Sunday, March 4, 2018

Hidden Gems: Santiago Tilapa

From time to time we take a look at modest, often rural Mexican churches with colonial antecedents that are overlooked by most students of viceregal art and architecture, but that often possess features of artistic interest.  We like to call them Hidden Gems.
Santiago Tilapa is an Otomí village near Tianguistenco, south east of Toluca in western Mexico State. This 16th century chapel was reworked in the 1670s as the parish church, when the tower was added. It has been recently restored. 
Santiago Tilapa plan (Inez Ortiz)
Framed by its large atrium and elevated gateway, the large, plain church front nevertheless displays several highly distinctive features. Floating cornices with supporting corbels—possibly part of former alfiz—frame an ocular choir window.

Atop the upper cornice is an embedded stone relief cross of interest. Unusual carved motifs include a spiky crown-of-thorns at the crossing that once enclosed an insert, possibly obsidian?  
   What appear to be paired, opposing song or speech scrolls alternate with quatrefoil rosettes on the arms and shaft. Wound holes are drilled into the extremities of the arms and the shaft—the last issuing dripping streams of blood. The IHS plaque on the surmounting plaque suggests a date from later colonial times.   

The archway extrados
But the most striking feature of the facade is its extraordinary sculpted doorway, almost certainly dating from the 16th century and clearly reassembled/relocated—the original plinths, carved with foliage/serpents, are now elevated.
The extrados inscription, detail
The arch intrados
The focus of the rounded doorway is its archway, densely carved along the inner face (intrados) as well as the outer arch (extrados.)  Thorn and ribbon moldings enclose relief inscriptions formed by highly stylized, glyph like, foliated letters in the style of a Gothic illuminated manuscript or Maya glyph. Although not fully readable, possibly because of later reassemblage, the texts appear to concern praise.
The intrados, detail
The arch rests on jambs carved with exuberant foliated pilasters, although they show different stone types and styles of carving, no doubt due to partial rearrangement or replacement at one time.

Elaborately carved, outsize capitals on either side—now unfortunately defaced—portray winged angels rising above song scrolls, proclaiming this as the sacred entry to the house of God.
Inside the chapel a flat, beamed roof spans the nave, set on carved wooden brackets atop the walls, while two stout posts with ornamental zapatas support the choir.
But the centerpiece is the exquisite wooden artesonado ceiling above the apse, carved with alternating diamond and oval coffers and an octagonal boss or gloria
Another early colonial survivor is the rugged stone baptismal font, rimmed by the Franciscan knotted cord.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
photography courtesy of Niccolo Brooker
Some of our other Hidden Gems: Xichú de IndiosSan Felipe Sultepec; San Pablo Malacatepec;  OcoxochitepecMixquiahualaCherán; Xanenetla

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