THE SAINT CHILD OF ATOCHA
The story of the Saint Child of Atocha dates back to the 13th century in the town of Atocha, nowadays part of Madrid, Spain. As the story goes, the town had fallen under the domination of Moorish invaders. The local men were imprisoned and only children were allow to visit them, bringing along their only supply of food. For days, they prayed to the Virgin of Atocha for a miracle, when the prisoners reported seeing a child coming into their cells at night with a basket filled with bread and a gourd of water. The child was dressed as a pilgrim and since then has been represented seated with open arms.
The artist has used this old story as a point of departure and reference for his mural-size retablo painting. Retablos are usually intimate paintings done by people who are not necessarily artists, to thank saints and virgins that came to their assistance during tragedy, illness and difficult moments.
The painting is layered with references to Santeria, the syncretism of Catholicism with Yoruba beliefs, where the Saint Child of Atocha is associated with the Orisha Eleggua in his role as the gatekeeper, patron of prisoners, owner of the road. It also points to what seems like eternal conflicts and unresolved religious and cultural issues between Islam and the Catholic Church. Atocha is also the name of the train station in Madrid where the terrorist act of March 11, was perpetrated. 800 years after the Islamic Moors lost control of Spain, the conflict between Christians and Muslims re-manifest in modern times.