Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Missions of Michoacán. Zacapu: the hospital chapel

For our second post on Zacapu we turn to the former hospital chapel, now dedicated to Guadalupe, and its gem like colonial altarpiece.

The Hospital Chapel
On the north side of the vast paved plaza out front of the main church, now partly obscured by a modernistic structure and along a narrow walkway, we can still find the former hospital chapel of Zacapú.
Once dedicated to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, the chapel is now dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, whose yearly festival is noted for its energetic, swaying procession.
The facade retains its original doorway and choir window, with several embedded stone shell reliefs, one with the date of 1649.

The boxy interior is roofed by a traditional wooden beamed ceiling with arrocabe supports on either wall, and is enriched by a small but highly refined gilded retablo gleaming at the far end. 

The classic portrait of Guadalupe at center is flanked by statues of Sts Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Virgin Mary.
Fashioned in an idiosyncratic late baroque style, the retablo features elegant siren like caryatids carved in sinuous postures with twisted heads, which might fancifully seem to relate to the steps of some women in the Guadalupe procession, popularly called La Topa de Guaresitas.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker and Felipe Falcón.

Visit our earlier pages on the missions of Michoacán: San Nicolas de Obispo;  Naranja de TapiaCharapan; TupataroQuinceoZacánPomacuaránNurio Cocucho AjunoSantiago Charapan; San Sebastián CorupoTanaquilloSanta Clara del CobreTlalpujahuaTzintzuntzanUruapanCapácuaro;  HuiramangaroTarímbaroJarácuaro;  Ziracuaretiro;

Friday, September 13, 2019

Missions of Michoacán: Santa Ana Zacapu

This is the first of two posts on the colonial churches of Zacapu in central Michoacán.
In ancient times Zacapú was the site of a major shrine dedicated to the sun god Curicaueri, which overlooked a lake sacred to this greatest of the Tarascan deities. Although the lake subsequently degenerated into unhealthy marshland, the settlement remained populous into the 1500s.
 In 1540 Fray Jácobo Daciano, the aristocratic Danish friar and "Apostle of Michoacán" whose name is also associated with Tarécuato and Tzintzuntzan, founded the mission here, supposedly raising the first primitive thatched chapel with his own hands. A statue has been erected in his memory in the atrium, complete with his broad-brimmed pilgrim’s hat.
   By the end of the 16th century, Santa Ana Zacapú was counted among the leading Franciscan houses in Michoacán. The present church was erected during the 1570s, under the supervision of Fray Pedro de Pila, the distinguished builder of Tzintzuntzan.

The Church Front
Studded with bold shell reliefs, the imposing Plateresque facade recalls Tzintzuntzan and Erongarícuaro, although the Corinthian columns, paneled jambs and pedestals give it a more soberly classical appearance. Note the unusual angled shells flanking the doorway.

The atrium resembles a sculpture garden with its carved 17th century stone cross and a handsome sundial set on a column alongside the statue of Fray Jácobo. The curvacious clock gable and church tower are more recent additions and the interior has been entirely made over, retaining few obvious colonial features.
The Atrium Cross
Simply carved with minimal ornament, the cross employs a cross- within-a-cross motif, and is decorated with plain rosettes on the neck, shaft, and flared arms.  A crude skull and bones relief foots the shaft.

The Convento
Although much of the portería arcade has now been closed in, the adjacent convento has a raised exterior gallery in the regional manner. The tunnel-like entry vestibule bear fragmentary frescoes, possibly portraying the entry of the 12 Franciscans in 1524.
A narrow passage conducts us to the ample cloister, which is framed by sturdy Tuscan arcades with massive stone columns and slab capitals. Beneath low stone arches set on thick scrolled brackets, the cavernous corner niches still preserve vestiges of devotional murals.
Visit our earlier pages on the missions of Michoacán: San Nicolas de Obispo;  Naranja de TapiaCharapan; TupataroQuinceoZacánPomacuaránNurio Cocucho AjunoSantiago Charapan; San Sebastián CorupoTanaquilloSanta Clara del CobreTlalpujahuaTzintzuntzanUruapanCapácuaro;  HuiramangaroTarímbaroJarácuaro;  Ziracuaretiro;
text and images © 1996 & 2019 Richard D. Perry

Monday, September 9, 2019

Missions of Michoacán: Aranza

Located in the Sierra Tarasca north of Uruapan, the indigenous pueblo of Aranza is a center of purépecha culture in Michoacán. 
At the heart of the community is the venerable church of San Jerónimo, which houses El Santo Niño de Chichihua* whose revered image is the focus of colorful seasonal festivals and attracts devotees from across the region. 
The 16th century church front is fashioned in the regional style, its great arched doorway set on broad jambs and prominently surmounted by a decorated alfiz. In the local custom too, the doorway is flanked by several outsize shell reliefs, rosettes and leafy vines.
Another venerable piece of early stonework at Aranza is the atrium cross, incised with a date along the base. Generally plain, it is carved with eroded, fleurs-de-lis on the arms and a single cannonball on top.  And inside the church, stands a monolithic baptismal font carved like the doorway with outsize foliage and rosettes beneath a cord like rim.
Also typical of the region is the church interior, covered by a broad, wood beamed ceiling or alfarje. This is set above supporting, Mudejar style arrocabes, braced by intricately scrolled zapata brackets backed by painted ornamental urns and trimmed above and below by spiraling cord moldings.
In contrast to the rustic ambience of the nave, a "barococo" altarpiece spans the apse, its neoclassical form softened with gilded ornament. The stylishly red robed image of St. Jerome, the patron of Aranza, occupies an upper niche.  
 text © 2019 by Richard D. Perry.   
color images by the author and © Niccolò Brooker.
* The name is derived from an Aztec term signifying female servant or wet nurse, testifying to the prehispanic origins of the cult. 

Please see our previous posts on the Missions of Michoacán: Tupataro; Quinceo; Zacán; Pomacuarán; Nurio; San Lorenzo; Cocucho; Naranja; Ajuno; Santiago Charapan; San Sebastián Corupo; Tanaquillo; Santa Clara del Cobre; TlalpujahuaTzintzuntzanUruapanCapácuaroSan Nicolas de ObispoHuiramangaroTarímbaro, Jarácuaro; Arocutín; Ziracuaretiro; Angahuan;

Friday, September 6, 2019

Missions of Michoacán: Ihuatzio

Located on the eastern shore of Lake Patzcuaro, Ihuatzio (Place of the Coyotes) rivaled neighboring Tzintzuntzan in prehispanic times, as its extensive temple ruins testify, but after the Conquest its importance dwindled relative to its neighbor.

Ihuatzio, coyote sculpture
Nevertheless the Franciscans founded a mission here, under the patronage of St Francis, subject at first to the monastery at Tzintzuntzan, and later Patzcuaro.
The present church dates from later colonial times although retaining some typical features of early Michoacán missions, notably the sculpted west porch, framed with relief foliage and rosettes and surmounted by an alfiz
And like many other area churches, the facade is enlivened with numerous embedded reliefs, including various plants, animals, fish and birds as well as the shells ubiquitous throughout Michoacán.


text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
facade images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker

Monday, September 2, 2019

Missions of Michoacán: ZINAPECUARO

In ancient times, a temple sacred to the Tarascan earth goddess Cueravaperi occupied the hilltop where the monastery of Zinapécuaro now stands. Originally fortified by the Tarascans as an outpost against marauding Chichimec warriors, this commanding site was strengthened in the 1540s by Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza during prosecution of the Mixton War, a successful campaign waged by the Spaniards against the insurgent Chichimecs and their allies.
San Juan Bautista  Zinapecuaro
The Franciscan mission of San Juan Bautista was built in the 16th century on the same foundations, using stone from the former temples as well as blocks of black basalt from a nearby quarry, ac cording to an account of the roving Franciscan commissioner Fray Alonso Ponce, who visited Zinapécuaro during its construction in 1585. Although the church was rebuilt on a larger scale later in the colonial period, the convento and cloister date back to the late 1500s.
   From the town center, a stone stairway winds up to the walled atrium of the monastery, which retains its arched gateways and antique stone cross. 
The monastery walls are formed of rough red and charcoal gray tezontle blocks, liberally chinked with shiny pieces of the locally plentiful obsidian. (Zinapécuaro means “Place of Obsidian” in the purépecha language.) This construction technique has created a distinctive mosaic effect, most noticeably around the base of the tower. 
A grandiose colonnaded portico projects from the whitewashed church front, enclosing a pair of antique, goblet-shaped baptismal fonts—appropriately for a church dedicated to John the Baptist, whose statue is prominently mounted in a niche above the choir window. 

The portico obscures but also protects the church entrance, whose sinuously carved rococo doors are among the most attractive 18th century examples in Mexico. 

The church interior is the soul of neoclassical restraint, although it retains some popular appeal in the form of a locally revered crucifix, known as El Señor de Araro. The image is the object of pil grimage among drivers and chauffeurs, whose devotion is sorely tested by the steep climb to the atrium and painful progress on the knees to the church door, along pathways studded with unforgiving obsidian shards. There is also a handsome wall pulpit with portraits of the Evangelists.
The Cloister
An attractive arcaded cloister lies at the heart of the adjoining convento. Molded cylindrical arches spring from plain stone columns with spool bases and capitals.  
Sculptural ornament is restricted to decorative corbels, intricately carved with the Franciscan knotted cord, that support the vaulting over the walks. Some of the inner archways along the arcades are painted with medallions of angels holding the Instruments of the Passion—the only visible remnants of the extensive murals that formerly embellished the cloister.
Many eminent Franciscans once labored in these peaceful provincial precincts. They included the pioneering Tarascan linguists Fray Pedro Ximénez—mentioned by Father Ponce—and Fray Maturino Gilberti, a brilliant 16th century scholar and former Guardian of Zinapécuaro, who compiled the first Tarascan dictionary and grammar. Fray Maturino also gained notoriety for writing a controversial dialectic on Christian doctrine intended to enlighten his Indian neophytes, but which provoked the unwelcome attention of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.
The Atrium Cross
Although quite severe compared to the other, more richly ornamented crosses in the region, this lofty octagonal cross looks to have been dismantled at one time and then reassembled, perhaps with later additions.
Only two archaic dripping Wound reliefs appear: one in a customary location on the upper shaft, but the other placed in an odd horizontal position near the head of the cross. No other Passion symbols are in evidence.
In our view, the neck of the cross looks original except that it may have been previously an arm, which would explain the orientation of the Wound and the worn foliated finial. The other arm, no doubt bearing the third Wound, is missing. We also suspect that the plain crosspiece, with its crude cannonball finials is a more recent accretion. 
text © 1995 & 2019 Richard D. Perry
images by the author, ELTB and courtesy of Niccolo Brooker

Visit our earlier pages on the missions of Michoacán: San Nicolas de Obispo;  Naranja de TapiaCharapan; TupataroQuinceoZacánPomacuaránNurio Cocucho AjunoSantiago Charapan; San Sebastián CorupoTanaquilloSanta Clara del CobreTlalpujahuaTzintzuntzanUruapanCapácuaro;  HuiramangaroTarímbaroJarácuaro;  Ziracuaretiro;

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Missions of Michoacán: Erongarícuaro

We continue our posts on the early missions around Lake Pátzcuaro with a page on one of the most important and best preserved, that of Asunción Erongarícuaro.
Erongarícuaro, the monastery front (1994)
The town of Erongarícuaro is the largest settlement along the dry western shore of Lake Pátzcuaro. Erongaricuaro means "mirador" in the regional purépecha language and the picturesque Franciscan monastery here enjoys an exceptional vista of the lake. After 400 years the monastery still serves as a seminary and, to a great extent, preserves its 16th century appearance.
   Although there was a primitive mission here in the early 1500s—a visita of Tzintzuntzan just a short canoe trip across the water—Bishop Quiroga refused the Franciscans permission to build a monastery here. So it was not until after Don Vasco's death in 1565 that construction began, continuing into the next decade and possibly involving some of the same artisans who were working on Tzintzuntzan.

The Church
Just a few steps from the enclosed arcaded plaza, an arched gateway opens to the monastery atrium where an avenue of tall cedars leads us to the square church front. 

   The west doorway and ornamental choir window are classic statements of the regional, mudéjar flavored Plateresque style. Both are cut from smooth, cafe-au-lait limestone, and stand out sharply against the facade of dark, rough-hewn volcanic tezontle
   The broad Romanesque style arch of the doorway rests on equally wide jambs, headed by capitals of rustic volutes and acanthus leaves. But the doorway's most striking features are its five, giant, inverted scallop shells—a classic marker of church ornament in Michoacán—here undoubtedly derived from the mother monastery at Tzintzuntzan. 
The choir window (Niccolo Brooker)
An even larger shell relief projects above the broad jambed ajímez choir window divided by an ornate baluster column, as at at Tzintzuntzan. Shells are also embossed on the jambs while relief rosettes and medallions with the crossed keys of St. Peter cling to the surrounding alfiz
   These similarities to Tzintzuntzan suggest the influence of Fray Pedro de Pila, a former Guardian at Erongarícuaro, and his skilled stone carvers in its design and reconstruction.
A beam and cane ceiling covers the boxy nave, supported on a remarkable triple arrocabe, or carved wooden frieze, banded with painted brackets and trimmed by a twisted cord molding. 
   The massive sanctuary arch, outlined in dark basalt blocks, draws the eye to the apse where a naturalistic crucifix, known as El Señor de la Misericordia, hangs above the altar. 
Niccolo Brooker
The Convento An elegant triple arcade fronts the monastery beside the church. The high arches of the porteria rest on fluted columns capped with intricately carved "ram's head" capitals adorned with angels, cornucopias and the Franciscan knotted cord—all cut from soft, ivory-colored limestone.
Recessed behind the center arch of the portico is the grand archway of the 16th century open chapel, a cousin of the chapel at Tzintzuntzan, although more Renaissance in flavor.  Flared, fluted piers brace its broad, paneled opening, surmounted by a dentilled frieze with medallions of the Sacred Heart alternating, again, with the crossed keys.
the open chapel vault
The flanking Gothic colonettes strike a medieval note echoed by the ribbed vault with the Franciscan cord. A choir loft spans the south end of the portería, and, at its north end, an arched doorway surmounted by an extravagant double alfiz of baluster columns gives access to the convento. 
Blocks of reddish black lava stone like those in the sanctuary arch outline the stocky cloister arcades. Archaic doorways with low Isabelline arches open from the cloister into the surrounding rooms.
A "mirador" at the rear commands a panoramic view across the monastery gardens to the islands and shimmering waters of Lake Pátzcuaro beyond.
See our other posts on the missions of Michoacán:  TupataroQuinceoZacánPomacuaránNurioSan LorenzoCocuchoNaranjaAjunoSantiago Charapan; San Sebastián CorupoTanaquilloSanta Clara del CobreTlalpujahuaArocutín; TzintzuntzanUruapanCapácuaroSan Nicolas de ObispoHuiramangaroTarímbaro, Jarácuaro; Arocutín; Ziracuaretiro;
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
photographs © 1994 by the author except where noted.