Mexico: José Bernardo Hogal, 1746.
Quarto: 20 x 14.8 cm. , “111” [i.e. 211], ,  p. Collation: π1, ¶-11¶4, 12¶2, A-Z4; Aa-Hh4
Bound in contemporary stiff vellum with minor wear and soiling, and small, very minor imperfections on the rear board. The stiffness of the binding has caused the text block to loosen. The text is in very fine condition with some very light damp-staining and a closed tear to the second title page. Marcas de fuego of the Convento de san Francisco in Silao, Guanajuato (MFM-12117) on top and bottom edges.
An extraordinary book: an account of the discovery, in 1744 of a wooden box that held the miraculously-preserved blood and entrails of Juan José Escalona y Calatayud, Bishop of Caracas and Michoacán, who had died seven years earlier, in 1737. His body remains had been divided and distributed for burial in various locations; his head was entombed in the convent of the Sisters of St. Catherine, and his entrails, immersed in his blood, where buried beneath the cathedral floor, where they were unearthed during construction work in 1744.
“On the night of May 13, 1744, a group of surgeons, physicians, and officials of the Church examined the contents of a wooden box, unearthed a day before under the floor of the Cathedral of Valladolid, in the Michoacán province. The testimonies of those present – collected later in the book “Voices of Triton” written by the Augustinian chronicler from Michoacán fray Mathías de Escobar- narrate the mysterious encounter and the surprising findings of the illustrious group:
‘Inside said box, they all saw an abundance of blood with a color, not red, but golden, giving off a mild odor; and the master surgeon, coming forth to stir the blood with an instrument [...] pulled out several entrails [...]; he also took out glands, a liver, and various other things, which he removed and examined: and the surgeons as well as the physicians pronounced them to be from a human body. [...] They said that no part was rotten or decayed, nor did the blood (of which a little was taken, in a crystal glass, to better examine it) have the odor of corruption. The Bachelor Don Juan Antonio de Quadros y Leon tested it. [...] The organs were wet and fresh, and the bystanders agreed that the smell in no way caused any revulsion or indisposition of stomach (which one usually) experiences at the sight of such things, and the great crowd of bystanders began to dunk cotton in the blood, with so much excess that the Lord Provisor stopped them (in order to prevent idolatry).”(Anchin, “Las Entrañas de Poder”, p. 17)
Examination of the blood under a microscope (“a new and curious invention”) found, rather than the expected agents of corruption (“very minute worms imperceptible to vision”), particles of cinnamon and rosemary. The written testimonies of the experts were witnessed by a notary. Thus “science –or rather, the scientific notions held by the experts and physicians of Michoacán – served as the epistemological lens through which to interpret the miracle.”(ibid, p. 19)
The remains were transferred to a more elaborate casket and ceremoniously re-interred in the cathedral vault.
In addition to preserving the testimonies of the physicians and witnesses who examined the remains (see below), Mathias de Escobar’s book gives us insight into the complex perspectives of the 18th c. educated Criollo, whose culture accommodated belief in miraculous occurrences and microorganisms, incorruptible relics and the microscope, and allowed for the scientific investigation of supernatural phenomena without skepticism that such phenomena did occur.
In his efforts to explain the miraculous preservation of the bishop’s entrails, Escobar explores the complex interplay of biological processes (ingestion and digestion) and a person’s spiritual state of being and moral character. Escobar notes that following the eating habits of the saints can have salutary effects, and, in this instance, posits that the bishop’s ingestion of the eucharist while performing Mass was partially responsible for the preservation of his entrails (“el divino pan comunicó beneficios a sus entrañas”.)
The Testimonio: Results of the Medical Examination.
The second work in the volume, the “Testimonio”, is a remarkable document. It records the diverse group of persons (medical professionals, church officials, a representative of the Inquisition, and laypersons, including two indigenous) who were present when the remains were unearthed and examined. There were thirteen witnesses in total: three doctors, the presbyter of the bishopric, the surgeon, the commissioner of the Holy Office, the lieutenant curate of the tabernacle, the major sacristan of the tabernacle, an Indian servant in the sacristy, the major sacristan of the cathedral, a mestizo in charge of open graves, the chaplain of the choir, and a laborer.
They certify that the remains were those of Juan José Escalona and Calatayud, that there has been no deceit. The doctors present the evidence and certify that there is no logical explanation for the incorruptibility given the time that had elapsed since burial, the conditions in which the remains were interred, and what was known about the health of the bishop when he died. The deceased had suffered from dysentery, the burial place was humid, and the box with the remains was surrounded by other corpses that did decompose.
It should be stressed that the primary purpose of preparing and publishing the details of this unusual 18th c. New World post-mortem examination was not to advance science but rather to advance the case for the bishop’s canonization. And while the remains of the bishop were re-interred, some of the blood-soaked cotton was preserved as evidence of the miracle.
"Besides entering into particular description of these remains and their miraculous preservation, this strange work contains much curious matter relative to the various modes of embalming.”( Sabin 22837).
Sabin 22837. Medina, Mexico 3764; Palau 81077; Leclerc 1125. U.S. holdings: Indiana, Penn, JCB, BYU, NYPL, Stonybrook, Newberry, Stanford Med., Michigan