The restoration of a venerated 18th century statue of Christ in Mexico has revealed a somewhat creepy detail — the figure contains real human teeth, and the chompers appear to be in pristine condition.
Researchers at Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said this week they made the discovery after performing X-rays on the Lord of Patience, as the figure is known, during a restoration operation.
The fangs are only slightly visible through Christ’s open lips, but anthropologists said X-rays showed the eight teeth are complete and intact, all the way to the root.
The 3'8" tall icon — depicting a patient, pained Christ resting momentarily during the Passion — is usually seated in a church in San Bartolo Cuautlalpan, a town of 10,000 in the municipality of Zumpango, about 30 miles north of Mexico City.
“It is common for statues to have teeth, but they are normally made of wood or carved individually out of bone,” said Fanny Unikel, a Mexican art restorer, in statements made to INAH. “In this case, he has eight adult teeth. You can even see the roots.”
Unikel, from Mexico’s National School of Conservation, Restoration and Museology, said the teeth were most likely donated out of gratitude, or as a way to get closer to the religious figure, adding that it is historically common for parishioners to donate clothes or their own hair to make wigs for saints, for example.
The Lord of Patience statue has been venerated in San Bartolo Cuautlalpan for centuries, although the exact date it was made or its authorship remain unknown. INAH dates it to the 18th century and the Colonial Era, when Mexico was referred as New Spain and the Catholic Church’s missionary work — and its Inquisition — expanded northward to what is now the Southwest United States.
Unikel said the Lord of Patience in the San Bartolo church is very well preserved. “The sculpture is always dressed,” Unikel explained. “He only leaves the church during Holy Week, when he is paraded through the town.”
It is common throughout Mexico’s rural communities to carry venerated figures through the streets on holidays, followed usually by a celebratory parade of townspeople in costumes, depictions of saints, and occasionally, heavily decorated animals.
Some of the Lord of Patience’s original green tinges on his skin, as well as blood-red hues, were discovered underneath a “modern beige retouching,” and have now been recovered. Unikel does not believe, however, that the teeth belonged to a important religious figure from the period, but rather they were used because they were available.
“The community really appreciates him, and this can be seen in the base of the sculpture, where there are different layers of multiple shades of paint,” Unikel told INAH. “This shows that they wanted to present him with dignity.”
According to the INAH statement, the Lord of Patience and his human teeth is already back in San Bartolo and resting, as he has done for years, in the village church.