The Church Murals
In the last century, with the removal of several altarpieces, the parish priest noticed that mural fragments underlay the peeling walls of the apse, revealing a hitherto unknown cycle of 16th century frescoes.
The mural panels: north side and south sideFour tiers of paired painted panels adorn the flared sides of the polygonal apse, extending to the full height of the nave wall, from a dado above the floor to the running cornice above.
There are sixteen scenes altogether, separately framed by painted arcades. Two other now almost obliterated panels lie above the main altar. Although individually damaged to a greater or lesser extent, the murals have been restored as far as possible by SEDUE (Secretaria de Desarrollo Urbano y Ecologia), the Mexican government environmental and development agency.
The murals illustrate a variety of both familiar and obscure Old Testament scenes, drawn from graphic sources that include northern European prints by Erhard Schoen and Hans Springinklee.* These early 16th century sources—engraving and woodcuts—were widely published in religious books including bibles.
Primarily monochromatic compositions, the murals are executed in a refined but lively style with exceptionally fine delineation, dramatic poses and closely observed details. All are subtly accented with blues greens and earth colors.
Below we identify some of the more complete panels in greater detail, starting with the familiar and continuing with less well known biblical events:
Well preserved base panels on either side portray Daniel in the Fiery Furnace on the north, and David and Goliath on the south.
One upper right panel shows Moses receiving Ten Commandments.
Among the more obscure episodes are Athalia tearing her clothes before King Jehoiada, once thought to be the Dance of Salome before Herod, and Queen Esther before Xerxes on the upper left.
Formerly believed to depict the Holy Family before the Flight into Egypt, this scene is now thought to show the Prophet Hosea with his wife and children, in accordance with the Old Testament focus of the murals.
Another panel on the right illustrates Josiah ordering the reading of books and the destruction of idols.
And another top tier panel juxtaposes the prophet Isiah's vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem with an illustrated passage from the Book of Job.While there seems to be no single overriding theme, the chosen episodes emphasize sacrifice, martyrdom and above all establishment of the church both physically and spiritually—themes sanctioned by the Counter Reformation and dear to the evangelical purpose of the Franciscans in the New World.
La iglesia y el convento de todos los santos de Zempoala, Hidalgo y su comarca. By Víctor M. Ballesteros G. UAEH 2003
* The PESSCA website