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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Mass of St Gregory

Yecapixtla, mural of St Gregory 
St. Gregory, later Pope Gregory, one of the four Latin Fathers and a Doctor of the Church appears frequently in Mexican colonial art, usually in the form of reliefs and statuary in altarpieces.  He appears less often in mural art.
Israhel van Meckenem the younger, the Mass of Saint Gregory. date
The Mass of St. Gregory
In one version of this story, St. Gregory, then Pope, was celebrating mass when a member of the congregation expressed doubt that the communion wafer was the body of Christ, saying she had baked it earlier that day. Gregory prayed for a sign and saw a vision of Christ as the Man of Sorrows rising from the altar accompanied by the Arma Cristi, or symbols of the Passion.
   This apocryphal event gained new life in late medieval times and was further revived during the Counter Reformation to reinforce Catholic orthodoxy and the doctrine of transubstantiation. The theme was popularized through a series of illustrations by prominent artists including Albrecht Durer.
The 'Mass of St. Gregory, feathers on wood panel, México, 1539. 
Following the conquest of Mexico, these prints, especially those by the Dutch engraver Israhel van Meckenem circulated in the Americas and became the basis for numerous images, the most famous of which is the 1539 feather work image * created by Diego Huanitzin, the nephew of the ill-fated Moctezuma ll, for presentation to the Pope.
San Gabriel Cholula, Puebla.  Mass of St Gregory mural
The theme also appears in a handful of early monastic murals, notably at San Gabriel Cholula and San Francisco Tepeapulco, with smaller scale variations at Cuernavaca and elsewhere.
Tepeapulco, Hidalgo.   Mass of St Gregory mural
* now thought to be the work of a group of elite artisans headed by Huanitzin in Pedro de Gante's celebrated school of San José de los Naturales.

text © 2016 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and Niccolò Brooker.

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