Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Oxtoticpac One

In earlier posts we looked at the church of San Nicolás del Obispo in Michoacán.
   Now, in a two part series, we visit another early mission dedicated to St Nicholas, that at Oxtoticpac, located northeast of Mexico City near the ancient city of Teotihuacan.

San Nicolás Oxtoticpac
Oxtoticpac was a visita of Otumba, famous as the scene of an epic battle during the Spanish conquest, in which Cortés defeated a pursuing Aztec army.
   In the colonial period, Oxtoticpac (Above the Caverns) was a mining town, the source of fine-grained volcanic tufa (tezontle) for stonecarving, and later, metal ores.    
   The Franciscans adopted St. Nicholas of Bari as the patron saint of the mission, which was founded in 1527.
Facade doorway;                                     statue of St Nicholas of Bari
The Church
Carved rosettes and the Franciscan cord motif adorn the deep set church doorway - a cousin to the main entry at Otumba. 
   A statue of the robed and mitered St. Nicholas rests in a niche above the doorway, flanked by octagonal ocular windows—later additions, as are the dome and the soaring, multi-tiered bell tower.
The Atrium Cross
A magnificent, twelve foot high cross stands on a high zócalo, or base, just outside the church atrium. Confidently carved with the Instruments of the Passion, it exhibits the high standard of craftmanship that might be expected in this traditional stoneworking center. 
   Rectangular in section with beveled corners, the upper part of the cross is largely plain and smooth on the front and back, apart from tiny holes and scratches in the arms suggesting Wounds
The square pedestal on which the cross is mounted is older than the cross itself. 
   A Ladder and Chalice stand out on the front of the lower shaft, whose sides are chiseled with Passion symbols in sharp, bold relief —suggesting a recarving of the cross, or perhaps even a modern copy.  A striking Skull and Bones relief is flanked on either side by reliefs of a longsleeved, pleated Tunic marked with three triangles—perhaps a reference to the Trinity—and a primitive Angel of the Apocalypse depicted in flight with a windblown Roman skirt and cape.
   Smaller crosses in the corners of the atrium mark the locations of the former processional posa chapels.

atrium cross, Angel of the Apocalypse
text © 2012 Richard D. Perry. photography by Niccolo Brooker & Diana Roberts

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