Friday, June 22, 2018

Huejotzingo: the Posa Chapels

As a follow up to our recent series on the sculpted posa chapels at Calpan, we now look at the closely related chapels of nearby San Miguel Huejotzingo.
However grand the Huejotzingo church may seem to-day, in the 16th century it was far too small to hold the vast congregation of newly converted Indians. By necessity, the friars preached out-doors, celebrating mass in the spacious, wooded atrium. 
   On feast days, friars and acolytes moved in procession around the perimeter, stopping briefly to pray at the four corner chapels, known as posas—from the Spanish posar, meaning "to pause."
Built and maintained throughout the colonial era by cofradías, the religious brotherhoods of the community, to honor their local saints, together with those at Calpan this quartet of chapels is one of the very few complete sets of 16th century posas to survive intact in Mexico. Each of the four is dedicated to the patron saint of the associated cofradía, and played an essential part in the Easter festivities at Huejotzingo.
   In addition to their remarkable decorative qualities, the complex sculptural program of the posas is also designed to link the Passion story with the Franciscan Order.
Capped by a distinctive pyramidal roof, each posa is elaborately carved on its two open sides—eight facades in all. The archway of each posa is formed by clustered Gothic colonettes and linked fetter moldings, and framed above by a rectangular alfiz in the form of the Franciscan knotted cord ending in a prominent tassel or knout.
At the center of each alfiz, an ornate, crowned monogram of either the Holy Name of Christ or the Virgin Mary is surmounted by a row of relief medallions displaying the Five Wounds of Christ.
   This central symbol of the Passion—intimately associated with the receiving of the Stigmata by St. Francis and thus doubly meaningful to the Franciscans—was universally emblazoned on all their buildings in the New World.
   Although all the facades have a common format, the iconography differs from posa to posa. Pairs of angel reliefs, frozen in flight, present the various Instruments of the Passion, in a sequence that runs counter-clockwise around the atrium, starting with the north east corner.

Northeast Posa.   “John the Baptist”
On the south face of the first chapel, to the immediate left of the church door, angels depict the amphora and ewer of water used by Pontius Pilate, and the lantern by whose light Christ was discovered and arrested.

Above the adjacent archway, facing west, angels display the lance and hyssop (sponge of vinegar) with a cup of honey. 
The date 1550 is carved on the roof beside a skull and crossbones. 
Northwest Posa.  “St Peter & St Paul”
The best known and preserved of the four chapels. On the east side, angels with trumpets sound the Last Judgment. Musical flowers issue from the bells of the trombone like instruments On the south face, another angel brandishes the sword of Saint Peter, while the thirty pieces of silver are shown opposite.


Southwest Posa.    “The Assumption”
Here, the angels carry the cruel tools of the Crucifixion. On the north side they bear the scourge and a vicious club, and opposite, the flagellation column with the cockerel crowing on top. On the east face, one angel brandishes a cane and a plant, and the other a spiky crown of thorns.


Southeast Posa.    “Santiago”
Unfortunately, the reliefs on the last posa have been much defaced and are indecipherable. The chapel interiors are all empty now. The altars and shrines that once adorned them have been removed and only a few patches of colored fresco remain. 

Tree crosses, also carved with the Instruments of the Passion, once stood atop each chapel roof. Only one such cross has been preserved and now stands in a simulated crown of thorns on a pedestal in front of the church.
text and graphics © 2018 Richard D. Perry
photography by the author and courtesy of Patrice Schmitz and Carolyn Brown.
see our earlier post on the north doorway at Huejotzingo

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Calpan. The Posa Chapels 4

In our previous posts we looked at three of the four posa chapels at Calpan. Here we look at the fourth and perhaps most intriguing, the southwest posa, dedicated to the Archangel Michael.
chapel of St Michael, north face
4. The Southwest Posa
This extraordinary chapel displays two sculpted faces. Over the north facing entry the Archangel Michael, the patron saint, is identified by name and occupies the center spot  He raises his sword in triumph as the vanquished devil clutches at his leg. Michael is flanked by the two other principal archangels, Gabriel and Raphael.
The Archangel Michael
Carved bands of alternating hearts and shells entwined in foliage frame the archway.
chapel of St Michael, east face
But the piéce de résistance here is the expansive relief of the Last Judgment which fills the east facade, a sculptural masterpiece derived from a 15th century woodcut.
Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, The Last Judgment,
 from The Nuremburg Chronicle (Nuremburg, Germany 1493), woodcut.

reprinted in the Flos Sanctorum Spanish edition (Zaragoza 1521)
Christ sits in Majesty in the center, wearing a radiant tiara of the Tres Potencias, symbolizing the three powers of the soul: memory, understanding and will.  He is flanked by a lily and a sword, respective emblems of salvation and damnation. Angels blowing a horn and bearing the Instruments of the Passion float below.
Large reliefs of the Virgin Mary (left) and John the Baptist (right) kneel on either side, interceding for the diminutive souls rising from their gaping coffins below.  Latin inscriptions beside them read respectively, "Intercede O Sacred Virgin and pray for us. 1 and "The Lord judges all of them. 2
The dead rising to judgment
The Latin text below Christ reads: "Rise, ye Dead and Come to Judgment."3  
One significant difference from the original woodcut is the addition of these inscriptions, which add powerful emphasis to the overall message.
1.   Intercede Virgo Sacra ora pro nobis
2.   Dedit illi Dominus omne iudicio
3.   Surgite mortui venite ad iudicium
Winged angels and Gothic crockets climb the steep sides of the roof, towards the crowning papal tiara of St. Peter, the keeper of the gate to Paradise.
Please review our other posts with mention of the Last Judgment:
 El LlanitoTotimehuacanSuchixtlahuacaHuaquechulaYanhuitlan; Xoxoteco; Actopan; Cuitzeo; Ixmiquilpan;
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry 
photography by Carolyn Brown, Patrice Schmitz and the author

Monday, June 11, 2018

Calpan: The Posa Chapels 3

southeast posa, west side
3. The Southeast Posa 
A third posa is dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, author of the biblical Book of Revelation. The figure of the saint stands, bearing the poisoned chalice, in the center niche over the west archway, surrounded by bold medallions of the Tetramorph—the symbols of the Four Evangelists.
Matthew; Angel                                            Mark; Lion
Luke;  Bull                                                     John;  Eagle
On the east side of the posa an eroded relief depicts a bearded God the Father reigning in glory with the angels over the celestial city—all that remains of the sculptural ornament here
© Niccolo Brooker
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry.
 photography by Carolyn Brown, Patrice Schmitz, Felipe Falcón, Niccolo Brooker and the author

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Calpan: The Posa Chapels 2

2. The Northwest Posa 
This chapel is dedicated to St. Francis, reinforcing the link between the Seraphic Order and the Passion of Christ. 
Large, framed reliefs of the Five Wounds of Christ appear on both faces of the posa. These are flanked on the east side by a pair of fluttering angels bearing the Instruments of the Passion—the one on the left identified by a plaque as the Archangel Michael.
northwest posa, east side detail
northwest posa, south side
On the south face the five wounds are embraced by a seraph with six spreading wings and flanked by monograms of Francis, Christ and Mary. Instead of the customary knotted cord, chain moldings like those at Huejotzingo border the arch and alfiz above—representing the Order of the Golden Fleece and suggesting royal patronage. 
statue of St Francis
One unique feature of this chapel is the statue of St. Francis himself, displaying the Stigmata, kneeling on the corner of the luxuriantly foliated parapet—a unique instance of such placement on a posa chapel. 
   Not only that, but a second statue, now missing but formerly mounted on the adjacent corner, is believed to have represented Francis elegantly dressed as a young man at the moment of his conversion—this photograph taken circa 1960 shows it still in place. 
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry 
photography by Carolyn Brown, Beverley Spears, Patrice Schmitz and the author

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Calpan: The Posa Chapels 1.

San Andrés Calpan, Puebla
Founded in 1548 by Fray Juan de Alameda, the monastery of San Andrés Calpan sits in a sleepy hill town set among cornfields and walnut groves on the slopes of the volcano Ixtaccihuatl.
A gem of early Franciscan architecture, the monastery is even now seldom visited by travelers. Fray Juan also drew up the plans and may have supervised the early construction from nearby Huejotzingo. The atrium is cut deep into the hillside at the west end, where a flight of stone steps descends steeply from the raised gateway. 
   To the east, the apse of the church and the rear of the convento stand tall above the sloping hillside, commanding a panoramic view of the entire valley below.
The Posa Chapels 
Calpan's atrium is a 16th century sculpture garden, its posa chapels justly famed as the most elaborate and best preserved in Mexico—probably dating from the 1550s. 
   Together with those at Huejotzingo, the four posas at Calpan are unique for their imaginative stone carving and complex iconography. Their sculpted reliefs are a triumph of tequitqui ornament, exquisitely carved by a team of skilled native artisans in the service of their Franciscan patrons. Each of the four chapels is linked to one of the four principal barrios of Calpan—Tepetipa, Tlamapa, Tlalnahuac and Tlaxixco.
   As at Huejotzingo, the imagery illustrates the redemptive power of Christ's Passion, as mediated by the Franciscan Order. But here, the theme takes on a more urgent tone, intensified by apocalyptic visions of the Second Coming and divine judgment.
  In this post, the first of four, we describe the posas in their traditional order, proceeding counterclockwise from the  processional northeastern gateway. 
1. The Northeast Posa
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, this first and most extensively sculpted chapel stands just inside the arcaded gateway on the north side of the atrium. Carved panels of rosettes and intricate foliage border the reliefs on three sides of the posa.

A dramatic relief of the Virgin of Sorrows covers the otherwise blank eastern facade, the first to be encountered in procession around the atrium. Seven giant swords with engraved hilts and dagger-like points, symbolizing her Sorrows, crisscross Mary's grieving figure. 
The presence of prominent disks before each hilt suggests that they may once have enclosed miniature inlays or reliefs of the Seven Joys, or corresponding episodes in the life of the Virgin.  
The Assumption or Coronation of the Virgin, carved over the south facing archway, is encased in a U-shaped frame. Here she is swathed in a voluminous robe amid a celestial cloud of seraphs who display the crown above her head. To either side angels hover holding candles and swinging censers.

Portrayal of the Annunciation embellishes the third face of the posa. The Virgin Mary sits on the left, with the Archangel Gabriel on her right. An outsized vase of lilies symbolizes the purity of the Mother of God, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending through exaggerated rays of heavenly light.
Monograms of Christ and the Virgin are linked on the jambs, friezes and roof medallions. 

The steep pyramidal roof of the chapel, its corners lined by moldings with prominent volutes on either end, is topped by a  fleurs-de-lis crown and the shaft of a tree cross shaped like a quiote or agave floral spike.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry 
photography by Carolyn Brown, Patrice Schmitz, Felipe Falcón and the author