Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mexican Stone Crosses: Huaniqueo

Santa Marta Huaniqueo
Located to the south west of Lake Cuitzeo, the 16th century church and adjacent hospital were founded by Vasco de Quiroga, the first Bishop of Michoacán and then the encomendero of Huaniqueo.
The church was built by the Franciscans, although the present cut stone front, faced with an austere classical doorway and undulating baroque pediment, is of later colonial vintage. 
The Huaniqueo cross: reverse side (Niccolo Brooker)
The Atrium Cross
Mounted high on a pyramidal base with an elaborate sculpted pedestal, the impressive atrium cross is strikingly similar in form, detail and quality of carving to that at Huandacareo, and possibly by the same sculptor(s).
   On the reverse side shown above, starlike rosettes line the arms as at Huandacareo. Spear, Reed and Nail reliefs appear on the shaft along with a fanlike Scourge at the foot.
Unusual back-to-back foliated motifs on the neck of the cross have a marked pre-hispanic flavor.
The Huaniqueo cross: front.  (Niccolo Brooker)
The front of the cross facing the church is dominated by the face of Christ at the axis. Rendered in bold relief with spreading locks of hair, it features a Crown of Thorns across the brow and is capped by an eroded Tres Potencias * tiara.
Other Passion related objects, notably three large, pear shaped Wounds with stylized, zigzag drops of blood, crowd the arms and shaft in an orderly pattern within the raised borders. 
   As at Huandacareo, a Ladder descends the shaft flanked here by the Spear and Reed. Below, another detailed relief of the Column appears, draped with ropes and supporting a small Cockerel. 

More reliefs on the sides of the shaft include, also as at Huandacareo, heads in various poses, the principal example being a bearded Judas with a bag hanging from his neck accompanied by columns of the Thirty Pieces of Silver.
The ornamental, hut shaped pedestal upon which the cross rests, carved on all four sides, is another unusual aspect. 
   Star reliefs line the recessed lower tier while the sloping upper parts are emblazoned with the Franciscan Stigmata on one face, and the Skull and Bones on the front.
Again, we see exuberant, carved finials in the signature regional pattern capping the head and arms, their flared fleurs-de-lis enclosing multi-petaled rosettes in sharp relief.

* Three flames emanating from the head of Christ, symbolizing the three powers of the soul—traditionally memory, understanding and will.
Carved head of Christ with Tres Potencias (cross at Tolimán, Qro)   ©Diana Roberts
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry
images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker and Benjamín Arredondo 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mexican Crosses: Huango (Villa Morelos)

Villa Morelos (Huango)
Located west of Huandacareo, the Augustinian mission of San Nicolás de Tolentino was founded in 1550 by Fray Juan de Acosta, its construction underwritten by the aristocratic Spanish encomendero Juan de Villaseñor y Orozco, whose portrait appears in the convento. 
    Although the early mission was subject to frequent attack by Chichimec raiders, in which some friars were killed, it remained the hub for Augustinian missionary activity in the frontier area.
The present mission complex at Huango includes two adjacent churches*The larger of the two is oriented from east to west. Its façade is Gothic in style and faces the current atrium, which is shared with a smaller church. 
The smaller church is located to one side, faced with a Neoclassical façade of mellow cut stone with Baroque touches and passages of intricate stone carving.  

Adjoining the two churches is the single story convento and its airy cloister—the oldest part of the complex, roofed with 16th century Gothic vaulting and studded with early colonial reliefs including the sun and moon. 

The Atrium Cross
The atrium cross is mounted on a pomegranate shaped pedestal beside the south wall of the atrium, facing an enclosed natural spring or ojo de agua. 
Aside from its unusual form, the rounded pedestal is crudely incised with three Wounds—symbols that rarely appear anywhere else but on the cross itself.
Square in section with slightly beveled corners, the cross displays several small scale Instruments of the Passion on its frontal face, all frugally carved in low relief by gouging away the immediately surrounding stone. These include a stylized Crown of Thorns at the crossing above a slender Column with ropes.
At the foot of the shaft, below a Rooster set atop a second tiny Column, an oval plaque at the foot of the cross bears a meandering, almost undecipherable inscription that includes dates in the 1700s.
   Stylized fleur-de-lis finials, cut away to incorporate pie shaped reliefs with diamond shaped insets, terminate each arm and cap the head of the cross
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  images by the author.
based in part on research by Robert H. Jackson

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mexican Crosses: Huandacareo

From Capacho we move west along the north shore of Lake Cuitzeo to Huandacareo.
The imposing neo baroque temple of El Señor del Amparo is the principal church in this resort town near the lake.  Its eponymous crucifix, famous for its healing powers, attracts pilgrims from a wide area including the disabled and infirm from nearby hospitals.

The Atrium Cross
Even in this area of intensely sculpted crosses, this one is exceptional for the range and confidence of its relief carving, spreading across all four sides.  
   The iconography in particular, which has no obvious connection to the shrine or any health related theme, comprises an extraordinary panoply of Passion related objects.
Atrium cross: front
Mounted on a replicated foliated base, the front of the cross is notable for its unusual and expressive figure of Christ as the Man of Sorrows, set at the axis and carved in the round with crossed arms.  
The complex head, with flowing hair on either side, is tilted, encircled by a minimal crown of thorns on the brow, and capped by a now broken halo. A rope is tied around the neck and hands.
   A ladder and two ewers flank the figure, and three elongated, comma shaped, bleeding Wounds project from the arms and shaft.
   The scrolled plaque at the head is inscribed with a misspelt INRI acronym.
No fewer than six heads appear on the cross, all shown in profile.
On the front a bust of Judas is depicted with a purse around his neck and rows of silver coins below.
Atrium cross: reverse side (Jaime Lara)
Two other heads are seen on the side, one wearing a helmet and the other with his tongue out, probably indicating Roman soldiers. A relief hand grasping a hank of hair is shown between them.
   Another head, also uttering an imprecation, appears on the reverse side, which is finely carved with a detailed image of the Column and Cockerel.  The arms and crossing are plain except for star shaped rosettes.
More complex rosettes with veined petals cap the robust fleurs-de-lis finials sprouting on the arms and head of the cross.
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  
images by the author, Jaime Lara and Jose Antonio Flores Juanto

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Mexican Crosses: Capacho

Capacho church front  (image © Niccolo Brooker)
Girded by a large walled atrium, the sober 17th century church of El Señor de La Expiración stands at the top of this small hillside village, located between Cuitzeo and Huandacareo on the north shore of Lake Cuitzeo.

Capacho is home to no less than three carved stone crosses:

 Capacho, the atrium cross: front
The Atrium Cross
The largest and most impressive is this tall, square cross, mounted on a sculpted, hollow pedestal facing the church.
   Although apparently reconstructed and partially recarved, the cross incorporates several distinctive regional features, notably its prominent, blocky "sunflower" finials at the head and capping both arms. 
  Unlike at Cuitzeo, the cross is sculpted with numerous reliefs, mostly of objects related to Christ's Passion. On the front, a hirsute but worn face of Christ occupies the crossing. Hammer and Pincers appear on either side of the Face along the arms, together with outlying, seemingly bleeding Hands. 
   The shaft, although seemingly later, is badly cracked, held together by metal bands. It is carved on all four sides, with a simplified Chalice, an elongated Wound and a Rooster atop a jug like Column on the front. 
   A second, mustachioed face, probably intended as a skull, appears at the foot.  
Capacho, the atrium cross: reverse
On the reverse side, the Sun and Moon flank a wreath like Crown of Thorns at the crossing that encloses three Spikes. 
   Other Passion symbols down the shaft include a Hand, Corn Plant, Dice and unusually, a scorpion like figure with a human head and a bag tied around the neck from which tumbles a cascade of coins—a unique representation of Judas.  
But perhaps the most unusual part of the cross is the hollow pedestal upon which it rests. On its front, a statue of the Virgin of Sorrows is placed before a scalloped opening, perhaps indicating a sepulcher or shrine for offerings. 
The back side of the pedestal is carved like a plinth, with scrolls and a long, dated inscription (1660?) An incised plaque bears a rare portrayal of the Trifacial Trinity with three interlocking, bearded heads.

Cross Two (image © Niccolo Brooker)
Cross 2
A second cross, very similar in style and imagery to the main cross, either a replica or possibly the original, rests in a corner of the atrium.
Cross 3.
Set against the atrium wall by the entrance gate is a third cross, also with worn block finials. Although otherwise plain, it bears an eroded Heart relief, as at Cuitzeo, and the remnants of a tilted head with crossed arms at its axis, reminiscent, as we shall see, of the cross at Huandacareo.

text and images ©2014 Richard D. Perry, except where noted

look for our forthcoming guide to Mexican Stone Crosses

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Mexican Crosses: Cuitzeo

In an earlier series we looked at a variety of carved stone crosses in churchyards across Mexico (search under Mexican Crosses.)
   Today we follow up with several posts on a distinctive group of densely sculpted colonial crosses in the town and village churches around Lake Cuitzeo in northern Michoacán.
   They include those at Capacho, Huandacareo, Villa Morelos (Huango), Huaniqueo and in the town of Cuitzeo itself, with which we start the series:


The dominant colonial monument at Cuitzeo is the great Augustinian priory of Santa María Magdalena overlooking the shallow lake.
   Currently, the original atrium cross is found inside the convento courtyard, pending relocation after the recent restoration of the monastic complex. A replica is on display on the atrium gateway.
image courtesy of Felipe Falcón
The cross is square in section with a beveled shaft, and bears the large block finials typical of this region—in this case carved in the form of a capital with a row of tiny crosses at the head, and as notched blocks like ice cube trays capping either arm.
  Although less densely carved than other area crosses, its handful of bold reliefs include a wreath style Crown of Thorns at the crossing and three streaming, stylized Wounds of Christ on the arms and shaft. 
  The other feature of note is the carefully modeled and unusual Augustinian heart on the upper shaft, ringed by another crown of thorns and sprouting feathery wings.  An angled INRI plaque projects from the neck of the cross.

text and graphics © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  all rights reserved
look for our forthcoming guide to Mexican Stone Crosses

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Santa Prisca de Taxco: La Capilla de Los Naturales

So called because it provided a place of worship for the native population apart from the more exclusive main church, the adjacent Capilla de Los Naturales on its north side remains the locus of popular devotion to this day. 
   The chapel contains three additional altarpieces in a variety of late baroque styles. They are dedicated to Las Animas, La Purísima and Jesus Nazareno.
retablo of Las Animas
The imposing retablo of Las Animas, facing the entry from the church, is structurally the simplest of the three. 
   While certainly not short on gilded ornament and richly framed by intricately carved estípites, the other reliefs, paintings and especially statuary are kept to a minimum, focusing attention on the grand central painting of the Archangel Michael, a work attributed to the eminent Baroque painter Miguel Cabrera* and rendered in vibrant reds and blues that contrast with the gilded background.
   The Holy Trinity overhead are portrayed Mexican style as three bearded young men in flowing robes, seated on thrones around a globe—while the Souls in Purgatory huddle below the archangel.
  A sensitive portrait of the Virgin of Carmen occupies the center oval in the upper tier. 
The Archangel Michael
The two other altarpieces, which face each other across the Capilla, are virtually identical in design and structure, similar to the retablos under the church choir but more elongated and even more decorative. 
   Full attention again is focused on the central image, here enclosed by elaborately curtained and be-scrolled niches. An encrusted Rococo gloria frames the second, related image above, rising to the layered broken pediment overhead.
   Giant, heavily ornamented and bescrolled niche-pilasters on either side extend to almost the full height of the altarpiece, carrying a heavy load of statuary, cherubs and painted medallions.

retablo of La Purísima
The altarpiece, on the east side of the chapel, is devoted to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (La Purísima) 
   The center panel portrays her with the conventional attributes of the Woman of the Apocalypse—clothed by the sun and with the crescent moon beneath her feet. 
   Below her on either side, prominently surrounded by putti, are elegantly posed and robed statues of her parents Saints Anne and Joachim.  Above them are medallions of the Annunciation and Nativity‚ especially significant episodes in the life of the Virgin Mary.
   Again, the Holy Trinity is portrayed in the sumptuous upper niche, flanked here by statues of two rarely portrayed figures: Simeon and Ana the Prophet—both witnesses to the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

retablo of Jesus the Nazarene
Dedicated to the Passion of Christ—an alternative name for the entire chapel—this sister retablo of La Purísima features scenes and biblical figures closely associated with the subject. 
   In the main panel, Christ is portrayed as The Nazarene, bowed under the weight of the cross. Richly costumed statues of the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist stand on either side, again supported by groups of gesturing cherubs.  Scenes of the Flagellation and the Mocking of Christ appear in the flanking painted medallions.
   A portrayal of Christ on the cross in the upper niche is accompanied by outsize statues of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, again richly robed, who tended to Christ after the Crucifixion.
retablo of Jesus the Nazarene: The Man of Sorrows

Santa Prisca. church plan with retablos (Taxcolandia).
* Other paintings in the church by Miguel Cabrera include large, semicircular canvases of the martyrdoms of the patron saints Santa Prisca and San Sebastián, mounted over the side doorways in the nave. And a large suite in the sacristy illustrates scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary.

This concludes our series of posts on the altarpieces of Santa Prisca de Taxco. We accept no ads. If you enjoy our posts you may support our efforts by buying our guidebooks on colonial Mexico.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  all images from Taxcolandia except where noted.
Elisa Vargas Lugo de Bosch,  La iglesia de Santa Prisca de Taxco