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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Huaquechula: the crosses and earthquake update

San Martín Huaquechula is an early Franciscan monastery in Puebla and one of the treasuries of 16th century Mexican art and architecture.* In earlier posts we looked at the extraordinary north doorway of the church, the main altarpiece, and the murals in the upper cloister.  
   Huaquechula also houses within its precincts a variety of unusual carved stone crosses, mostly in the form of reliefs but also as freestanding sculptures.

The Atrium Cross
Perhaps the most unusual one is the former atrium cross, now located in the plaza opposite the church in the company of several pre hispanic sculptures, including an Aztec calendar stone. 

 
Set on an old stone globe carved with Sun and Moon reliefs, the replica? cross takes the unusual form of an abbreviated crucifix, with the head, hands and feet of Christ. Other examples of this configuration can be seen at Santa Cruz Tlaxcala, Angahuan, and La Nativitas in Salamanca.
  The cowled Face at the crossing is flanked by large Hands on either arm, extended in a sign of blessing, while the crossed Feet are carved on the lower shaft. Neither Hands nor Feet are pierced and no Wounds are in evidence, although sprays of three Nails appear above the Face and at the foot of the cross.


The Cloister Cross
This relief cross features a large, woven style Crown of Thorns at the axis and a Skull and Bones at the foot, although the rocks of Calvary beneath look more like the flames of Purgatory. One unusual addition is a pair of flanking, angled crosses adorned with winding ropes.
 
The Lavabo Cross
This elaborately spiky tree cross relief is set above the principal water basin in the convento.

The North Wall Cross
While this relief is more conventional at first glance: its octagonal arms and shaft are free of carved detail save for three angled spearheads and a scrolled cap with the rockpile of Calvary below, an
 unusual element is the six, round chalchihuitl style motifs beside it—probably a prehispanic survival, which may account for its obscure position on the north wall of the church. 
Huaquechula, date stone
It may also be related to the early date stone of the convento, which includes Aztec numerals in the form of round reliefs or dots.
The Tree Cross
And in a niche on the south side of the nearby parish church, stands another tree cross with a Crown, angled stubs and an undulating INRI scroll.  
We can't leave Huaquechula without mention of the slender wooden "tree" cross inside the church, painted blue and wreathed with spiraling, gilded grapevines.
text and graphics © 2017  Richard D. Perry
color images by the author and Niccolò Brooker


* Earthquake update:
Unfortunately, the recent earthquake in Puebla caused significant damage in colonial churches across the region, including at San Martín Huaquechula, where parts of the facade, tower and interior vaulting fell.
 

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