December 12, 2015

The Mushroom Shrine

El Honguito

The Artist Conk (Ganoderma applanatum) forms a semi-circular plate emerging from deciduous trees. Abundant across our hemisphere, it is non-digestible and hard. Its lower face is conducive to drawing or engraving, hence its name.

In nineteenth century Mexico, the clergy was struggling to divert the natives from their ancient mushroom cults. In 1880, near Ixtlahuaca, a village in the Sierra Norte de Puebla, Dolores Rojas, found on his path, a mushroom (Ganoderma lobatum) hardly the size of a hockey puck but similar to the Artist Conk. On its face was etched a tiny Christ on the cross, a skull at his feet, a sun and a crescent on each side and stars. No doubt a miracle had occurred. For years, the amulet circulated to heal the sick of the neighborhood. Soon, a dedicated shrine was built next to the now renown Rojas’ home.

In 1941, the local parish priest, Ismael Garcia Gonzalez, allowed the construction of a church, Nuestro Señor del Honguito, where the mushroom continued to be revered. After his death in 1958, his successor, Ildefonso Illescas, placed the amulet in a box at the center of an imposing metal cross erected inside. Parishioners used to enter, make a detour and light a lantern in front of the cross, before returning to the main door and proceeding to the standard religious practice. In the sixties, at the request of the ecclesiastical authorities, the church was renamed Nuestra Señora del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus.

Today, the devotion has given way to a tourist attraction. But a question remains: who was behind the hoax? The notorious Dolores Rojas himself or, as some sources say, an anonymous clergyman whose mission was to bring the natives closer to the true faith? The designs of God are unfathomable! 

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