Below the floor

I WENT TO church yesterday. Basilica, actually, but I went to basilica doesn’t sound right, bounces off the ear funny.

Driving down the cobblestone street, I passed the basilica and got a hair up my backside, so I parked and went up the long stone walkway to the huge old door. I didn’t have to doff my hat because I’d left the hat in the Honda.

dahliaI went inside and sat on one of the shellacked pine pews, in a spot where the place to kneel was flipped up because I don’t kneel and because the kneeling things make it a tight squeeze for feet. I like legroom.

The basilica ceiling is very high. In spite of its being a small town here, the Spaniards built a first-class operation. You can’t have a puny basilica. It makes a bad impression on God, or I imagine that’s how it would be seen.

It was late afternoon, too late for Mass or perhaps too early, or both. Not a priest in sight. There had been a powerful rain, and few folks were inside the basilica with me, perhaps seven or so. It was grandly decorated with massive buntings, red, white and gold, hanging from on high. And floods of fresh flowers.

There were three confessionals and electronic candles because wax candles have gone the way of most full-penguin nuns, a thing of the old days. Nuns want to be comfortable, and nobody wants to burn the basilica down.

You do forfeit the nice smell of hot wax.

We have our own Virgin Mary. She’s named La Señora de la Salud. All over Mexico, towns and villages have their own local Virgin Marys. I really don’t get it, all those Virgin Marys instead of just the one. Our local Virgin Mary, made of cane paste and very old, sits up high in a glass-enclosed perch in the basilica. People here take her very seriously.

I sit in the basilica every couple of months, and I always look at the marble floor and think of who’s beneath it: my brother-in-law, the one who accidentally shot himself to death with a little .22-caliber pistol some years back. There are tombs down there. You descend narrow steps under a ventilation grate in the floor.

If you didn’t know it was there, you’d just walk right over it, thinking of other things, not of all the rotting corpses below. I’ve been down two or three times, those tombs where Catholic people spend eternity.

On leaving the basilica, walking back down the long stone walkway, you have the option of crossing the cobblestone street and continuing ahead. Four blocks down a hillside, on a perpendicular street, sits another church, almost as big, but not a basilica, just a normal Catholic church.

I don’t visit there. I don’t sit. I know no one below the floor.