Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Chapels of Metztitlan: Zacualtipan


The original 16th century open chapel of Santa Maria, with its added front, is framed by the nave of a later church on one side and the little Dolores chapel on the other.

This harmoniously geometrical facade displays enhanced features typical of the region: the large, rounded entry, framed by a double archway carved with entwined, foliated reliefs, is surmounted by a large, rectangular alfiz, also carved, above which are placed heraldic escutcheons of Augustinian insignia.

Atop the classic square front we see a typical regional mix of belfries, espadana and diminutive tower.

The only cross in evidence at Zacualtipan is that mounted atop the tower, fashioned in the regional manner with a circular Crown of Thorns at the axis and three protruding drippy Wounds on the arms and shaft.

text © 2013 Richard D. Perry. color images by the author and courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Chapels of Metztitlan: Zoquizoquipan

Place of Mud and Clay

Bristling with merlons atop its facade, corner posas and atrium walls, the dramatic hillside church at Zoquizoquipan looms like a medieval citadel above the Barranca de Metztitlan below.
The configuration of the church front is characteristic of many in the region, set in its crenellated atrium. Also typical is the belfry or espadaña standing atop a square facade, as is the rectangular alfiz crowning the west doorway. A single bell tower—here a post colonial addition—is also a common element in local churches.

Other features of interest at Zoquizoquipan are its stone crosses.

The Atrium Cross
Cut from uneven sections of squared limestone, the striking cross is mounted on a pyramidal pedestal and a cubic base embellished with corner merlons. Simply carved in bold relief, the cross departs dramatically from the regional pattern as seen at Metztitlan. Here, a variety of Passion symbols is arranged on the front of the neck and shaft, although the ordering of the imagery is unorthodox.
© Niccolò Brooker
A miniature Tunic projects above the axis, encircled by a braided Crown. Beneath an overhanging INRI plaque at the head, a Rooster struts atop a Column slashed by a multi tailed scourge.Crossed Hammer and Pincers appear underneath the Crown. Below, a long ladder descends to a crossed Spear and Reed at the foot, surrounded by a Skull, a Hand and a Jug below. Reliefs of two roughly formed arms with unpierced hands stretch outwards along the crosspiece—an unusual depiction.
The reverse of the cross is unadorned save for an enigmatic motif that links a sunburst with a cross, framed by volutes and a serrated halo—possibly the Host—above what appears to be a Chalice inscribed with the Christic monogram IHS.
The ideosyncratic iconography of this vernacular cross suggests a date in the 17th century or later.
© Niccolò Brooker
The Gable Cross
A smaller cross, now mounted atop the church gable, is much more in the regional style, similar to the one above the north doorway at Metztitlan. It sports a prominent knotted Crown of Thorns motif at the axis, with reliefs of outsized, dripping Wounds protruding from the arms and shaft.
A partial INRI scroll angles across the head of the cross which rests on an alfiz like pedestal with a frieze of poma reliefs.

text © 2013 Richard D. Perry. color images by the author and courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Chapels of Metztitlan; Tlacolula

Tlacolula de Tianguistengo
One of the farthest flung of Metztitlan’s visitas, Tlacolula—not to be confused with the village of the same name in Oaxaca—lies some some 60 kms to its east in the foothills of the mountainous Huasteca region. 

This remote village retains its early mission that, however modest, reveals several features of interest, notably its freestanding early stone bell tower—a structure more commonly associated with the missions of Michoacán.
photograph © Juan B. Artigas
Tlacolula retains its walled atrium with remnants of the original posa chapels and an unusual processional walkway around the perimeter formed of large, round river pebbles.

The Atrium Cross
Also still standing atop a high masonry block, the old atrium cross is closely fashioned after the one at Metztitlan, with slender octagonal arms and shaft. 
The whitewashed cross is minimally adorned, with a few boldly carved reliefs: an interwoven Crown of Thorns at the apex flanked by stylized Christ's Wounds gushing drops of blood on the arms and lower shaft. 
Penetrating round holes are sunk into the three Wounds, providing ample space for placing temporary or permanent objects—nails, stone inlays, pegs for floral adornment, etc.
A narrow INRI plaque stands out from the neck of the cross beneath the sole surviving cannonball finial.
But like others in the region, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Tlacolula cross is the base on which it stands.
The underlying pedestal is ornamented in 16th century tequitqui fashion with stylized vines and flowers. Four unmatched corner merlons surround the cross, ornamented with quatrefoil rosettes—stone carvings probably recycled from an earlier structure and similar in style to the Atzolcintla reliefs.

text © 2013 Richard D. Perry, with acknowledgments to Juan B. Artigas.
color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Chapels of Metztitlan: Atzolcintla

We continue with our survey of the former visitas of Santos Reyes Metztitlan, the hub of Augustinian missionary work in the eastern part of what is now Hidalgo, in central Mexico.  
As previously noted, these were initially simple open chapels often later adapted into larger but still modest mission churches.  
San Juan Atzolcintla
Located less than ten kilometers west of Metztitlan, this imposing former open chapel, a tall, blocky building with its barrel vault girded by crenellated parapets on all sides, has retained its sculpted archway and lofty surmounting alfiz without later additions—all features characteristic of visita churches in the area.
   Pointed merlons also surmount the more modest annex, consisting of four inner rooms, likewise original and dating from the 16th century.  The adjacent belfry is more recent.
Although the grand original archway is now partially blocked, with a reduced entry, it retains its majestic sweep and intricate carving in the form of a vine sprouting leaves and fleurs-de-lis.
   Ornament around the square alfiz consists of complex, eight point rosettes reminiscent of the classic Aztec Fifth Sun motif.
Lusher vines complete with leaves, tendrils and ripe bunches of grapes, adorn the doorjambs in beautifully rendered relief. Stone holy water basins remain embedded in the wall on either side.

photographs © Juan B. Artigas

text © 2013 Richard D. Perry, with acknowledgments to Juan B. Artigas
color images courtesy of Diana Roberts.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Chapels of Metztitlan: Xihuico

In early colonial times the great priory of Santos Reyes Metztitlan was the hub of Augustinian missionary work in the region of what is now Hidalgo in central Mexico.  
   To more efficiently carry out this task numerous visita missions were established in outlying areas of its jurisdiction or doctrinaInitially these were simple open chapels served by circuit riding friars, although some were later adapted into larger but still modest mission churches.  In this series we look at some of the most interesting surviving examples.

Magdalena Xihuico
Located some ten kilometers south of Metztitlan, just off Rte 37, the church is set within an irregular polygonal walled atrium and dates from two periods.
   The present nave with its cliff like facade dates from the later colonial period. Its undulating espadaña gable is pierced by a row of bell openings in the style of Metztitlan.
A carved stone cross stands atop the gable.
The large, 16th century open chapel forms the present apse together with a two smaller rooms at the rear—the former friars' quarters.  
   This is the more sturdy structure and also the more skilfully finished. A broad band of lighter, smoother cut limestone, situated above the walls of dark tezontle, borders the chapel on all sides below the upper parapet.
Xihuico disk frieze detail (©J. B. Artigas)
Within this band is a continuous disk frieze sculpted from contrasting darker basalt. All the disks bear religious monograms or the insignia of the Order in typical Augustinian fashion, however it is most unusual to find them emblazoned other than on the front of the church.
   Resemblance to the disk friezes found on certain pre hispanic buildings, notably the tecpans that housed native nobility before and after the conquest, is striking.

text © 2013 Richard D. Perry, with acknowledgments to Juan B. Artigas
color images courtesy of Diana Roberts and Alessia Frassani

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Missions of Michoacán. Uruapan and its murals: San Francisquito

San Francisquito Uruapan

The little walled chapel of San Francisquito, with its monolithic brownstone cross out front, was one of the nine original barrios founded in Uruapan by Fray Juan de San Miguel, the Apostle of Michoacán. 
Behind its shell-dotted facade is an intimate interior of great charm with wooden piers, carved roof beams and a painted ceiling.

A steeply pitched, hipped ceiling covers the center nave supported by wooden pillars similar to those at nearby Zacán but much smaller in scale.  
The suspended ceiling is divided by ribs into seven sections with fanlike avenerados at each end and is currently painted reddish brown.  
Painted oval panels adorn alternating sections on either side, some with floral decoration. others with portraits.

Eight surviving cartouches frame full length figures of archangels and selected Franciscan saints with their attributes, outlined in red, black and blue against clouds or landscaped backgrounds.

Michael;                Gabriel; 
Raphael;                              Guardian Angel
The figures are confidently drawn in a folkloric style similar to that at Nurio, another painted chapel in the area, quite possibly by the same artist. They comprise the three principal archangels: San Miguel, San Rafael, San Gabriel plus a Guardian Angel; together with the Franciscan saints San Diego, Santa Clara, San Pascual Bailón and San Roque.

San Diego,              St. Clare, 
San Pascual Bailón,             San Roque.
Surprisingly St. Francis and St. Anthony of Padua are not included in the company, although they may just have been erased. However, an elongated statue of St Francis, holding cross and skull, looks down from the altarpiece.
text © 2012 Richard D. Perry
images © Niccolò Brooker.  Thank you Nick
All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Missions of Michoacán. Uruapan and its murals: La Guatapera

In an earliest post we drew attention to the carved stone crosses of Uruapan. Here we  look at the old hospital chapel of La Guatapera in more detail, especially the recently restored colonial murals there.

La Guatapera
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 on the initiative of Bishop Vasco de Quiroga, the hospital was erected on the reputed site of a Tarascan nunnery or women’s house (Guatapera means House of the Virgins in the purépecha tongue). 
The building was completed in 1555—the year of Fray Juan’s death—and according to local lore, he passed away in one of the upper rooms.
The diminutive chapel in front is one of the earliest architectural monuments in Michoacán. Its splendid mudéjar porch, densely sculpted from volcanic stone by Tarascan stonecarvers, is considered to be among the finest examples of tequitqui work in Mexico. 
Winged cherubs entwined with delicately modeled relief foliage climb the jambs, beneath an intricate arabesque archway. Rosettes linked by the Franciscan knotted cord line the inner jambs and continue around the soffit of the arch, while bands of stylized vines and acanthus leaves border the surmounting alfiz.
The chapel interior is roofed by a three-sided wooden ceiling, resting on heavy beams with carved zapata brackets. The sanctuary arch at the far end is spangled with stars, rosettes and sacred monograms.
Recently restored wall paintings add color to the shadowy apse.  The original retablo style mural in the apse is divided by decorative friezes and displays saints, bishops and musical archangels in blue, red and ocher.  The musical archangels play harp, guitar, trombone and flute.
musical angels: harp and trombone

Roundels in the tapestry like panels on either side of the apse portray other notables, including the Four Evangelists.
High on the south side of the chapel a colonnaded exterior gallery with a heavy beamed ceiling overlooks the hospital patio, which still boasts its rugged basalt cross and functioning colonial fountain. This gallery may have been a preaching balcony or elevated open chapel similar to the one at Angahuan.
The L-shaped patio, which houses seasonal exhibits of regional arts and crafts, is similar in layout and ornament to the Guatapera at Zacán. Its colonnaded veranda, which formerly extended along the side of the chapel, protects several original mudéjar windows, whose large frames are elaborately carved with vines, flowers and foliage.

text © 1997 & 2013 by Richard D. Perry  All rights reserved
images by the author, and courtesy of Niccolò Brooker and Robert Starner

for more on Uruapan and the missions of Michoacán consult our regional guidebook