San Agustín Ucareo was the eighth monastery to be established by the Augustinians in Michoacán. It was founded in 1555 by Fray Juan de Utrera, an innovative architect/builder, whose unassuming statue now stands before the church door.
Almost single-handedly he supervised construction of the entire monastery—an imposing project concluded in record time to forestall harsh criticism by the colonial authorities of what they viewed as an unnecessarily lavish Augustinian building program. This feat was achieved by Fray Juan’s then novel method of cutting all the stone to its final form at the quarry, saving time, effort and expense.
The church was completed in 1603 and despite Basalenque’s claim that it was inspired by the Temple of Solomon, the retablo facade is an uncompromising example of Renaissance austerity. Classical orders of half-columns frame the plain arched doorway and choir window against courses of fine ashlar stonework.
Although the facade, with its high pyramidal gable, is similar in outline to Charo, Ucareo lacks the veneer of geometrical decoration that adorns its neighbor.
The sole concessions to ornament are the carved Augustinian insignia beneath the gable, inlaid with mirror-like pieces of obsidian.
text © 1997 & 2021 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and Robert Jackson