Broken baby Jesus statues flood restaurateurs ahead of feast day

MEXICO CITY (AP) — It’s Maximinio Vertiz’s busy season. Dozens of beloved but worn and broken baby Jesus figurines will pass through the hands of this 49-year-old craftsman, restoring them in time for their annual pilgrimage to the church for a Candlemas blessing.

Holding a putty knife in a steady hand, Vertiz took on the meticulous task a day earlier this month. He touched up the eyes of the sacred statue as he turned away from the bustling downtown Mexico City market where he worked. More than 20 other miniatures lay on his worktable awaiting repairs.

Similar scenes played out in the cabins all around him as rows of busy craftsmen used paint and tools to breathe new life into these beloved infant figurines. Some of their owners stood nearby, eagerly waiting to take them home where they will be dressed in costumes of saints specially designed for Candlemas. Marking the end of Christmas celebrations, the Catholic holiday falls on February 2 and commemorates the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Jesus in the temple.

Most figurines – often passed down from generation to generation – spend the Christmas period in nativity scenes displayed in homes. They are placed in nativity scenes at midnight on Christmas Day and families celebrate the occasion by swaddling the statue and rocking it while singing a lullaby.

They are generally handled with care, but accidents do happen. Some are dropped or cracked while dressed. Others need their paint touched up or their missing fingers replaced. Many others come wrapped in fabrics, broken into pieces.

“I call them puzzles,” said Vertiz, who assesses broken icons, determining how to put them back together.

On this day earlier this month, a woman cradling a blanket approached Vertiz as he worked. Visibly sad, she opened her backpack to reveal a statue that had cracked at the neck, losing its head. Already overwhelmed with repairs and a few impatient customers, he had to turn it down.

The larger the number, the easier it is to repair. It can take Vertiz between 30 minutes to repair a broken 16-inch-tall (41 centimeter) statue or up to 3 hours for a tiny one. The cost ranges from $5 to $12 per piece.

Vertiz, who struck out on his own in 2019, has decades of repair experience, having learned the trade from his father who also restores religious statues at the same street market.

Catholic worshipers prioritize keeping their baby Jesus statues in pristine condition. They believe the figures are representations of God and form spiritual and emotional attachments with them through their annual interactions, explains anthropologist and restorer Katia Perdigón in her book “My Baby Jesus.”

“It is necessary to maintain the effigy in good condition, taking care of it so that it does not break, or repairing it if necessary, thus enhancing its symbolic effectiveness,” writes Perdigón. “The sculpture…represents the presence of God in the home as part of the family. He is a son in the hands of the adoptive mother.

Looking at Vertiz’s work, 65-year-old María Concepción Sánchez hoped the repairman would soon end up with the three baby Jesus figurines she had entrusted to him. One belongs to him and the others belong to his grandchildren.

“The blonde he’s working on is 50 years old,” said Sánchez, whose mother used to flaunt him at home.

Sánchez, whose family keeps about a dozen of these figures on their household altars, chose to have his grandchildren’s statues restored instead of buying new ones so they could preserve their tradition of passing them down from generation to generation. in generation. One character had lost an arm when their clothes were changed and the other had shattered into pieces after falling to the ground.

Once repaired and dressed for their Candlemas blessing, Sánchez and her family will ask for good health from their baby Jesus, having lost several of his 18 siblings, three of whom died in 2022 alone.

“We will dress them as doctors and surgeons,” Sánchez said of the characters. “When you’re old, you never know what can happen.”


Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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