Crowded with persons of all types—nuns, priests, bishops, saints, archangels and of course suffering souls—the composition, the iconography and its underlying theology is unusually complex.
The painting is structured in three broad horizons. Briefly, the lower part depicts the celebration of the Eucharist and the road to salvation marked by prayer, penitence and good works.
The priest is flanked by nuns and various lay figures in period dress, including at least one acolyte of indigenous caste. Flagellants appear to the left of the altar and on the right, a richly costumed figure gives alms.
The center section portrays souls rising from Purgatory aided by angels and flanked by notables from the religious Orders. These include St. Dominic, St. Augustine, Santa Teresa and others. St. Francis is conspicuously absent.
The top tier contains a unique depiction of a gilded coffer or chest of Indulgences, presided over by St. Peter and St. Michael. A Mexican style Trinity* hovers above.
An inscription on the coffer reads, "An Infinite Treasure for Man." Not to mention the church!
* Note: our second Tecamachalco post, on the Gerson murals, will appear as the inaugural entry on our new blog. Check it out.
* The Mexican Trinity is a depiction of the figures—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit— as three bearded young men, often shown seated on thrones. This portrayal is also known as the Synthronous Trinity, and was initially employed as an aid in introducing this difficult religious concept to new Catholic converts. Although later banned by the Inquisition as heretical, it continued to be popular in Mexico until late colonial times and beyond.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry, based on an article by Jaime Morera.
color images by ELTB