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Airdate: Oct 05, 2017
Scientist: Jim Griffith

Canterbury Tales in Mexico

Canterbury Tales in Mexico
The fall, well-known as a time of animal migrations, is also a time of human pilgrimage.

On October 4th, the village of Magdalena, Mexico honors St. Frances Xavier, an event that draws thousands of worshipers on pilgrimage. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, with a special program from our archives.

Jim Griffith is coordinator of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona library.

"The first thing that I, as a pilgrim to Magdalena, would need to do is to walk to the church. And there probably will be a line standing in front of the chapel on the side of the church. And I will get at the end of that line and eventually get so I could be standing right next to the reclining statue of Saint Francis Xavier, who in a way is the focus of the whole pilgrimage. And if I were a Mexican-American at that point I might kiss the statue. I might try to lift the head of the statue because there's a belief that the saint indicates his relationship to you by whether or not he allows you to lift his head. It's a statue of a man lying down and so it is quite possible to slip your hand under his head and lift it up. What becomes legendary are the accounts of eyewitnesses who tell me that they've seen strong men, unable to lift the statue's head, fall on their knees with tears streaming down their face, praying intensely, while all the time little old ladies are coming and lifting the statue clear off the ground. The belief is that if Saint Francis does not allow you to lift his head up off the pilloIn the spring and fall, many animals set forth on their annual migrations. And it's also a time when humans, too, may feel the urge to travel together en masse - as pilgrims. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, with a special program from our archives.

This week, in honor of St. Francis, there's a pilgrimage from Nogales, Arizona to Magdalena, Mexico. And, for Jim Griffith, of the Southwest Folklore Center, it resonates with another human migration.

"Well Jeffrey Chaucer wrote a poem called The Canterbury Tales, in which he goes on to describe all the things that happen in April. Nature is waking everybody up to such an extent that folk long to go on pilgrimage. And I think that's an answer not only for his pilgrimage which was in April to Canterbury from London, but also to some extent an answer for this pilgrimage. Paraphrasing Mr. Chaucer, you can say, 'When October with its relatively cool winds has taken the real edge off the fierce desert heat. When it's cool enough that you can stand to walk around outdoors. When the summer rains have stopped and the roads aren't a sea of mud and it's pretty easy to move. Then folks want to move.' And in this case, they want to move on a spiritually sanctioned trip."

Like Chaucer's pilgrims, the worshippers walking to Magdalena, Mexico this week are journeying to pay their respects to a religious tradition, and to share the kinship and company of others, gathered together for a common purpose.

I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet..w, your relationship with him is in serious trouble and you need to repair that relationship through prayer, through acts of penance, through something."

The celebration in honor of St. Francis takes place in Magdalena, Mexico on October 4th. This program from our archives was originally broadcast in 1997. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet..