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

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