The Face of Christ in Sonora

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“The Face of Christ in Sonora” is a book co-written by James Griffith and Francisco Javier Manzo Taylor. Since 1998, the authors have been documenting the religious art of the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora. HORIZONTE presents a conversation with co-author “Big Jim” Griffith.

Nadine Arroyo-Rodriguez:
The Face of Christ in Sonora" is a title of a book co-written by James Griffith and Francisco Javier Manzo Taylor. Since 1998, the authors have been documenting the religious art of the Northwest Mexican state of Sonora. The project has taken them to colonial and contemporary churches, to private chapels and home altars. And to roadside shrines. Here is a conversation with one of the authors, Big Jim Griffith.

There's a new book publish called "The Face of Christ in Sonora." This book is essentially one of journeys. Journeys that are not only geographical in nature, but also chronological and spiritual.

Jim Griffith:
We work very hard to make it accessible.

The images in the book offer a window into the culture of the people that inhabit the communities throughout Sonora. And the narratives reveal an account of the authors' experiences.

Jim Griffith:
It was written by me and a Sonoran, Francisco Javier Manzo Taylor. He is related apparently to half the people in Sonora, and has a real gift of visiting with people, and so basically if you want to use many syllable words, our methodology was that I would take the pictures and bucko would chat up the little old ladies who were inevitably in the church and who know all the great stories.

James Griffith or big Jim Griffith is one half of the duo responsible for the book. When I visited with him at his home to talk about "The Face of Christ in Sonora," it became clear this was much more than an academic project.

Jim Griffith:
Chopped up and had halfway burnt when her brother came along in 1935, and took a stick of wood and poked it out of the fire. And it's been on her altar ever since.

The book is in many ways an intimate account of the process of discovery. Part road trip vacation, and part art history class, it's a compelling journey into the heart of the people.

Jim Griffith:
And of course there is also a penitential aspect to the whole thing. Once we're away from the main highway, we suffer, because we have to be very polite, and when people offer us beans or carne asada, or cheese, or coffee, we have to eat it. I mean, this is suffering. [LAUGHTER]

There are many great stories associated with these images of Christ. And learning about these accounts, it becomes clear that Christ is not only the central figure of Christianity, but the catalyst for artistic inspiration, community, and life for people throughout Sonora.

Jim Griffith:
The stories are great. The story of the little statue of the infant Christ that the lady took home to dress just before Christmas, which is customary. And the day after she took him home, the government people came through and took all the other statues out of the church and burned them. And she just kept the Christ and had a fiesta for him every Christmas, and when she died, her brother kept him, and when he died of tuberculosis, everybody in the family burned all of his possessions and threw the rest in the river, and two people were riding doubt river and saw what they thought was a doll caught in the branches of a tree. And it was this late 18th century Christ child statue, and they took it -- one of them took it home, and it's still on that family's altar.

"The Face of Christ in Sonora" is a book that delves into the lives surrounding these religious depiction and gives us a window into the soul of the end Sonoran people.

Jim Griffith:
People are proud of their towns and want to eagerly share with strangers, at least in our experience. Eagerly share with strangers the neat stuff they know about their towns. And some of the stories are great. And we're still in a world where these aren't quite often aren't told as quaint old stories, but told as part of the town's history.

James Griffith:Co-author, The Face of Christ in Sonora;

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