Jerome in New Mexico
by Paul Rhetts

San Gerónimo or Saint Jerome is the eighteenth most frequent historic image in the santos of New Mexico (from 1700-1900) according to research completed on the frequency and iconography of images by the author and funded by the Kriete Family Foundation.

Memorial or Feast Day
September 30

Patron of huerfanos (orphans), children, and Taos Pueblo (first church dedicated to Jerome was built in 1617). Sometimes also seen as the patron of librarians. Protects against tormentas (storms) and relámpago (lightning). Considered a wandering ascetic with self sacrifice before God. The lion and the trumpet represent a return to religious beginnings; the lion may also symbolize the Garden of Eden and the trumpet the voice of God descending from the Heavens in revelation.

The cult to Jerome was fostered especially from the University of Salamanca, in northwest Spain. The Order of St. Jerome was started in Spain in 1415. The principal house was Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Extremadura. Other images of Jerome in Spain can be found at El Parrol in Segovia, San Jerónimo el Real in Madrid, Monastery of Yuste, and San Lorenzo del Escorial. Probably the best known image of Jerome is that by Zurbarán in 1638 for the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Main House. In the New World, there are also 17th century paintings of Jerome in the Monastery del Carmen Alto in Quito, Ecuador, and the Iglesia de San Jerónimo in Cuzco, Peru, by anonymous painters and by Cristóbal de Villapando in the Iglesia de la Profesa in Mexico City.

There are thirty-six (36) known images of Jerome in New Mexico prior to 1900 by the following santeros: Molleno (5, or 24%), Fresquis (4, or 19%), José Aragon (3, or 14%), José Rafael Aragon (3, or 14%), Laguna Santero (2, or 10%), Provincial Academic II (1, or 5%), Santo Niño Santero (1 or 5%), Retablo Style IV (1 or 5%), A.J. Santero (1 or 5%), and Fray Andrés García (1 or 5%). The remaining fourteen (14) pieces are unidentified as to maker. The oldest identified image of Jerome in New Mexico is from about 1750 by Fray Andrés García. One of the thirty-six images is found on an right rear altarscreen in the Santuario de Chimayó by José Aragon.

Symbols from 21 photographed pieces
Trumpet 18 86%
Cross, holding a 17 81%
Lion 14 67%
Rock 13 62%
Book/pen 6 29%
Skull 5 24%
Kneeling figure 19 90%
with red mantle
Seated figure 2 10%
with scarlet robe

There are as many as eight different scenes used to depict Jerome in the art of the New World — 1) the temptation of Jerome, 2) Jerome being flagellated by an angel, 3) Jerome hearing the trumpet(s) of the Last Judgment, 4) Jerome healing the wounded lion, 5) Jerome preaching to Saint Paula, 6) Jerome translating the Bible, 7) the last communion of Jerome, and 8) the death of Jerome. In New Mexico, scenes 2, 3 and 4 are frequently combined to portray Jerome doing penance in the desert.

Clock, candlestick with unlit candle, skull, rosary, scourge, writing implements, book, ink, pen, glasses are all attributes. Bearded, often tonsured, clad in a red mantle, with black and white biretta. Striking a stone against his bare breast as he kneels in prayer, often before a small cross or crucifix; almost always a lion at his feet, and the trumpet of God’s voice speaks in his ear; sometimes a skull.

Seen either as very old man with bald head, semi-nude, a hermit in the wilderness with his book and writing implements and accompanied by a lion or, in scarlet robes of a cardinal, although Cardinal priests as a class did not exist until three centuries after his death. His emblem sometimes included a model of a church on account of his strenuous labors in support of the faith. The cardinal’s hat may be an advanced anachronism for his role as secretary to Pope Damasus.

Paul Rhetts is the co-publisher of Tradición Revista.

First published in Tradicion Revista, Volume 6, No. 1, Spring 2001.
Copyright 2002. May not be reproduced in any form without written permission.