The source of these pictures was very specific about her wish to keep her name out of this. As is our practice, we are more than happy to comply. We honor such requests.
In the above photo the Angel Gabriel (who delivered to the Virgin Mary the message that she will give birth to the Son of God), had been placed in a manger where, when the moment arrives, the infant Jesus will rest. The thing you need to notice in this first picture is that a coin has been placed over the visible eye of Gabriel.
|The Angel Gabriel depicted as dead?|
My assumption is that whoever put the Angel Gabriel in that manger, and then placed large coins over his eyes, meant to convey the impression that at least one key eternal figure in the central mystery of the Christian religious experience has died. The intended message being that the power of those who rule in Heaven has now gone, and with it all hopes of eternal salvation as well.
That is, needless to say, a very dark message to be sending the believers of Sierra Madre. Particularly from Kersting Court at Christmas time. You have to wonder why someone would do this. Or thought that nobody would notice so troubling a deed.
On the website Answers.com the practice of putting coins on the eyes of the dead is explained this way (link):
Why did they put coins in dead person's eyes? In Greek mythology, the coins were so the souls could pay the cost for Charon to ferry them across the River Styx.
Different cultures have different reasons for doing this. It is a custom in some cultures to place coins on the eyelids of the dead to keep their eyes closed.
The custom is thought to have begun for cosmetic reasons. When a person dies, in a short time their eyes sink far back into their head as they dehydrate, causing the face to present an appearance that many people find disturbing. Placing coins over the eye sockets covered the eyes and made the visage less unpleasant for the bereaved. Nowadays morticians slip plastic fillers behind the eyelids to eliminate this effect.
Charon's obol is an allusive term for the coin placed in or on the mouth of a dead person before burial. Greek and Latin literary sources specify the coin as an obol, and explain it as a payment or bribe for Charon, the ferryman who conveyed souls across the river that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. Archaeological examples of these coins, of various denominations in practice, have been called "the most famous grave goods from antiquity."
The custom is primarily associated with the ancient Greeks and Romans, though it is also found in the ancient Near East. In Western Europe, a similar usage of coins in burials occurs in regions inhabited by Celts of the Gallo-Roman, Hispano-Roman and Romano-British cultures, and among the Germanic peoples of late antiquity and the early Christian era, with sporadic examples into the early 20th century.
Although archaeology shows that the myth reflects an actual custom, the placement of coins with the dead was neither pervasive nor confined to a single coin in the deceased's mouth. In many burials, inscribed metal-leaf tablets or exonumia take the place of the coin, or gold-foil crosses in the early Christian era. The presence of coins or a coin-hoard in Germanic ship-burials suggests an analogous concept.
The phrase "Charon’s obol" as used by archaeologists sometimes can be understood as referring to a particular religious rite, but often serves as a kind of shorthand for coinage as grave goods presumed to further the deceased's passage into the afterlife. In Latin, Charon's obol sometimes is called a viaticum, or "sustenance for the journey"; the placement of the coin on the mouth has been explained also as a seal to protect the deceased's soul or to prevent it from returning.
Whoever is taking care of Sierra Madre's Nativity Scene really ought to start making a little better effort to protect this community trust. It seems to be attracting a troubled element. Or worse.