Jesus and the Guinea Pig
Jesus and a guinea pig: words you rarely find together in the same sentence — or in the same religious encyclopedia, for that matter. But in the convent of San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador, I not only found them in the same sentence muttered by passersby, I also found them in the same painting. In this painting, a representation of the Last Supper, Jesus plays the part of Jesus — a bit of typecasting perhaps, but it works. The guinea pig, on the other hand, plays the part of the bread, the last meal Jesus was to have on Earth. The painting itself is aptly guarded by a nun so old she may have been present at the Last Supper herself. Her demeanor alone made it clear that my taking a picture of the painting would result in a fate worse than that experienced by the guinea pig.
It turns out that guinea pigs have held a unique place in Ecuadorian culture for centuries, particularly in northern Ecuador. They are not only eaten for food but are also kept as pets and are considered harbingers of good fortune. Their urine is a source of warding off unwanted apparitions, and their entire selves, urine and all, play a prominent role in coming-of-age and wedding celebrations. So it could quite naturally be expected that the guinea pig would show up in religious symbolism and, in the case of said painting, as the main course of the supper to end all suppers.
Imagine, for a moment, that Ecuador had set an international trend for bread replacement in representations of the Last Supper. In Maine, Jesus might be eating a lobster; in Chicago, perhaps digging into a porterhouse steak. And in Wisconsin, Jesus would be slicing a wedge of extra-sharp cheddar. Worldwide, we would find Him depicted with a forkful of paella in Spain, chopsticks of sushi in Tokyo, or a handful of tiki masala in India — or most any city block in London.
Of course, where there is food, there must also be drink, so in these regional representations of the Last Supper, we would find Him swigging a stein of lager in Frankfurt, drinking a mate in Montevideo, or sipping a chardonnay in Sydney.
For those with interests both religious and commercial, we’d find Jesus in a Manchester United jersey, Peter doling out leftovers into Tupperware, and John in the latest pair of Nikes. For an added touch of scandal, Judas could be wearing Manolo Blahniks, just to give the Da Vinci Code fanatics a little more to chew on. You get the picture — or painting. Slightly altered, of course.
Perhaps this is what many religions strive for: supplanting one established culture onto another, like when Spanish soldiers imposed Catholicism on the native population of Ecuador in the 1500s. In their zeal to pile it on, the Spanish deluged these indigenous people with paintings of horrific images to encourage their religious conversions. One such painting can be found in Ecuador’s Museo del Banco Central: hellfire rages down on the unconverted in such a way making Botticelli’s version of Dante’s Inferno seems like a bicycle trip.
So in the grand scheme of things, keeping the guinea pig and using it to replace bread is a minor victory in a nation that was forced to replace its entire belief system.
It makes one wonder what Jesus would have thought — or, for that matter, the guinea pig.
Eliza Drake Auth is a painter who lives and works in the Philadelphia area. She is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. Primarily a landscape painter, her work can be seen at Sherry French Gallery, New York City and Richard Rosenfeld Gallery, Philadelphia.
Works by Eliza Drake Auth
Laura Martin Bacon is a longtime writer and creative consultant for Williams-Sonoma and other well-known entities. She’s also the Culinary Creative Director of DooF (“food” backwards), an organization that uses multi-media entertainment, education and live events to help kids and families discover the magic of food. DooF explores every aspect of food – from flavors, history, science and cultural traditions to the exciting journey from source-to-table. Laura’s mission: to make good food fun – at home, in the classroom and beyond.
Works by Laura Martin Bacon
Author and teacher Ned Bachus earned multiple teaching awards during his 38-year career at Community College of Philadelphia, including the Christian and Mary Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. His book of short stories, City of Brotherly Love, received the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction. His memoir, Open Admissions: What Teaching at Community College Taught Me About Learning, will be published by Wild River Books in 2017.
Works by Ned Bachus
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Lauren Baker studied at Rider University, studying English and Elementary Education. She has strong interests in and passions for literature, creative writing, and sidewalk-chalking. She spends her free time coffee-drinking and shoe-shopping.
Elizabeth Bako lives between Center City, Philadelphia and New Hope, Pennsylvania. She acts as contributing editor and writer for Wild River Review, published in fiction and non-fiction. She has just finished her first YA novel and is working on her second. She has a background in editing, writing and social media, and works as a private consultant and content editor for writers. Her most recent projects include Anatolian Days and Nights by Wild River Review editor-in-chief, Joy E. Stocke and, The Last Daughter of Prussia by Marina Gottlieb-Sarles.
In partnership with Wild River Review, Elizabeth and colleague, Fran Metzman, will be hosting Writing Beyond the Paradigm; a series of dynamic workshops providing a new approach to creative writing and memoir.
ALL ARTICLES BY ELIZABETH BAKO
Katie Baldwin migrated to Montana, the Big Sky Country, from California. She attended Montana State University studying History, German and Spanish. Baldwin’s father is a pilot for Northwest Airlines, and she spends all of her school breaks traveling. In Montana, she skis, hikes, and volunteers for numerous organizations. Her energy to affect social change spans issues from Habitat for Humanity to land mine eradication, political campaigning, or raising the minimum wage for Montanans. Katie hopes to work for an international development organization after graduating, taking a position abroad, of course.
ALL ARTICLES BY KATE BALDWIN
Susan Balée regularly contributes essays on literature and culture to The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Hudson Review. Her work has also appeared in many other journals including The Times Literary Supplement, The Women’s Review of Books, The Weekly Standard, and Wild River Review (“Memoir of a Ghost”). Years ago she edited a literary magazine, Northeast Corridor, where parts of Dana Gioia’s libretto for Nosferatu originally appeared.
Works by Susan Balee
The late Leslie Esdaile Banks, (1959-2011) was an African American writer. She wrote in various genres, including African American literature, romance, women’s fiction, crime suspense, dark fantasy/horror and non-fiction. Leslie wrote under the pseudonyms L. A. Banks, Leslie Esdaile, Leslie Banks and Leslie Esdaile Banks. She won several literary awards, including the 2008 Essence Literary Awards Storyteller of the Year.
Banks was born and raised in Philadelphia.
Banks contributed to magazines, newspaper columns, and has written commercial fiction for five major publishers: St. Martin’s Press (NYC), Simon and Schuster (NYC), Kensington Publishing (NYC), BET/Arabesque (NYC), and Genesis Press (MS). Books one and two of The Vampire Huntress Legend Series (Minion and The Awakening, respectively), were optioned for Hollywood films by GothamBeach Entertainment and Griot Entertainment. Originally a nine book series, The Vampire Huntress Legend Series was expanded to twelve books.
Leslie Esdaile Banks was a founding partner of The Liars Club, a networking group of professional in publishing and other aspects of entertainment.
Works by L.A. Banks
An avid reader and budding writer, Alex lives and works in Washington, DC. He graduated from American University with a Bachelor’s of Arts in International Studies in 2007 and has worked for the J. William and Harriet Fulbright Center since graduation. Besides being a political junkie, he is a volunteer at the Washington Animal Rescue League. Alex rides the Metro to work every day.