Thursday, October 4, 2012

Missions of Michoacán: San Nicolás de Obispo 1

We take a break (mostly) from Mexican crosses to resume our series on the old missions of Michoacán.

In a series of three posts we will look at the little visited mission of San Nicolás del Obispo.

One of our favorite places in Michoacán is the rustic village of San Nicolás del Obispo, located just outside the colonial city of Morelia. 
Set amid a bleak lava field overshadowed by an unsightly quarrying operation and overlooked by most travelers, San Nicolás nevertheless manages to retain much of its colonial charm, most notably in the precincts and interior of its venerable parish church.
Founded and built by the Franciscans in the late 1500s it was later handed over to the Augustinians. And in the 18th century San Nicolás attracted pilgrims from across the region.

In the next few posts we take a look at the church and its varied colonial treasures.

The Exterior

Large lava blocks distinguish the rugged church front, whose baroque gable was added in 1736 in celebration of a visit by Bishop Hoyos of Michoacán. 

San Nicolás is exceptional for the quality of its stone carving. The west doorway is framed in the classic Franciscan manner with broad jambs of intricately carved foliage, sinuous vines, and rosettes above and below.


San Nicolás is also one of a handful of churches in the region to retain its freestanding tower, which has recently been saved from ruin with a new roof.

A rugged basalt cross faces the church door, featuring a giant, stylized Crown of Thorns at the axis and carved on either arm with large, bleeding Wounds like bunches of grapes, pierced with angled spikes.  
Reflecting the colonial history of the mission, both Franciscan and Augustinian insignia are carved on the cross.

Some of the finest work is on display in the monolithic stone font, which stands just inside the church door, and is ornamented, like the doorjambs, with foliage and rimmed by the Franciscan knotted cord.

text and line drawing © Richard D. Perry.
photographs by Richard Perry and Niccolo Brooker. All rights reserved.

a shout out to Tony Burton, who introduced me to this colonial gem many years ago

For more details on the colonial churches of Michoacán consult our illustrated guidebook 
Blue Lakes & Silver Cities.
Look for our forthcoming guide to Mexican Stone Crosses

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