Sunday, August 5, 2012

St Peter Martyr in Mexico

This the second in our series of posts highlighting some of the more interesting Mexican santos.

Saint Peter Martyr

Also known as St. Peter of Verona, St. Peter Martyr was a 13th century Dominican preacher and inquisitor who participated in the Albigensian crusade against the Catharist heretics of southern France.

In 1252 he was murdered by two Cathar assassins on the road from Como to Milan. According to legend, one of the assassins attacked Peter first with blows to the head using an axe, and then stabbed him in the chest. Peter's body was taken to Milan, where it was entombed in a mausoleum. He was canonized the following year.

In portraits the saint appears tonsured, wearing the white and black Dominican habit. His skull is usually cleft by an ax, and/or his chest is pierced by a sword or dagger, the instruments of his death. 
He also holds the palm branch of martyrdom and a book, sometimes open, sometimes closed. The palm often bears three crowns or tiaras, denoting his Martyrdom, his Learning, and his Chastity.

Of the representations of the saint we feature, one is from a 16th century mural, and all the others are three dimensional images from Oaxaca.  First the mural:
Tetela del Volcán
This depiction is one of several portraits of Dominican saints and martyrs from the cloister of Tetela del Volcán, an early Dominican house in Morelos. 
Probably painted in the late 1500s or early 1600s, the haloed saint displays both the ax in the head and the dagger in his chest. He hold the palm with the triple crown and an opened book.

Peter Martyr in Oaxaca 

St Peter Martyr is especially well represented in the Dominican churches of Oaxaca, where most of the santos date from later colonial times.  In addition to those shown below, there are documented images of the saint at Achiutla, Santa Ana del Valle, Coixtlahuaca, Teitipac and Yanhuitlan.

Santa Ana Zegache, with open book
San Pedro Etla
Santiago Cuilapan, with rosary and palm but missing axe
San Pablo Huitzo
Diaz Ordaz, with triple crown palm
Tlacolula: Capilla de La Plata, with axe and dagger
text © 2012 Richard D. Perry;  photographic images: ©Richard D. Perry; Niccolo Brooker; Richard Stracke and others.

For more on the colonial churches of Oaxaca and their santos, consult our regional guidebook
and the new Stracke website

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