José Gregorio Hernández (JGH), The Doctor of the Poor, died in Caracas in June 1919. More than 100 years later, one can read Thank you for the favor granted over 10,000 times in his sanctuary. He became Blessed after a mother entrusted her daughter’s life to him. In 2007, 10-year-old girl Yaxury Solórzano was in the middle of a robbery and received a gunshot in the head. Her family attributed the girl’s miraculous recovery to JGH, and so did the Vatican. Venezuelans, however, already consider him as a Saint. They’ve put the doctor’s stamp on their wallets, and his image in churches, hospitals and homes, as since long ago. Venezuela is a place of faith and believers. A country that stands on its feet as a miracle.

Material apparitions

In March 2019, José Gregorio Hernández’s silhouette was spotted on an abandoned billboard in Caracas. That wasn’t a miracle, though, but an installation called Sagrado Corazón de José (Joseph’s scare’s heart), made on cardboard, with a superimposed heart, by Susan Applewhite, a Venezuelan artist that has turned Caracas into an art gallery. The author chases after paperboard, recycled materials, nylon and free places to exhibit her work. She calls the attention of pedestrians into forgotten spaces. She protests, relieves and recovers a city whose rhythm swept away the beauty and does not encourage contemplation.

Joseph’s scare’s heart, Susan Applewhite, 2021, Caracas. Image courtesy of the artist.

The multiplication of hope

In March 2021, Caracas went through one of its regular economical and political crises. The city’s levels of violence, lack of food and medical supplies increased. And the COVID pandemic arrived. In the midst of chaos, the doctor was beatified, and his image began to multiply on Caracas sidewalks. He started showing up delineated on X-ray plates, in multicolor, made out of the highest Bolívares’ (the local currency) denomination banknotes, and out of empty blisters. Today, numerous images of JGH escort and watch over more than 3.5 million people. The citizens make the sign of the cross-over street art, hoping miracles continue to proliferate.

They pray for their blisters to get filled, and for their money to stop being lining paper. Applewhite shapes miraculous pieces of art, and the city submits, eagerly believing in them.