Tuesday, April 16, 2013


We continue our survey of early Mexican missions with a look at the Augustinian church of Tutotepec.


In the heart of a traditional Otomí area of eastern Hidalgo, Tutotepec (Bird Hill) was evangelized by the pioneering Augustinian missionary Fray Alonso de Borja in the 1530s.
The first mission of Santos Reyes Tutotepec was founded in the 1550s by friars from Atotonilco el Grande, when it became the principal hub for outlying Augustinian visitas in this rugged sierra region.

The present hilltop church was built in the 1620s but suffered severe fire damage late in the colonial period and again in the mid 1800s. It has been essentially rebuilt, with a new roof and barn like interior.

Fortunately its elegant west entry has survived essentially unchanged. The design broadly follows the Renaissance Plateresque style traditionally associated with the Augustinians in Mexico, as derived from their flagship priories of San Miguel Acolman, Santos Reyes Metztitlan and others, although here in a less ornate and more classical format.

Faced with finely cut ashlar stonework, it is a modified triumphal arch design with pairs of classical fluted columns dividing the arched entry and the lateral pavilions, and framing the sculpture niches. Triangular pediments with dentilled cornices cap the entry and lateral sections.

Following Augustinian custom, an abbreviated Latin inscription is emblazoned in Roman capitals on the frieze above the doorway:  HEC EST DOMUS DNI (This is the House of the Lord)
The facade is also replete with relief roundels incorporating religious monograms and Augustinian insignia, some flanked by archaic fluttering angels. 


Carved stone capitals with Augustinian and other motifs rest in the churchyard, no doubt taken from the earlier church fabric or missing porteria.

Text © 2013 Richard D. Perry
photography courtesy of Niccolo Brooker. All rights reserved

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