The Christmas nativity as displayed within the Mission San Jose, San Antonio. Courtesy of the San
Antonio Conservation Society.
Los Pastores at the Mission San Jose, San Antonio
By Patricia E. Olvera
Every year the Mission San Jose comes alive with performances of Los Pstores, the
400-yearold Christmastime miracle play. The San Antonio Conservation Society has
been the "padrino" or sponsor of the event for over thirty years.
The Mission San Jose makes a most spectacular backdrop for the performances. It is
believed that the mission is one of the first sites where this play was performed. During
the early seventeenth century this play was used by Franciscan priests to teach native
Americans about the birth of Christ. The Guadalupe Church Players of Our Lady of
Guadalupe Church have traditionally been the performers of the religious drama. The
actors are not professionals. They participate year after year not for personal glory but
as an act of piety, a devoci6n or a promise made to the Virgin or Christ Child. For
instance, Victor David Elizondo, veteran director of thirty-eight years whose role in
the play is Lucifer, performs a touching act of devotion before each performance.
Elizondo suffered a mild strke in 1960. From his hospital bed he vowed that if he lived
to perform again he would pay homage by walking on his knees the full length of the
stage to place the doll representing Jesus in the manger.
The Guadalupe Players use the San Antonio pastorela. The original, incomplete
version was brought from Mexico by Leandro Granados. He later completed it from
memory by remembering what he had seen and played as a boy. The Mission of San
Jose performance is generally considered to be the tourist version because it usually
runs from two to three hours, while other versions may last from dusk to dawn.
The San Antonio Conservation Society will again sponsor Los Pastores this year at
the Mission San Jose, on December 27 and 28 at 7:00 p.m. Tamales and Mexican hot
chocolate will be served at 6:00 p.m. For more information on the performance contact
the San Antonio Conservation Society, 107 King William St., San Antonio, TX
78204, (512) 224-6163.
According to the remarks of Sefor
Martell, a performance of a pastorela is
given at the request of some padrino
(sponsor) who desires it as an act of devotion.
There is no pay involved, and the
players bear their own expenses. Those
who take part often do so to fulfill a
promise made to the Virgin or to a saint
for a petition answered. He cited that in
his own case he had made such a promise
when his mother had been ill; consequently,
each year for a number of years
he took part in the pastorela in fulfillment
of that promise.
The seven devils, corresponding to the
seven deadly sins, are called los nombrados-the
important ones or the stars.
These are the roles most sought after, and
Martell portrayed the character of Barrabas.
As each devil completes his harangue
on his particular vice, there is
great glee, laughter, and dancing on the
part of all los nombrados as they contemplate
what will be the fate of man as a
victim of this particular sin.
Each of the devils has his characteristic
costume with long hair made of ixtle
fibers. Astucia is the only one who is
dressed as a woman, and her costume is
changed three times during the presentation.
In addition to the costumes, each
one carries a lithographed poster of the
vice that he represents. For instance,
gluttony (la gula) is represented by a fat
man, lust (la lujuria) by a voluptuous
woman, and avarice (la avaricia) by a
miser and his money.
As Barrabas, Sefior Martell wore a
mask fashioned as a bull's head with
springs and movable jaws. It was of tin,
painted black, and according to the
player, quite interesting. To carry out the
idea of the devils' consuming fire, bread
was dipped in alcohol and lighted; the
nombrados then proceeded apparently to
partake of these flames.
My informant went on to say that these
plays are presented generally around
Christmastime at the period of the acostada
del Niiio Dios, the birth of the Christ
Child represented by laying the Babe in
the manger with the appropriate surroundings.
The presentation begins at
about seven or eight o'clock at night and
lasts until nine or ten o'clock the next
morning. In spite of the cold and disagreeable
weather that usually occurs at
this time of the year, the people will
sit patiently throughout the long hours.
Some are there because of religious devo
Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 04, Number 03, Winter 1986. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45440/. Accessed September 2, 2014.