucero was a member of Knights of Columbus Council 2419. Forced to study for the priesthood in El Paso, Texas, because of the political situation in Mexico, he returned home after his ordination in 1918 despite the risk.
Captured on Ash Wednesday, 1937, while distributing ashes to the faithful, Father Maldonado Lucero was so savagely beaten that one eye was forced from its socket. He died the next day at a local hospital.
His tombstone aptly described this martyr in four words: “You are a priest.”
The last treasure St. Stephen’s has to offer, and my favorite one by far is the Pieta. There is not much known about the piece beyond that fact it was created around 1360 in the Mainzer room and has taken its name from the original owner.
Regardless of who the artist was, or the chain of ownership that led to this Pieta is housed at St. Stephen’s this is something that must be seen to appreciate fully. It is amazing.
And just to think of all the people, over the last 700 plus years who have visited this Pieta, prayed before it, it simply staggers the imagination.
Author and photographer: Steven Cottingham – Special to the Herald-Post