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Thursday, June 9, 2022

Oaxaca City. Carmen Alto

We continue our series on the lesser known churches in the city of Oaxaca with posts on the two Carmelite foundations, Carmen Alto and Carmen Bajo, starting with the former.
   The convento of Carmen Alto was founded on the site of an Aztec temple, dedicated to their maize deity Centeotl, and probably the location of even more ancient devotions. The temple primarily served the Aztec garrison quartered on the nearby Cerro Fortín and became a focus of pilgrimage, ceremonies and human sacrifice.       
   Anxious to stamp out the old religion, the Spanish erected a cross and chapel here in the 1500s, transforming the pagan festival into the feast day of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. 
   This modest chapel was replaced in the late 1600s by the Carmelite monastery, intended for the exclusive use of the Spanish population.
Although much of the large, fortress-like convento has been converted to other uses, including a former prison, the church endures, skirted by an L-shaped, walled atrium with two pedimented gateways bristling with merlons.
In front of the main west entrance to the church stands the best preserved original section: a broad, arcaded portico or narthex—a common feature of Carmelite churches in Mexico. 
Above the arcade, a large relief in a fretted frame shows Our Lady of Mt. Carmel sheltering friars and nuns of the Carmelite order beneath her ample cape. Oval medallions of the Carmelite insignia—a cross and three stars beneath a coronet—are prominently emblazoned on either side.
Recessed between deep exterior buttresses, the south entry takes the form of a triumphal arch with double tritostyle columns. A statue of St. Joseph stands in the niche above, flanked by large merlons. A carved cross—known as La Cruz Acordonada because of its cordlike striations—occupies the upper facade, enclosed within a cruciform frame.

text 2005/2022 Richard D. Perry
pictures by the author and from online sources


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