Thursday, April 03, 2008

Faith Works 4-5-08
Jeff Gill

Connections Bring Life, and Seasoning

In this space a few weeks back, I pointed out that our Licking County bicentennial is echoed by a double bicentennial in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with the influence of and statues of Father Lamy tying us both together.

Hispanic culture still has little enough foothold in this area, though the central Ohio region is starting to learn what the rest of the county has long known, that Hispanic culture has been part of American culture from the very beginning – just not at Plymouth Rock or Jamestown.

When a capital was established at Santa Fe in 1608, they were establishing a northern outpost of a larger and older civilization that already had a century of development behind it, bringing Spanish European and Aztecan American traditions and practices and foods together (mmmmm, tamales!).

We will see another wonderful connection between the Newark area and a distant, ancient land on Saturday, May 3. Go back to 1531, three-quarters of a century before even Santa Fe got a two century jump on Licking County, and visit a place in Mexico called Querétaro.

A modern city that today is as large as the Columbus area, Querétaro was an area the Spanish conquistadores planned to conquer, but a vision of Saint James in the clouds, or “Santiago,” meant that Querétaro was not a place of warfare, but of coming together.

Sande Garner, a doctoral student at Ohio State University and a graduate research assistant with the Newark Earthworks Center of OSU-Newark, went down to Querétaro to learn of the traditions that mingled Aztec dance with Catholic devotion to Santiago. She saw 100,000 dancers snake through the streets and alleys and plazas of Querétaro, and caught a vision: what if some of these dancers, with traditions going back hundreds of years and more, could come from their World Heritage Site, Querétaro old town surroundings, and dance here in ours?

You have to be careful about those kinds of hopes and dreams, because that’s exactly what’s going to happen at 6:00 pm on May 3rd. to help dedicate the new museum that is combined with the new Licking County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at the Great Circle.

Opposite the Arvin-Meritor plant (former Rockwell) just north of Hopewell Drive, or off of 21st St. coming down out of Newark into Heath, you can come out and appreciate the ceremonial dance of a team of Aztec dancers who trace their lineage directly back to that vision of Saint James in 1531, “Palabra del niño Dios Teopiltzintecuhtli” (Word of the Holy Child Teopiltzintecuhtli).

Rain or shine the dancers, as they do throughout the year in Querétaro, will offer up their prayers, their songs, their playing on armadillo guitars, and their dance as a gift to God.

The captain of this dance troupe, Captain Margarita Xochiyaocihuatl Zárate García, is one of the first women dancers to achieve the rank of captain, and regularly dances at Teotihuacán, one of the World Heritage Sites that will be featured at the Newark Earthworks Day on the OSU-N campus earlier in the day. Teotihuacán’s Pyramids of the Sun and of the Moon (both as large as the better known Egyptian pyramids), Stonehenge in England, and the Newark Earthworks will be compared and contrasted through the day – for more info, click on

The next day, May 4, will even include an open house for tours out at Octagon State Memorial on N. 33rd St., north of West Main in Newark. But the highlight for many of us will be 6:00 pm out at the Great Circle, a once connected part of the Newark Earthworks complex of 2,000 years ago -- when on Saturday night, May 3, the Aztec Dancers will process out into the ancient enclosure. With their headdresses of pheasant and peacock feathers, and with drum and song, they will help make a connection between our culture and theirs, times long past and living time today, between Querétaro and Teotihuacán and Stonehenge and Licking County, Ohio.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he sees connections where others just see extension cords. Make a link with him at

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