Sunday, August 23, 2015

San Miguel Achiutla: Inside the Church

Achiutla: the nave, facing east
Inside the Church
The tunnel like impression of the extraordinarily long nave at Achiutla is accentuated by its uninterrupted walls, high barrel vaults and few small windows—a feeling made more somber by the ubiquitous peeling surfaces, painted dark blue.
   Although plans are afoot to refurbish the church and restore the ruined convento as a regional museum, little has yet been accomplished.     
   Access to the monastery and its precincts is often restricted and the church is only open for special feast days, primarily that of St. Michael in late September.  For this reason I have not seen the interior personally, and so the largely internet sourced images of the nave and its altarpieces vary in quality.  I hope to have higher quality images soon.
The Altarpieces
In 1587 Andrés de Concha, the artist responsible for the spectacular altarpieces at Yanhuitlan, Coixtlahuaca and Tamazulapan, also signed a contract to create retablos for Achiutla. Whether it was ever fulfilled we do not know, since today none in his style are in evidence.
   However, several retablos, some fragmentary and all of later colonial origin, still line the nave. These display a variety of styles from different time periods.
The showy 19th century retablo mayor of the Archangels is designed in a provincial late baroque style. Painted blue and gold, it    is framed with slender estípite pilasters, with elaborate rococo niches and much undulating scrollwork. A modern statue of St. Michael occupies the center niche. 

The adjacent red and gold barrococo retablo of Dolores is probably from the same era.
The Virgin of the Rosary
The splendid 18th century retablo of El Rosario, one of a gilded pair facing each other across the nave, is also in the estípite style although earlier and more restrained than the main altarpiece.
Other gilded side altarpieces are framed in traditional Oaxacan baroque style, with gilded spiral columns swathed in arabesque scrolls, vines and foliage, jutting cornices with pendant spindles and even caryatid figures.

Even the neoclassical retablo of St. Peter Martyr is coated with gilded filigree decoration. 
There are also surviving examples of colonial statuary: apart from the beautifully detailed Virgin of the Rosary above, we see a processional statue of St. Sebastian in a gold loincloth, and some older carved and painted figures of the patron saint St. Michael and other archangels—possibly from an earlier De Concha altarpiece.

text and graphics © 2015 Richard D. Perry

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