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Jorge Monroy and a small part of his new mural. Jorge Monroy and a small part of his new mural.

Mural remembers Guadalajara friar

Painting of Antonio Alcalde, Friar of the Skull, dedicated at Guadalajara hospital

A poor man selling cards in the street outside Guadalajara’s Hospital Civil became the model for a mural that was dedicated yesterday in the hospital’s new wing.

The new work by Guadalajara muralist Jorge Monroy depicts Friar Antonio Alcalde, who founded both the hospital — in 1787 —  and the University of Guadalajara, and was responsible for bringing the first printing press to the city.

The friar is shown holding a skull in his right hand, says Monroy, behind which there is “a delightful anecdote.”

When Alcalde was in his 60s he was the abbot of a monastery in Spain. One evening, a group of hunters knocked at the gate, the king of Spain among them. “We were lost in the woods,” said the king, “and we want to spend the night here.”

Since the king’s visit was unexpected, he ended up sleeping in a very austere room adorned by nothing else but a grinning human skull.

“The following day,” says Monroy, “the king was back in his palace and the order of the day was to designate a bishop for Mexico. Immediately, the king said, ‘We will send the friar of the skull.’

The king, it seems, had been impressed by the abbot’s wisdom and simplicity. Although he didn’t remember the abbot’s name, he did remember that skull and from then on, Alcalde was known as “The Friar of the Skull.”

The 15-meter-high mural is entitled La Humanidad Doliente, or Suffering Humanity, and shows a full-size representation of Alcalde reaching out to someone in pain. Monroy described how it came together.

“I was looking for just the right model for a person who might represent a patient of the hospital and I found him out in front of the building selling holy cards on the street. He was a poor man named Carlos, from the state of Guerrero, and he had ended up in this hospital after being hit by a car.

“After he was brought back to health and released, he decided to stay in the neighborhood. The moment I saw him, I knew he was the model I needed for this mural.”

The background of the painting shows several of Guadalajara’s buildings, including the cathedral as it looked in 1770 when Alcalde arrived in the city.

Depicting elegant buildings is Monroy’s forte and his watercolors of churches, monuments, haciendas and landscapes have been appearing in the Sunday edition of the newspaper El Informador for 25 years.

In the foreground of the painting there are small portraits of individuals connected with Fray Antonio’s hospital, among them famed Mexican author Mariano Azuela, who received his medical degree in Guadalajara in 1899 and went on to write Los de Abajo (The Underdogs), a first-hand description of the Mexican Revolution.

Among the portraits are the faces of individuals alive today, including former University of Guadalajara rector Raúl Padilla. Once it was known that some living persons would be “immortalized” in the mural, controversy broke out over who should be included or omitted. The final decisions on these points “were made by those who commissioned the mural,” commented the painter.

Although this mural covers 150 square meters, it is not Monroy’s largest. That honor goes to the 30-meter-long painting which graces the curved inner wall of the Phil Weigand Guachimontones Center near the famed “circular pyramids” of Teuchitlán, located 40 kilometers west of Guadalajara.

More information on murals by Jorge Monroy can be seen at the web page Jorge Monroy, Guadalajara’s Muralist in the Woods.

Mexico News Daily

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