In an earliest post we drew attention to the carved stone crosses of Uruapan. Here we look at the old hospital chapel of La Guatapera in more detail, especially the recently restored colonial murals there.
Although the main church of San Francisco was rebuilt in the 19th century after a destructive fire, the adjacent 16th century hospital and chapel survived the blaze and are preserved to this day.
Founded in 1534 by Fray Juan de San Miguel on the initiative of Bishop Vasco de Quiroga, the hospital was erected on the reputed site of a Tarascan nunnery or women’s house (Guatapera means House of the Virgins in the purépecha tongue).
The building was completed in 1555—the year of Fray Juan’s death—and according to local lore, he passed away in one of the upper rooms.The diminutive chapel in front is one of the earliest architectural monuments in Michoacán. Its splendid mudéjar porch, densely sculpted from volcanic stone by Tarascan stonecarvers, is considered to be among the finest examples of tequitqui work in Mexico.
Winged cherubs entwined with delicately modeled relief foliage climb the jambs, beneath an intricate arabesque archway. Rosettes linked by the Franciscan knotted cord line the inner jambs and continue around the soffit of the arch, while bands of stylized vines and acanthus leaves border the surmounting alfiz.
The chapel interior is roofed by a three-sided wooden ceiling, resting on heavy beams with carved zapata brackets. The sanctuary arch at the far end is spangled with stars, rosettes and sacred monograms.
Recently restored wall paintings add color to the shadowy apse. The original retablo style mural in the apse is divided by decorative friezes and displays saints, bishops and musical archangels in blue, red and ocher. The musical archangels play harp, guitar, trombone and flute.
musical angels: harp and trombone
Roundels in the tapestry like panels on either side of the apse portray other notables, including the Four Evangelists.
High on the south side of the chapel a colonnaded exterior gallery with a heavy beamed ceiling overlooks the hospital patio, which still boasts its rugged basalt cross and functioning colonial fountain. This gallery may have been a preaching balcony or elevated open chapel similar to the one at Angahuan.
The L-shaped patio, which houses seasonal exhibits of regional arts and crafts, is similar in layout and ornament to the Guatapera at Zacán. Its colonnaded veranda, which formerly extended along the side of the chapel, protects several original mudéjar windows, whose large frames are elaborately carved with vines, flowers and foliage.
text © 1997 & 2013 by Richard D. Perry All rights reserved
images by the author, and courtesy of Niccolò Brooker and Robert Starner
for more on Uruapan and the missions of Michoacán consult our regional guidebook