Sunday, August 16, 2015

San Miguel Achiutla

In previous posts we looked at the great Dominican priories of Yanhuitlan and Coixtlahuaca in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca.
   Here we consider the smaller, more modest and remote but equally historic hillside monastery of San Miguel Achiutla.
   In our first post we look at the monastery buildings and their spectacular siting.

Place of Tumbling Earth
Precariously perched on a terraced hilltop, the former Dominican monastery of San Miguel Achiutla surveys a panorama of majestic mountain scenery. 
   Long before the Spaniards arrived, this imposing site enjoyed an ancient sanctity, for here once stood an important temple dedicated to the Mixtec oracular deity Tizono, known locally as El Corazón del Pueblo. 

Dating from the 1550s, the monastery is partly built atop the foundations of ancient structures. The church and convento are set atop a leveled knoll, buttressed on the south and especially the east by imposing retaining walls.
   The massive but regular stonework of the monastery matches its exposed setting.  Rugged buttresses and a monumental apse bond the church and convento to the hillside. 
Achiutla, north side of monastery
Because of this orientation, the church and convento face the atrium, located on the gentler slope of the north side of the monastery. It retains vestiges of three of its corner posas and a three sided flight of stone steps climb to recessed north porch which was used as the main entry. 
The arched convento entry projects beyond the church doorway.
Achiutla, west doorway

In the same way, steps rise to the west doorway, recessed like the north porch by broad buttresses. 
   Both facades are simply framed.  A single tier of half columns frames the north entry while two tiers of plain, paired pilasters enclosing narrow, empty niches flank the arched west doorway and choir window on the west.
Achiutla, north facade
text and graphics © 2015 Richard D. Perry. Images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker

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