Saturday, October 13, 2012

Duns Scotus in Mexico

In our continuing series of occasional posts * on the depiction of less common saints in Mexico, we consider the case of the Scottish theologian and scholastic philosopher, Blessed John Duns Scotus.  

A noted medieval "schoolman," Duns Scotus was also a Franciscan. While not (yet) a saint, he is nevertheless an important figure in the history of the church. In his voluminous writings, the "subtle doctor" as he was known, advocated and defended the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, a cause championed by the Franciscan order.

Portraits of the Virgin as Mary Immaculate are universal in Mexico, where she is popularly called La Purísima.  Despite this close association, Duns Scotus himself is rarely portrayed in Mexican art.  Here are a few known examples:  

Huejotzingo, Puebla
Perhaps the earliest, best known, and most conventional depiction of the 'subtle doctor' is in the famous mural of La Purísima in the convento of the Franciscan monastery at Huejotzingo.
Duns Scotus, wearing the scholar's biretta, stands on Mary's left and points to his doctrine  advocating her Immaculate Conception.  St Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican who disputed with Scotus, is shown on  her right. 

While commonly portrayed with his works in association with an image of the Virgin, Duns Scotus is also shown in at least two unusual representations with added wings, triumphing over heretics and a monstrous, multi headed Lucifer.

Izamal, Yucatan Among the many other artistic treasures of the great Franciscan monastery at Izamal, is a recently restored colonial painting of a winged Duns Scotus. 
He gestures to his writings and holds up a statue of the Virgin Mary while trampling underfoot the snake like Lucifer, as well as various heretics and Lutheran reformers—a feature common to much religious imagery of the Counter Reformation.

Landa ceiling relief

Landa, Querétaro
A similar portrayal of Duns Scotus appears in a ceiling relief in the nave of La Purísima de Aguas de Landa, a mission church in the remote Sierra Gorda de Querétaro, dedicated to the Virgin. 
Landa, together with four other churches in the region celebrated for their painted folkloric fronts, was founded in the 1750s by a group of Apostolic Franciscans from Majorca, including Fray Junípero Serra, founder of several California missions.

detail: courtesy Niccolo Brooker
Again winged, Scotus holds up an image of the (headless) Virgin in one hand and a quill pen in the other—a reference to his famous dogma—and treads upon a winged Lucifer and the heads of Lutherans and dissenters spewing heresy.  
This portrayal is of special interest since he also appears on the facade of the church in another guise, paired with the visionary Franciscan nun and writer Sor María de Agreda.

Landa, facade relief of Duns Scotus
It is instructive to note that Duns Scotus was a special favorite of Junípero Serra, who had held the Duns Scotus chair of theology at Lullian University in Palma, Majorca, before he took up missionary work in Mexico.

Winged Saints
While angels and archangels are routinely shown with wings in Mexican Art, some saints are also occasionally portrayed with wings.  Aside from the above portraits of Duns Scotus, St. Francis, St Vincent Ferrer and even Christ himself are shown with seraphic wings.

We welcome commentary and further examples on this topic.

Look for the forthcoming exhibit on the missions of the Sierra Gorda, 
scheduled for the Casa de La Guerra in Santa Barbara, California in February 2013 
to coincide with the tricentennial of the birth of Father Serra.

please review our previous posts on Mexican saints: Rose of Lima; Peter Martyr; San Dionisio; San Charbel Maklouf


  1. "Duns Scotus, wearing the scholar's biretta, stands on Mary's left and points to his doctrine advocating her Immaculate Conception. St Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican who disputed with Scotus, is shown on her left." It appears to me that Duns Scotus is on Mary's right instead of her left. Typo?

    1. On Mary's left, not the viewer's. I have just added a detail of the Landa medallion supplied by Niccolo Brooker.