Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mexican Crosses: Bucareli & El Pueblito

photograph by Niccolo Brooker


Isolated on a mountain knoll, the ocher walls of the ruined fortress monastery of La Purísima Concepción de Bucareli present a striking image outlined against the green ridges of the Sierra Gorda de Querétaro.
Some years after the abandonment of the Sierra Gorda missions in the later 1700s, the Franciscan order felt the need to maintain and renew their missionary effort in the region. To this end, in 1779, the eccentric friar Fray Guadalupe de Soriano tirelessly lobbied for a monastery to be built on the western flank of the sierra.
    With the support of the reformist Bourbon viceroy Antonio de Bucareli, for whom the mission settlement was named, the monastery was intended as a refuge and religious center for the dispersed Indians—Pames and Jonaces—of the area. It was also planned as a seminary, to prepare the friars for future missionary work in the sierra region.
However, this grand scheme was never came to fruition and the mission was abandoned before its completion. The imposing roofless church, set on the brow of a rocky outcropping, was never completed; today its austere neoclassic shell remains open to the Sierra skies often streaked with clouds and mountain fog.
Down the hill from the majestic ruined church is the far more modest community chapel, its otherwise plain facade capped by giant ornamental scrolls. 
A primitive stone cross stands in front of the chapel, its stubby arms and shaft softened by repeated whitewashings that have obscured much of the sparse carving including angled spikes on the arms and shaft and the battered INRI plaque at the head. The exception is a crude, scarred Face of Christ at the crossing. 

By contrast, a second cross at Bucareli, of more recent manufacture, is built up of  sharply detailed but conventional reliefs of Passion symbols and objects.
    The only oddity here is the letters SPQR inscribed on the upper shaft. A Latin acronym signifying the ancient Roman republic (Senatus PopulusQue Romanus) this inscription is found on only two other crosses in Mexico, both of them in the El Pueblito suburb of the nearby city of Querétaro.
   It may be that only one is original and the others recent copies, although its meaning on these crosses is unclear.
El Pueblito crosses: (left) El Santuario;       (right) La Segunda Ermita

text © 2012 Richard D. Perry.  
photography courtesy of  Niccolo Brooker & Richard Anderson

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mexican Crosses: The "Cristos" of Tzintzuntzan

Tzintzuntzan, the monastery front

Place of the Hummingbirds
This former capital of the Tarascan kings was the site of one of the earliest missions in Michoacán, its grand atrium still shaded by ancient olive trees said to have been planted by Bishop Vasco de Quiroga in the 1500s.  
In this post we look first at the stone crosses and then the wooden crucifixes located in the precincts of this venerable Franciscan monastery. 

The atrium cross, which stands on a squared base in the main avenue leading to the church, features the bulbous, flared finials typical of many in the region.
Fashioned from volcanic stone, the cross is modest in size and its carving is simple. Passion reliefs include the stylized Crown at the crossing together with Nails, Pincers, a Hammer and Ladder, carved in high relief on the front of the shaft. A circular relief may once have adorned the battered neck, although it is now only a faint outline. The reverse of the cross is plain. 

An intriguing wall cross incorporating sunburst like rays is set above the side entry to La Soledad.
The "Cristos" of Tzintzuntzan

Michoacán is especially noted for its cristos de caña, lightweight crucifixes bearing life size, often hyper naturalistic and agonized figures of Christ with bloody wounds and torn flesh. Formed from a malleable but durable compound of corn pith and orchid glue—a prehispanic sculptural material—they were especially suited for processional use. 
   In fact, in early colonial times, under the sponsorship of Bishop Vasco de Quiroga, these cristos were mass produced in the Patzcuaro area and carried by priests and friars throughout west central Mexico. A remarkable collection of these crucifixes can be seen in the Museum of Colonial Art in the regional capital of Morelia, and many still survive in churches across the region.
   The focus of this page, however, is on a trio of pasta de caña sculptures, including crucifixes, located in the precincts of the rambling Franciscan monastery of Tzintzuntzan, on the shores of Lake Patzcuaro—briefly the seat of Vasco de Quiroga's bishopric in the 1530s.
These three celebrated but distinct sculpted figures are El Señor del Rescate (Our Lord of Redemption) in the old church of San Francisco; the Pietá, or Lamentation of Christ, in the convento cloister, and the articulated cristo known as El Señor del Santo Entierro in the Third Order church of La Soledad.
El Señor del Rescate
El Señor del Rescate is the most traditional of these images, probably dating from the early 1600s. His scarred, attenuated body, bright with blood pouring from his wounds, is suspended from a wooden cross. 
   Every February, he leaves his chapel inside the main church to preside over the colorful celebrations of his feast day, which culminate in the traditional Tarascan "Dance of the Old Men".
La Soledad
El Señor del Santo Entierro 
El Señor del Santo Entierro is also of early colonial origin, although carved in a more stylized, folkloric and less realistic mode than El Señor del Rescate, who lodges in the Third Order church of La Soledad across from the main convento.
Because of his movable limbs the saint is displayed in various attitudes depending on the season. During the Semana Santa, for example he rests on a bier swathed in embroidered clothes until he is carried out in procession on Easter Sunday.
El Señor de Santo Entierro in procession
© Hugo Rudinger

The Lamentation of Christ
The painted relief of the Pietá, or Lamentation in the cloister is traditional in its composition and iconography: the slumped figure of Christ—closely resembling El Señor del Rescate—is attended by his Mother (above) and Mary Magdalene (below) and, less conventionally, flanked by angels. 
Despite its marble like appearance, it is in fact sculpted from pasta de caña. 

Text and Drawings © 1997 & 2012  Richard D. Perry
Photographsby Richard Perry & Niccolo Brooker

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mexican Crosses: Charapan

The ancient Tarascan hill town of Charapán, in the volcanic western highlands of Michoacan, is home to a family of carved stone crosses planted among the town's several churches and chapels. 
   Although there is a family resemblance, each cross has its own distinctive character. All but one of the crosses bear dates in the 17th century, despite some later alteration or recarving that may have taken place.

The Belem Cross
The most prominent of the Charapan crosses is a double barred cross of Lorraine, which stands in front of the chapel of Our Lady of Bethlehem, a former hospital chapel located behind the main church of San Antonio.
   Mounted on a square pedestal once set with decorative corner merlons, the basalt cross is minimally carved on one side only. A much eroded woven Crown marks the axis of the main crosspiece. Vestigial streams of blood from stylized Wound reliefs carved at each end point inwards like gnarled hands. A third, shell shaped Wound is the sole relief on the shaft.
   On the upper bar, the remains of a multi-petaled rosette occupy the crossing with a large, deep hole drilled in the center. This may have once framed an inset stone, as well as the shallow, recessed disks in the arms and neck. Square moldings with abbreviated, flared finials terminate all the arms and the head of the cross. 

The San Antonio Cross
Set on a high, square pedestal in front of the rebuilt main church, this cross is similar in style to the Belém cross, except for its single crosspiece.
The carved reliefs, recessed within a raised border, also repeat the pattern of an entwined Crown at the axis flanked by pierced, bleeding Wounds at the end of each arm and on the shaft. 
Delicate rosettes are carved beneath the arms, and matching finials cap the arms and head, although here an INRI plaque surmounts the cross at an angle. Ornately Franciscan insignia are emblazoned on the pedestal together with the date 1655. 

The Cross of Santiago
Built on an elevated site that overlooks the town and the main church and chapel, the painted barrio chapel of Santiago boasts the most lavishly ornamented of the crosses. 
Raised like the others on a large square base that still retains a single corner merlon, the cross faces the carved 17th century chapel doorway and is inscribed with the date 1676.
   The most distinctive feature of the Santiago cross is the full body of Christ Crucified twisted in agony at the crossing—a rare portrayal seen on few atrium crosses, notably those at San Bartolo Pareo and Tepetomatitlan (Tlaxcala). Deeply undercut within the raised outline of the cross, this crude but dramatic figure is especially striking. 
   So too are the accompanying reliefs of Passion symbols that project boldly along the shaft—a Ladder, a Cockerel with Column, a stylized Chalice and a mask like Skull with crossbones. A second Skull grins at the foot of the cross. Slab finials with relief rosettes cap the head and arms. 
   An eroded relief of St. James, the patron saint, on horseback with sword and banner, is embedded in the base pedestal, flanked by outline reliefs of the Archangel Michael and a female saint, probably St. Anne.  

The Pantheon Cross
Perched Calvary style on an outcropping beside the town cemetery, this neglected cross has a more modern look than the others, even it portrays more traditional elements in the manner of the Santiago cross. 
Passion reliefs are sharply cut and harmoniously spaced within the raised borders. Stylized Wounds like arrowheads on the outer arms point inwards to the spiky Crown at the crossing, above which appears an elegant Ewer and basin combination. 
A Column with crossed Spear and Reed capped by a long tailed Rooster dominates the shaft. Multi petaled floral reliefs adorn the flared finials and underarms of the cross. 

text © 2012 Richard D. Perry  photographs: Richard Perry & Diana Roberts
Gracias Diana!
For more information on the colonial arts and architecture of Michoacán, consult our guidebook, Blue Lakes & Silver Cities, available from Espadaña Press

look for our new series on the Missions of Michoacán

Monday, September 17, 2012

Guadalajara: still more on Santa Mónica

At one time there was a spacious convent at Santa Mónica.  In the 19th century however, the nunnery precincts were secularized and most of the buildings demolished.  

Fortunately, parts of the elegant cloister were salvaged, notably the arcades, including the sculpted archways and columns, and the ornate entry to the stairway
These remnants were removed and re constructed, albeit on a smaller scale, as an annex to the popular pilgrimage church of  San Sebastián in the Guadalajara barrio of Analco.

Known as the Patio of the Angels in honor of the team of masons who reportedly undertook the laborious transfer and rebuilding without payment—some even say they were actual angels— the cloister is now used as a community center and gallery.

Stubby fluted Corinthian columns support round arches densely carved on the outer and inner faces with alternating rosettes and quatrefoils. 
Stairway entry detail
The imposing baroque entry to the stairway is also from Santa Mónica, complete with intricate foliated relief decoration, although some inscriptions on the oval cartouches and frieze have been erased.

Several surplus columns, possibly from the second story, are still lined up outside the church.

text © 2012 Richard D. Perry.  cloister photographs by Niccolo Brooker & Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca.  
all rights reserved

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Guadalajara: more on Santa Monica

Besides its spectacular carved doorways, one of the foremost artistic treasures of Santa Monica is the archaic statue of St Christopher with the Christ Child perched on his shoulder, which stands in a niche on the exposed northeast corner of the church.

An elongated statue with a medieval cast, it may be a survivor from an earlier building on the site. 
Empty sockets—oval in the breast of the Christ Child and rectangular on the saint's chest—no doubt once contained jade or obsidian disks—a pre-Columbian device signifying the "soul" of the statue or icon, that was carried over into many Christian sculptures and crosses of the 16th century.

“El Cristobalón,” as the gigantic statue is familiarly known, is a traditional target of appeals by tapatías (the ladies of Guadalajara) for help, not only in finding desirable new husbands, but also in ridding themselves of the undesirable ones that they may already have.

text © 2012 Richard D. Perry.  images © Niccolo Brooker & Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca

Friday, September 14, 2012

San Charbel Makhlouf in Mexico

This is the fourth in our series of distinctive Mexican santos.

One of the more exotic saints that Mexico has made its own is San Charbel Makhlouf, a 19th century Maronite Christian monk and hermit from Lebanon.

Introduced in relatively recent times by Lebanese immigrants, he has achieved a popularity beyond the Lebanese community, and his shrines and altars can be found in numerous churches across Mexico.
In recognition of his widespread following he was beatified and later canonized? by Pope John Paul ll in the 1970s.

He is usually shown as an imposing figure with a white beard, downcast eyes and both arms raised. He is invariably clad in a black, hooded robe.

A San Charbel tradition unique to Mexico is his devotees' custom of hanging colored ribbons (listones), inscribed with their wishes, from his handily outstretched arms, which immediately distinguishes him from other santos in the church.

San Charbel in Mérida cathedral, Yucatan

text & color photograph ©2012 & 2009 Richard D. Perry

For previous posts in this series see our earlier pages on St Peter Martyr, St Rose of Lima and St Dennis

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mexican Crosses: Four at Tepoztlan

The Crosses of Tepoztlán 

Occupying a dominant site in the center of the town, below the celebrated hillside Aztec shrine of El Tepozteco, Natividad Tepoztlán was the best known Dominican house in the present state of Morelos. Among the numerous colonial monuments in its environs are several stone crosses of interest and even mystery.
The Atrium Cross
This large, weatherbeaten cross is mounted in the great walled atrium, in front of the ruined former open chapel beside the church. 
   Set on an imposing, neoclassical base carved with rosettes, the rectangular cross bears a single relief—an intricate Crown of Thorns adorning the crossing whose complex, stylized design takes the form of a woven central chain with spiky inner and outer serrated rings. The star shaped inner ring may have once held obsidian inserts. 
   Ornate fleur-de-lis finials with elaborately scrolled and folded leaves sprout from  the stubby arms and head of the cross.  
The Lost Passion Cross
Formerly, there were two carved stone crosses in the atrium. This second cross was mounted in front of the church within living memory, was more intensely carved with Passion symbols, and may have dated to the 16th century. 
   Old photographs show a sunburst style relief at the crossing with nail like rays, not unlike that of the present atrium cross. It is set above a Chalice on the upper shaft, and with its miniature cross above and underlying stand, it was probably intended as a representation of the Host.
   Reliefs carved within raised borders along the shortened arms and shaft include a small woven Crown on the neck, Ladders on either side of the Host, Hammer and Pliers on the arms, and a Lance on the shaft. 
The Globe Cross
Yet another extant cross, remarkably similiar to the Passion cross although simpler and with significant differences, stands on a giant stone globe on the trail up to the ancient Tepozteco shrine. The arms and shaft are reduced and the reliefs cruder; there are no Ladders or Crown on the neck.
   Reputedly, the cross marks the spot where the Dominican Fray Domingo de la Anunciación baptized the lord of Tepoztlán in 1538. 

The Posa Cross
A smaller, much eroded cross, in the same style as the atrium cross but with an octagonal shaft, stands on a globe atop the posa chapel in the northwest corner of the atrium.
text © 2012 Richard D. Perry  photographs: Richard Perry; Niccolò Brooker
for more on the old monasteries of Morelos and Mexico, see our classic guidebook

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mexican Crosses: The Crosses of Uruapan

Colonial Uruapan was founded in the late 1520s on the banks of the tumbling river Cupatitzio by Fray Juan de San Miguel, the itinerant Franciscan missionary and founder of hospitals, known affectionately as the “Apostle of Michoacán.” Fray Juan gathered Indians from the surrounding areas into nine barrios, each with its own humble ermita, or chapel. 
Some of these colonial chapels have survived, still the focus of local devotion and colorful festivals, and a few retain their carved stone churchyard crosses—new or dating from colonial times.

Uruapan: La Guatápera (Niccolo Brooker)
Although the main church of San Francisco was rebuilt in the 19th century after a destructive fire, the adjacent 16th century hospital and chapel survived the blaze and are preserved to this day. 
Founded in 1534 by Fray Juan de San Miguel, the hospital was erected on the reputed site of a Tarascan nunnery or women’s house (guatápera means House of the Virgins in the purépecha tongue). 

The diminutive chapel is one of the earliest architectural monuments in Michoacán and its splendid mudéjar porch, skilfully sculpted from dark volcanic stone by Tarascan stonecarvers, is considered to be among the finest examples of tequitqui work in Mexico.

La Guatápera: atrium cross
 The monumental atrium cross, hewn from the dark, pocked, local basalt, is simply carved with an interwoven Crown of Thorns motif at the crossing, accompanied by horizontal stylized Wound reliefs on the arms and a third on the shaft surmounted by a fan of three Spikes. Minimally flared finials in the local tradition complete its classic outline. 
On the reverse of this rugged cross, the only identifiable relief is an octofoil motif at the crossing—likely a variant of the Aztec Fifth Sun glyph. 

San Francisquito (Niccolo Brooker)
The little walled chapel of San Francisquito is noted for its intimate interior of great charm, with wooden piers, carved roofbeams, painted ceilings and images of Franciscan saints crowding the altar.
Its monolithic brownstone cross is planted in front of the shell-encrusted facade

La Magdalena chapel: atrium cross (Diana Roberts)
This simple cross in the atrium of the barrio chapel of La Magdalena features an incised cross-with-a-cross pattern, also with flared finials on the arms.

chapel of Santiago, foliated cross (Diana Roberts)
The tiny chapel of Santiago possesses a spirited folk statue of Santiago Matamoros mounted triumphantly on his rearing horse.  The more recent cross in the churchyard—a replacement for an earlier cross—is decorated with panels of rosettes.

Text & photography ©2012  Richard D. Perry. 
Additional photography by Niccolo Brooker and Diana Roberts.  Gracias a todos!

look for our forthcoming guide to Mexican Carved Stone Crosses soon available online

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Mexican Crosses: Cholula

San Gabriel de Cholula, 1668 segmented atrium cross with alternating rosettes and lozenges.
As a follow up to our earlier page on the monastery of San Gabriel in this city, we present here a selection of other carved stone crosses adorning the churches and cemeteries of Cholula.

This is the atrium cross of the church of San Miguel,
located behind San Gabriel, ornamented in a similar pattern

San Miguelito: this smaller chapel has a modern foliated gable cross with chalice and Host
Large cross in the Cholula Pantheon (cemetery) in the style of the San Gabriel cross
Two other Pantheon crosses
Below the great pyramid of Cholula: a rustic stone cross
In addition to those on inner city churches, there are several other old crosses on interest in outlying communities barrios of Cholula:
Santa Maria Magdalena Xixitla: gable cross with Passion symbols
Trinidad Xixitla: atrium cross with Passion reliefs
San Gregorio Zacapechpan: atrium cross with Passion symbols
San Luis Tehuiloyocan: atrium cross with Passion reliefs
Another in similar style,  dated 1713, is found in nearby Santiago Momoxpan

San Gregorio Atzompa, carved and painted atrium cross

text & images © Richard Perry,   photography: Niccolo Brooker & Diana Roberts
look for our forthcoming pictorial guide to Mexican Carved Stone Crosses