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Jewel in an Antique Setting:
Chapel at Hacienda Santa Lucia

by Beverly Imman Field

Stride under one of the nine arches framed with bougainvilleas into the hallway leading to the chapel at Hacienda Santa Lucia and feel the transition from modern world to ancient. The cut paper decorations strung from the ceiling flutter in the gentle breeze, their rhythmic rustling whispers a Gregorian chant. A large lock clangs loudly as the iron bar is pushed back from two heavy wooden doors. Stepping over the threshold into another era, this ten-square-meter domed sanctuary is a small gem dating back to the 17th century.
Light softly filters in from two high windows on the north and south walls. Filled with the excitement of discovery, the visitor begins to examine each wall and antique just as a betrothed would a newly proffered engagement ring. For that is one's first impression: a unique jewel contained in the antique setting of Hacienda Santa Lucia.
The domed ceiling is surprising high. An imposing wooden altar is separated from the "ara," which reaches up into the concaved space with three gothic-style showpiece niches, each adorned with metal details. Inside the large center niche stands a 19th century Italian statue of Jesus, his arms outstretched in welcome. On the left stand the Virgin Mary and Joseph with a young Jesus in his arms, two angels keep guard in front. The sight is at once awesome yet intimate, a perfect balance for worship.
Imagine being married in this space, with fifty of your closest friends and family gathered to witness your special day. The acoustics are exceptional, every softly spoken word and promise can be heard. The effect is impressive and moving. In fact, marriages are performed in this chapel every weekend.
Private religious acts also find refuge here. In the northwest corner is a confessional, in the same gothic style of the other wooden fixtures, all imported from Spain over a century ago. The size of this small corner piece of furniture brings historic images to mind of wiry young priests listening to the confessions of poor hacienda workers, local Indian converts and members of the hacienda owner's family. Hinged wings, designed to hide faces, and a small drop-down seat on which a modern six-foot man could not sit, are hidden when the two doors of this cupboard are closed. Its design and construction are compact and unique.
Private worship is encouraged in the cool, beautifully-painted chapel. Medallions with scenes from the Way of the Cross march midway up and around the walls. The walls must be repainted every fifteen years or so, due to moisture in the plaster which finally erupts through the surface. A restorer is called and a color scheme is selected. The walls are now painted green up into the dome. The lower part is painted with a dark background with blue and green designs. Gold and blue and dark-green lines and designs create borders and add a repetitive lively structural form to otherwise plain walls and ceiling.
To the right of the altar and central piece is the pulpit, attached to the wall with wooden steps. Again, the priests must have been small. This structure elevates a priest where his parishioners can clearly see and hear him. It would be a regal place to deliver a sermon, all eyes focused on the priest as he ascends.
Many visitors come to this chapel, whose patron saint is Santa Lucia. A statue of this early Christian martyr adorns the south wall. She is connected with miracles involving eyesight and vision. Lucia was a virgin who lived in ancient Rome. When faced with the fact that all Christian women were being raped by the Roman soldiers, she tore her eyes out so that they would find her ugly and repulsive. It worked. The miracle which raised her to sainthood was that her eyes were miraculously restored to their proper place.
The bells begin to ring. A spiral stairway in a small circular stone tower leads to the roof just outside the entry to the chapel. The partially-hidden bell tower has three bays with one of the bells cast 200 years ago. Each bell hangs in its own small, semi-circular arch constructed from cantera, a limestone quarried 2 kilometers north of the hacienda proper. The bell tower has an inscribed date of 1795 and is capped by a remate and a cross.
All old places must have a ghost and the spiral staircase is home to the one called "The General." About 1917, during the revolution, the buildings were taken over first by the rebels, then the military. Battles were fought and silver and gold were buried for protection from theft, never to be recovered. It is not known on which side he fought, but those who have seen him say the General sports a golden tooth.
Historic records are scattered and scarce. Currently, three brothers own the hacienda which once included 24,000 hectares (48,000 acres) extending from the Columbus statue on Las Americas Blvd. in Guadalajara west and north almost to Tequila.
This site was an ancient settlement whose name, Nochistanejo, is found in records as early as 1545. The name of Santa Lucia first appears on 22 April, 1570. Construction of the chapel was finished most probably in the second half of the 17th century when it was mentioned in a document dated 1692 in which Don Augustan de Gamboa identifies his natural son, Don José Gamboa, as his heir.
A map drawn in 1772 enumerates Hacienda Santa Lucia as three leagues (9 mi./14.4 km) from the village of Zapopan with a population of 150. The basilica at Zapopan is located 15 minutes drive from modern Guadalajara's Centro. Since the agrarian movement, whole towns and cities have been carved from the hacienda's original land and now it encompasses 4,000 hectares (8,000 acres). The chapel, five homes, an orchard and the ruins of an ancient mescal factory called "La Taberno" are situated on five and a half acres located off the town square. The Taberno, or tavern, is crumbling, but elegant columns still hold up a vaulted ceiling which was said to be designed by the same architect that built Guadalajara's famous Cathedral. But then, that's another story.