Christianity marked a major advance in civilization with the substitution of the symbolic human sacrifice for an actual one.
Spanish invaders found real human sacrifices when they encountered the Aztec civilization in the Valley of México. In fact, some of the unluckier conquistadores became sacrifices when Hernando Cortez staged a strategic retreat from Tenochtitlan.
The Mexican statutes are shocking in detail. They represent every possible injury inflicted on Jesus Christ, according to Christian tradition.
The tradition also reached Costa Rica to the extent that many local churches also have life-size statues of the crucified Christ on display. There also are other life-size and larger-than-life statues that usually are carried by the faithful in Semana Santa processions. Each Good Friday, the funeral procession of the Crucified Christ at the Catedral Metropolitana has as its centerpiece the glass coffin containing a life-size statue. This year it is April 6.
Now the Museo Nacional has brought the images and other objects together in an exhibition that runs through March 25. The exhibition is entitled Silencio ante el Sepulcro or “Silence before the Tomb.”
There are 25 pieces of which 16 are life-size, said the museum. They come form churches in San José, Heredia and Cartago.
In addition to statues of Christ, the museum is displaying statues of other liturgical figures, including the Virgen de la Dolorosa, the Virgen de la Soledad, San Juan and angels.
From the iglesia de San Vicente Ferre in Moravia comes a neogothic glass and metal coffin that was made in Germany.
The figure of Jesus inside was made in Costa Rica. The museum calls these coffins sepulcros.
From the Iglesia de San Bartolomé in Barva comes a similar object in the Baroque style.
From the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista in Tibás comes a coffin and statue that was donated by a local family in 1918. It was manufactured in Austria, said the museum.
A statue of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad comes not from the San José church of that name but from the Iglesia de San Isidro Labrador in Heredia. This is a representation of the mother of Christ suffering the personal loss after her son’s crucifixion. Similar statues at churches here date from the 17th century.
When the exhibit ends, the statues and coffins will be returned to their churches for their role in the Semana Santa processions. The cathedral organizes at least four such processions each year around downtown San José. One commemorates the suffering of Christ at the hands of his captors. There also is a procession Friday morning.
These events attract a lot of camera-wielding tourists, as does the Palm Sunday procession from the La Merced Church to the cathedral. This year it is April 1.