I have no idea how this virgin lost her head, or why she still stands behind bars in this niche cut into the aqueduct which runs through Oaxaca.
She is the Virgen de Juquila, famous because a 30 cm statue of her survived a fire that destroyed the entire village in which it was located in 1633. Since the 18th century, the statue has resided in Santa Catarina Juquila. Replicas like this one are found all over Oaxaca.
Thousands of people make pilgrimages to visit the Santuario de Juquila annually, presumably to ask favors of her or just to be close to the power they attribute to a miracle.
Why is it that we as humans have this need for something all powerful, something which can solve our problems, something which will maybe even save us from death?
Is it something born of our ability, unlike most animals, to comprehend the passage of time, the existence of a past and future?
Does our knowledge of the future, which inevitably contains our death, terrify us so?
I know that, as my past grows longer and my future shorter, I contemplate the inevitable more often. I long ago passed the point where I had lived longer than I was going to live going forward. I have most likely now passed the midpoint of my adult life as well. It is an interesting feeling for someone such as myself, having no belief in an afterlife.
Yesterday, I had lunch with an older friend who just lost her sister to cancer. She asked me if I believed in an afterlife, already knowing my answer. I said no, but anything is possible. That is the kindest way I can honestly respond to such a question. I could tell by her demeanor that she desperately wants her faith to be true, and for her sake, I wish it too, but I doubt that it is.
It is a blessing that we learn as children that there is no Santa Claus, no Tooth Fairy, no Easter Bunny. I think it is cruel that people are conditioned to continue to believe in a supernatural caretaker and an afterlife. Because of that belief, they never learn to face the finite nature of both our lives and our relevance to the universe.
Belief in an almighty God brings a life where many of your most vexing questions are answered for you, notably the question of what happens after you die. It also brings a life of confusion and disappointment, where you have to reconcile the many horrors of life on Earth with the supposed benevolence of a Creator, where prayers go unanswered, and where good people die young and evil people thrive. A world where justice does not often prevail, and few reach their potential.
It makes one wonder, did this headless saint worship a heartless God?