Saturday, December 8, 2018

Haciendas of Yucatán: San Juan Tabí

In our books, web pages and blog posts on Yucatán we have mentioned a few of the numerous and varied haciendas of the peninsula and their chapels. Here we visit one of the most interesting and picturesque examples: Hacienda Tabí.
Large estates, or haciendas were numerous in Yucatán, especially in the populous northwestern area of the colony. Originally founded for the raising of cattle and later in the colonial period, sugar cane, by the late 1800s and into the 20th century dozens were founded or converted to the production of henequen fiber from the agave plant—green gold—a crop well suited to this arid region.   
   Several of the largest haciendas belonged to a handful of prominent local landowners, notably the extended Peón family, whose estates included those at Uxmal, Uayalceh, Xcanchakán and Tabí.
   As noted, in the absence of hotels during the colonial era and into the 20th century, these haciendas also served the needs of elite travelers and foreign explorers, including the Empress Carlota, John Lloyd Stephens, Frederick Ober, Henry Mercer, Thomas Gann, Sylvanus Morley and Robert Stacy Judd among many others, often providing transportation and labor in addition to food and lodging.

The vast sugar hacienda of Tabi, in the Puuc hills of western Yucatan, was one of the grandest. Even within living memory Tabi was well known to travelers as a hospitable refuge on the edge of the "wilderness."   
   Founded some time in the 1600s as a cattle ranch, it was expanded over the next 200 years, often at the expense of Maya communal lands, to produce field crops. In 1855 it passed into the hands of the Peon family who converted the estate to plantation agriculture, principally sugar. 
   With the decline of the sugar industry, and then the decline of henequen boom after 1900, the hacienda rapidly declined and by mid century was largely abandoned. 

The present imposing main house, or Palacio, of Tabí, with its grand arcades and double stairway was added during the Peon ownership period. The facade was rebuilt again in the early 1900s, shortly before its abandonment as a functioning hacienda, its lands then sold off after the Revolution.   
   Although long neglected, the mansion is now owned by the state and is being refurbished as an educational facility.

However, the imposing hacienda chapel opposite remains abandoned, roofless, overgrown and neglected.
Dedicated to John the Baptist, the chapel building is late—dedicated in 1896—but designed in classic Yucatecan style with a tall but plain front with simple arched openings and an undulating belfry or espadaña
   Its original marble facing is gone, as are the bells, which once used to mark the daily routine of the hacienda. The wooden altarpiece and statue of the patron saint are also missing. 
  Elegant arches along the nave, supported a log roof in Yucatecan bovedilla style—unfortunately burned during the 19th century Caste War.
Chapel interior, facing apse (image © Larry Miller)
Chapel interior, facing choir end showing log sockets in the arches (image © Larry Miller)
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry. photography by the author and Larry Miller
Planning to visit Yucatán?  Take our guidebooks along
please visit our other Yucatán hacienda posts: Xcanchakan; Blanca Flor

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Haciendas of Yucatán: Xcanchakan

Until recent times accommodations for travelers in Yucatán were few and far between. Early visitors relied on the hospitality of the large estates or haciendas, which were numerous in the more populous region of northwestern Yucatan.
   Originally confined to the raising of cattle and later, sugar cane, by the late 1800’s and into the early 20th century dozens of haciendas were converted to the production of henequen fiber—from the agave plant—a crop ideally suited to the arid climate.

Several of the largest haciendas belonged to a handful of prominent landowners. The haciendas catered to the needs of foreign explorers and travelers, often supplying needed transportation and labor in addition to food and lodging.
   Hacienda Xcanchakán was one of several large estates that belonged to the Peón family, leading members of the interrelated Yucatán landowning class and ruling elite. Located near the town of Tecoh, it was originally founded as an encomienda and was one of the most southerly of the great colonial estates. Formerly confined to the raising of corn and cattle, it prospered as a sugar plantation during the early 1800s. Later, it was converted into a henequen estate, a model of industrialized agriculture—another Yucatán boom that flourished briefly from the late 1800s into the early 1900s.
Hacienda Xcanchakán in 1842, after Frederick Catherwood

The celebrated traveler John Lloyd Stephens described his visit to Xcanchakan:

“It was nearly dark when we reached the stately hacienda of Xcanchakan, one of the three finest in Yucatan, and containing nearly seven hundred souls... The house is perhaps one of the best in the country, and being within one day's ride of the capital, and accessible by calesa [carriage), it is a favourite residence of its venerable proprietor. The whole condition of the hacienda showed that it was often subject to the master's eye, and the character of that master may be judged of from the fact that his major-domo, the same who was attendant upon us, had been with him twenty-six years.”
                          from Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Vol. 1 (1842)

Architecturally, the hacienda buildings reflect its changing fortunes over the centuries. The earliest structures were built using cut stone from the ruins at nearby Mayapan. The original main house, or casa principal, is an impressive three story building, unique among hacienda buildings in Yucatan, with lobed arcades on the two upper levels. 
An arcaded breezeway, also with moorish style arcades and a raised belfry, or espadaña, links the main residence to the adjacent noria, or well house. The other side of the casa is faced along its entire length by another attractive arcade.
   A range of later industrial structures, including the engine house and vast machinery shed, leads off at right angles. These buildings, now abandoned along with much of their rusting machinery, are extremely plain, with simple arcades and metal roofs.
Only the chapel, across the courtyard from the main house, reflects the neoclassical taste of the era in which it was erected (c. 1800), as evidence its pedimented doorway, elegant espadaña and bulls-eye window.
the chapel espadaña
Today, many of these old haciendas are being restored as luxury
inns and resorts for the affluent visitor, including Xcanchakan.
text and images © 2005 & 2018 Richard D. Perry

Friday, November 30, 2018

Haciendas of Yucatán: San Antonio Xocnaceh

We continue our posts on the haciendas of Yucatán and their chapels, with a look at this one in the Puuc region of the peninsula:
This roofless chapel near Oxkutzcab, until recently abandoned since the Caste War of the 19th century, now functions as a reception area adjunct to the private hacienda, open to selected visitors.
The classic 18th century Yucatecan facade features twin belfries with pointed Gothic openings. The sharply pitched center pediment frames an empty niche that once housed a stone statue of the patron saint, St Anthony.
Despite long neglect and exposure to the weather, vestiges of colorful 18th century murals still cling to the surfaces along the nave and in the sanctuary.
mural of St. Anthony
While most of these remnants consist of floral bands and friezes, a portrait of St Anthony, the patron saint, has also survived.
The chapel interior today
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
photography by the author and Jürgen Putz
please visit our other Yucatán hacienda posts: Tabi; Blanca Flor

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Haciendas of Yucatán: Blanca Flor

Yucatán is rich in haciendas, many of them built or expanded during the henequen boom of the early 20th century. In almost every instance a small family chapel was included in the hacienda precincts, either as a dedicated area within the central casa grande or more commonly,as a separate structure.
   We return to Yucatán to visit some of the more interesting examples in the region:
 One of the most distinctive chapels, whose long and eventful history dates back to colonial times, with links to the Caste War and the Revolution, is at Hacienda Blanca Flor, now in the state of Campeche.
Blanca Flor boasts an elegant but evocative 18th century ruined chapel (above), set dramatically on a hillside beside the old Mérida-Campeche highway, across from the hacienda itself. Through its gaping pedimented doorway, the visitor can glimpse the peeling painted walls of the sanctuary, abandoned and untouched for over 100 years.
The hacienda was founded in colonial times as a Franciscan estate and monastic retreat. Most of the older buildings, including the high ceilinged sala and graceful moorish gateways (below) are still intact. The Empress Carlota stayed here on a state visit to Campeche in December 1865, but the old rooms around the inner patio were modernized in the 1900s to accommodate visiting friars. Today the hacienda is open to the public as a wayside inn. 
Blanca Flor, the hacienda gateway
Blanca Flor occupies a special place in Yucatecan lore. During the Caste War, in May 1848, defenders of the hacienda successfully fought off Maya rebels, stemming their advance towards Mérida and possibly saving the capital from being overrun. 
   In 1915, in defiance of federal authority, hastily assembled militias drawn from Mérida's middle class made a heroic stand at Blanca Flor. Surprising the advancing Revolutionary Army of General Alvarado, the ill-trained recruits held off the hardened Mexican troops for twelve hours, firing volleys from machine guns mounted on the chapel roof. At the cost of considerable casualties, the Yucatecans were eventually dislodged from the battered chapel and they retreated north towards Mérida, only to be overtaken and captured at Pocboc and Halachó.
   Eventually, the Revolutionary government prevailed in Yucatán, although here, as elsewhere in Mexico, many promises of the Revolution remain to be fulfilled.
text © 1988 & 2018 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and Miguel S. Espinosa Villatoro
please visit our other Yucatán hacienda posts: Tabi; Xocnaceh

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Campeche: The Monastery of San Francisquito

Nestled at the intersection of Calles 12 and 59, a few blocks from Campeche cathedral in the fortified city of Campeche, is the diminutive monastery of San Francisquito. It was built as a refuge for the friars within the city walls when pirates or other hazards threatened the mission of San Francisco up the coast. 
San Francisquito, the main altarpiece
The narrow little 18th century church is the setting for an exuberant set of late baroque altarpieces: a main altarpiece and four side retablos, rich in Franciscan iconography, recently restored by INAH. 
the side retablos
Restored in dazzling white and ochre, they feature elaborately carved spiral and estípite columns and are intricately ornamented with a filigree of open scroll work. Wooden statues of the best loved saints of the Franciscan order are accompanied by scenes from their lives carved in colorful relief. 
retablo of San Antonio (detail)
The arcaded former hospice next door on Calle 12 has been tastefully restored as a municipal cultural center, keeping the original columns and the carved stone well in the center of the patio. 
© Niccolo Brooker
Its recessed entry is emblazoned with the Crossed Arms of the Franciscan Order amid pierced medallions of the sun, moon, and star of Bethlehem—a reference to Our Lady of Bethlehem, a frequent patron of hospices in Mexico and elsewhere.
text © 1998 & 2018 Richard D. Perry
images by the author except where noted
Please visit our earlier pages on the frontier churches of Yucatán: Chemax; ChikindzonotIchmulSacalacaSabán; Peto/Petulillo;

Saturday, November 17, 2018

San Francisco de Campeche

We resume our posts on Yucatán with a look at two churches in the City of Campeche on the western coast of the peninsula:
After the long-delayed conquest of Campeche in 1540,  Francisco de Montejo, the conquistador of Yucatán, invited the Franciscans to establish their first mission here. The friars deliberately chose a location close to the original Maya settlement but at some distance from the fledgling Spanish town, in part to keep the newly converted Indians away from what they considered the baleful influence of the Spanish colonists.
   The earliest mission building was a primitive affair, described by a visiting friar in 1545 as, “built of pole and thatch like the rest of the houses of the pueblo.” This flimsy structure was soon replaced by a masonry mission, which was to be the prototype for many of the later monasteries in Yucatán. It was designed as a compact block, incorporating both church and convento, with the friars’ living quarters placed on the shady north side of the church.

Little of the original fabric of the mission now remains, because its exposed position at the water’s edge made it vulnerable to pirate attacks, as well as to the unremitting action of the sea. As early as 1588, the visiting Father Ponce complained that the building was in deplorable condition, with a leaky roof and waves pounding upon its walls. Today, construction of the coastal highway has at last placed the restored mission beyond the reach of the Gulf waters.
A column embedded in the arcaded portería that stretches across the monastery front commemorates the historic mass of 1517. 
The church facade—currently painted red—is plain and square, its plain classical porch surmounted by a dated relief with the Stigmata—testimony to the long Franciscan presence here. 
The austere 16th century profile of the mission has been altered with an 18th century belfry, pierced by curved and pointed bell niches.
The simple, whitewashed interior of the church contains a monolithic limestone font in which members of the Cortés family were allegedly baptized.
text and photography © 1988 & 2018 Richard D. Perry
Please visit our earlier pages on the frontier churches of Yucatán: Chemax; ChikindzonotIchmulSacalacaSabán; Peto/Petulillo;

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Azcapotzalco. The Santa Ana altarpiece

A third altarpiece of interest stands in the Rosary Chapel at Azcapotzalco.  Designed in a modified Solomonic style and featuring tritostyle spiral columns, the retablo is a century earlier than the main altarpiece, dating from the 1680s.
   Probably originally located in the main church, this gilded two tier retablo may once have had a third tier - perhaps removed when it was relocated.
The altarpiece is dedicated to Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, whose figure occupies the glassed in center niche
   Unlike the main retablo in the chapel, this one displays paintings rather than statuary. These have been identified as the work of the eminent Mexican baroque painter Juan Correa the Elder (c.1645 - 1716) whose signature appears on at least one of the panels (1681)
La Purísima;                                                  The Annunciation
   On the lower level, scenes of the birth of the Virgin Mary and her appearance in the Temple flank the image of St Anne, while on the second tier we see the Annunciation and the Visitation on either side of a larger panel portraying the Immaculate Conception (La Purísima)
La Purísima panel
Portraits of the Doctors of the Latin Church appear along the predella at the base of the retablo.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
color image from online sources