Monday, June 14, 2021

Chiapas. Santo Tomás Oxchuc

Continuing our Chiapas odyssey we look at the old church of Santo Tomás in the conflicted indigenous Maya speaking village of Oxchuc, east of San Cristóbal, the old colonial capital, on the road to Palenque.
This massive stone church, much repaired in recent times presents a broad front articulated by plain half columns and cornices with a large central doorway and lateral niches, currently empty of sculptures.
Inside, the nave fronts double arches at the east end, of which the main sanctuary arch frames what may have been the original open chapel.
This early feature is confirmed by a pair of posa chapels—the only ones to survive in place in Chiapas—one in the atrium, one flush with the sanctuary arch beside the church, still bearing the Dominican cross.
A new beamed roof replaced the deteriorated original, and a rather austere new main altarpiece fashioned in traditional Chiapas style with spiral columns sits in the apse, below a coffered artesonado style ceiling.

text © 2021 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and from online sources.
For more on colonial Chiapas, consult our guidebook, available from Amazon

Wednesday, June 9, 2021


This hilltop Tzeltal village overlooks the Pan-American Highway, south of San Cristóbal some 5 kms past Teopisca. Best known for its traditional hand-made and wood-fired folk pottery which is displayed along the highway, Amatenango attracts many tourists, who are often besieged by pottery sellers—local Maya girls dressed in vivid red and yellow huipils and blue skirts. 

A typical 17th century pueblo-de-indios church in plan, San Francisco Amatenango was largely rebuilt in the 18th century following a particularly severe earthquake.  

   The fabric of the church is an amalgam of adobe, brick and rubblestone. Attractive tiles of various hues and textures overlay the beamed roof with its overhanging eaves. 

The brilliant white church front with its stepped doorway and red wooden doors faces the central plaza and is constructed of finely cut stone—rare indeed for a country church. 

   The colonial retablo facade has been altered in modern times, losing some of its integrity in the process. The sharply silhouetted upper tier was added during the facelift, and much of the surface relief erased, giving the facade its present pristine look. However, vestiges of the old stucco ornament—mostly arabesques and scalloped decoration—have survived inside the sculpture niches. A grid of ribbon pilasters and simple cornices crisscrosses the lower tiers of the facade, cleanly framing the rounded shapes of the niches, bell openings and choir window. 

As a foil to this neat geometrical pattern, the stocky stone figure of St. Francis, Amatenango's patron saint, gazes down from the central niche. The top tier rises well above the nave, drawing attention to the somewhat out-of-scale bell openings of the espadaña and domed belfries. The espadaña is appropriately capped with pottery urns. 

The Altarpiece

A traditional wooden plank ceiling covers the dim nave, leading to an octagonal mudéjar vault over the sanctuary. Below this vault stands a baroque altarpiece, painted in Venetian red and greenish-blue hues. 

The altarpiece as restored

Unusually elegant for a country church in Chiapas, the retablo features a scalloped outline and gilded rocaille work in Guatemalan style. Plateresque and spiral columns decorated with grapevines frame a group of naive canvases, including a crowded Nativity and several episodes from the life of St. Francis, whose festival is celebrated here in early October.  A statue of the saint appears again in the center niche.

Niccolo Brooker
Another item of interest at Amatenango is a relief of the Father and Son, reminiscent of Oaxacan style Trinity images (Throne of Mercy.)

text © 1993 & 2021 Richard D. Perry

photography by the author, Niccolo Brooker, and from online sources

For more on colonial Chiapas, consult our guidebook, available from Amazon

Friday, June 4, 2021


We begin our new series on the churches of colonial Chiapas with a visit to Aguacatenango.

Set at a distance from the highway beside a shallow seasonal lake, Aguacatenango has a more indigenous feeling than either Teopisca or Amatenango. Fishermen stand waist deep in the lake to cast their nets, while pigs and small children run through the narrow, rocky streets. 

Gleaming white huipils worn by the Maya women proudly showcase the village's unique style of embroidery.
The imposing church of Santiago looms protectively above the village from behind its narrow walled forecourt with a traditional green wooden cross.  An uneven grid of crude pilasters and cornices divides the lower part while a craggy gable with domed belfries dominates the upper facade. 
Numerous stucco reliefs of spiky, spidery plants, their details accented in red, add to the texture of the facade. A foliated cross is carved over the doorway and in the upper reaches, winged angels hover in a welter of shells, urns, scrolls, hearts and flowers. 
The renovated church interior is surprisingly spacious, its broad nave roofed by a hipped wooden ceiling painted in the locally favored colors of red and green.
Gold and green predominate in the main altarpiece, another rustic late baroque retablo framed with estipite style pilasters. Paintings predominate in the retablo including a portrait of Our Lady of Light in the gable portraying a fearsome jaws of Hell.
Behind the retablo, researchers discovered the remains of a painted wall altar with inset niches, similar to the one found at Teopisca
courtesy Robert Guess
One further item of interest at Aguacatenango is the unpainted Calvary related relief standing in the nave, perhaps belonging to another, earlier retablo or the backdrop to a missing cristo.
text © 1993 & 2021 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker except where noted.
For more on colonial Chiapas, consult our guidebook, available from Amazon

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Chihuahua. San Francisco de Borja

For the last in our current series of posts on the churches of Chihuahua with painted ceilings, we look at San Francisco de Borja in the Tarahumara region, another handsome Jesuit mission church.
Niccolo Brooker
 Reconstructed in the closing years of the 17th century and into the early 1700s, the building presents an elaborate carved facade flanked by imposing domed twin towers. 
©Niccolo Brooker
 Large vine reliefs flank the grand colonnaded doorway, above which a similarly framed niche showcases a statue of the patron saint St Francis Borgia.
©Niccolo Brooker
choir end ©Niccolo Brooker
sanctuary arch ©Niccolo Brooker
 The interior commands attention with its long beamed ceiling that covers the nave and apse. The sanctuary arch is also intensely carved with rosettes, winged angels and looped floral motifs.
Although much of the roof is of a later vintage, an earlier remnant section spans the sacristy?, its modified artesonado form painted like the others we have seen with colorful scrollwork.

text © 2021 Richard D. Perry
color images © Niccolo Brooker and Karla Muñoz-Alcocer 

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Chihuahua. San Nicolás de La Hoya

As an addendum to our previous post on Santa Ana de la Joya, we look briefly at its ruined companion church of San Nicolás. Now abandoned and virtually roofless save for few remnant roof beams, this adobe church is slowly crumbling back into the dirt from which it was fashioned.
It was once a building of some substance with massive nave walls enclosing a narrow nave. The cracked rectangular front incorporates a large bell tower.
apse from choir loft
choir from apse © Niccolo Brooker
choir loft ©
Niccolo Brooker

text © 2021 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker and from online sources

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Chihuahua. Santa Ana de la Joya

The third in our survey of Chihuahua churches with painted ceilings is the modest church of Santa Ana de la Joya, near Satevó.

Like the other churches in this group, behind its simple stepped front Santa Ana boasts a long single nave with a raised choir and sanctuary arch.

Behind the modest church front, the entire nave is roofed by a wooden beamed ceiling, mostly of more recent construction. 

The exception is the older under choir, divided into sections with painted beams and on the intervening planks floral motifs and ribbon like scrolls.


text © 2021 Richard D. Perry

color images © Niccolo Brooker by gracious permission

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Chihuahua. Cusihuiriachi

For the next in our series on the churches of Chihuahua with painted ceilings, we go to Santa Rosa de Lima Cusihuiriachi.

In 1687, a major silver strike was found at Cusihuiriachi. Quickly the Real de Santa Rosa de Cusihuiriachi became one of the most important mines in the northwest of the state of Chihuahua, the locale attracting many Spaniards and Creoles.

Although  the community is now largely abandoned, the temple of Santa Rosa de Lima survives as testimony to the former wealth of Cusihuiriachi, its long single nave roofed like others in the area by wooden beamed ceilings.

the nave-        choir end,                              east end

The highlight of the church interor is its gilded late baroque altarpiece which frames 10 paintings illustrating the life of Santa Rosa de Lima some signed by the noted Basque artist José de Alcibar.

The other item of special note is the remnant painted section of ceiling above the altarpiece, one of a handful of similar surviving works in the area, notably at Santa Maria de Cuevas.
text © 2021 Richard D. Perry