An Apparition and a Refuge

by T. Allen Culpepper


It’s one of those buildings
that everyone has seen
and many have noted,
but hardly anyone can locate.
Even those who pass it daily
on the local streets
hesitate when asked precisely
which one it’s on, exactly
what it’s called.
From the highway, only the
cupola and spire are visible
for fleeting seconds,
an enigmatic vision, an apparition,
like Juan Diego’s sighting of the Virgin.
Appropriately, for it is the shrine
of Nuestra Dama de Guadalupe,
merged in the nineties with the parish
of St. Francis Xavier, AKA
Francisco Azpilicueta of Navarre,
co-founder of the Jesuits, perhaps
too disciplined, but smart and strong,
missionary to India.
And as the Virgin improbably spoke
in Diego’s native Nahuatl,
so are its many Masses said
in Spanish as well as English.
Its red-tile roof and tapered bell tower
evoke a Spanish colonial mission,
thought its walls are of yellow brick;
its facade, stained glass, and flat buttresses
a bit more baroque, perhaps
a less ornate version
of what the missions of themselves
did their best to emulate
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Outside, the midday sun
beats down on the tiles,
but the interior offers
cool tranquility:
white-walled nave with
central aisle, roof beams of oak
reaching down from the apex
to the walls, extensions from them
bearing hanging lanterns.
Up high, arched windows, pictorial;
below, smaller double stained-glass panels;
between the windows, the stations
of the cross.
The nave’s beauty resides
primarily in its simplicity;
the relatively ornate altar
in its sanctuary keeps its distance.
And though I’m no Catholic
and have my reservations,
it’s the kind of place
in which one could,
I think, take refuge.

Originally published in This Land, Vol. 5, Issue 17, September 1, 2014.