How St. Jerome Helps Me To Be a Better Neighbor

There is a stone carving above the front gate of my house that depicts a man and a lion resting together peacefully next to a scroll. As I learned today from my friend Adam, the carving tells the story of St. Jerome who welcomed an injured lion at the gate of his monastery. The other monks fled at the sight of the lion, but St. Jerome carefully removed a thorn from the lion’s paw. The scroll is a reference to St. Jerome’s work as a librarian.

The poignant story of St. Jerome and the lion is the subject of many works of art, especially during the Renaissance period.

From the workshop of Jan Van Eyck called St. Jerome in His Study (1442, Detroit Institute of Arts)

This is the painting that inspired the carving over my gate.

Painting of St. Jerome by Bill Henge, a contemporary American painter.

I’m happy that the people who built my house chose to celebrate it with a saint who loves books and welcomes all to his door with courage and compassion. If I’d had the choice, I might have chosen this very story to represent some of my own values as a neighbor.

I’m also glad the carving tells the story of a Catholic saint. I’m not Catholic or in any way religious but I live in a very Catholic part of the world in a very Catholic part of Mexico. Saints are important here so my St. Jerome connects me in a small way to the Mexican families in my neighborhood.

My Canadian neighbors, Joyce and Bill, helped me understand this when they shared the story of the Guadalupe mural next to their front gate. When they built their house, someone told them their house wouldn’t be tagged if they painted Guadalupe on one of the walls. Guadalupe is probably Mexico’s most important patron, adored as a savior, and she seems to be everywhere here in Guanajuato state. When the mural on Joyce and Bill’s house was finished, our Mexican neighbors celebrated it with a fiesta. Since then, they put fresh flowers in the vase below the mural when Joyce and Bill are out of town.

Joyce and Bill’s Guadalupe mural

This little corner of San Miguel de Allende has other important icons. Across the street from my house, a large mural depicts Guadalupe and St. Jude. St. Jude is the saint of lost causes. Because he understands suffering, he is associated with economic and health problems and is a favorite of the poor in Mexico. In repayment for St. Jude’s guardianship, devotees promise to visit one of his many shrines every month. On the 28th of every month, my Mexican neighbors have wonderful fiestas of music and dancing and eating in front of our St. Jude mural.

Mural of St. Jude across the street from my house in San Miguel de Allende

Mexico is full of wonderful traditions that affirm our humanity and promote the strength of the community. I’m so lucky to have a little of it right outside my door.

“Deserve your dream.” — Octavio Paz

18 comments

  1. I am so VERY glad you are writing about your locale, its customs and your experiences living in San Miguel. It’s a magical time for you Kim! The stone carving above your front gate is marvelous and fits you to a “T”… almost like the previous owners knew you would come to live there.

  2. Kim, I hope you received my reply–for some reason, when I clicked on Send it went to WordPress asking me to create new password, and all that folderol! So I did set a new password and came back here and don’t see my remarks about this wonderful blogpost. I think it’s very appropriate that the beautiful plaque of St. Jude and the Lion is above your doorstep for you like he was, are a very kind and generous person. I look forward to seeing you in SMA in January or February, whenever the camino no longer calls and your lovely new calls for you instead!

  3. Kim, it’s great to hear from you and know that you’re fitting in well with your neighbors. Respecting the religious beliefs of your neighbors and adopted country makes life so much more meaningful. Blessings ❤

  4. Thank you for including us in your wonderful article! St. Jerome and Guadalupe are good neighbours as obviously are you and us! We couldn’t be happier your journey has brought you right next door!

  5. Kim–as usual, I love this blog. I’ve never noticed St Jerome–nor did I know his legend. What an appropriate symbol for your home–you are always so welcoming to us wounded lions and so adept at removing thorns from our paws–not to mention your wonderful cooking! also–didn’t realize it was St Jude across the street–lucky you to be surrounded by so many icons. You are very protected! and loved!

    1. Aw thanks! I also loved your story of the lion that was used during the early feminist movement and I would have continued to interpret the sculpture that way if it hadn’t found the painting that was the basis for it.

  6. ps forgot to say how also appropriate you are across the street from St Jude (I often ask for his intervention in my numerous lost causes–the most recent being my lost cell phone!) St Jude–patron said of Lost Causes and you, my friend most involved in rying to fix lost causes around the world!

  7. Hey Kim-always happy to come across your musings. FYI I just finished ‘On Mexican Time’ by Tony Cohan and absolutely loved it. Is he still there? If you have read it I highly recommend it and be interested in you sense of San Miguel Allende now versus his in 2020. I was there many yrs ago but just for a week.

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