Friday, November 29, 2013

The Chapels of Metztitlan: Iztazacuala

We conclude our series on the chapels of Metztitlan with a visit to the little church of Iztazacuala and its unusual atrium cross.

San Agustín Iztazacuala
Sacred White Mountain Shrine
The rural chapel of San Agustín Iztazacuala is another lookalike visita of Metztitlan, surrounded by a large walled atrium, and its tall, rectangular front capped with a triple belfry.  
   There is little carved ornament on the chapel front, although two dedicatory inscriptions are embedded in the upper facade: one dated 1766 and the other 1746.
The Cross
Another interesting element at Iztazacuala is the atrium cross, which stands atop a stepped base in front of the chapel.  More elaborately carved than the other local crosses, it is configured more in the style of the Actopan area crosses over the sierra to the west.
                       The atrium cross, front                                              reverse
Precariously assembled from disparate carved blocks, the upper part is cylindrical in section with an outsized Face of Christ at the axis. A soft Crown of Thorns motif is draped around the neck and Passion reliefs are carved all around, including several implements and two elongated, drippy Wounds on the back of the mossy arms.
   The lower part of the cross, of indeterminate shape with spear like protuberances and crudely incised with floral motifs, appears to be from another source. Likewise the roughly carved, tilting INRI plaque at the head. 
Here is a list of the churches and chapels associated with Metztitlan in this series:

text © 2013 Richard D. Perry.  color images courtesy of Diana Roberts.  All rights reserved

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Chapels of Metztitlan: Hualula

San Juan Hualula

Close to the Laguna de Metztitlan, north of Metztitlan, this little chapel is among the most rustic of the early visitas.
The stripped down, squared chapel is nevertheless typical, with sturdy, battlemented walls and triple belfry, its front braced by massive lateral buttresses.
The rounded doorway is minimally ornamented with familiar sinuous reliefs of scrolled foliage, blurred by multiple layers of whitewash. Likewise the battered atrium cross in front of the church.
Perhaps the only out of the ordinary feature here is the simple, box style alfiz with double cornices framing the choir window instead of the doorway as in other area churches.
text © 2013 Richard D. Perry.  color images © Niccolo Brooker all rights reserved.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Chapels of Metztitlan: Tepatetipa

San Agustín Tepatetipa
This modest chapel, only a few kilometers north of Metztitlan, has several features of interest. First of all, although dedicated to St Augustine, the date of 1525 inscribed on the facade predates the arrival of the Order in the area. 
   Although a primitive chapel may have been built by the local encomendero Alonso de Mérida—the name Alonso appears in the inscription—the appearance and architecture of the church are of a piece with later Augustinian chapels in the region, with its conventional squared front and single towerA dilapidated stone cross stands atop a massive pedestal in front of the church. 
The doorway has some unusual characteristics: the quatrefoil style inner doorway—a later insert—is framed by the earlier basket handle arch carved, like the jambs, with S shaped scrolls and rosettes. The choir window, by contrast,  is generously but plainly framed.

The inscribed archway
Another unique feature at Tepatetipa is the elongated wing to the south of the chapel, fronted by a now enclosed portico with a barrel vault.  A similar vault runs down the center of the nave, formerly painted with geometrical, Serlian style coffering as at Metztitlan.
Metztitlan: cloister walk with coffered ceiling
text © 2013 by Richard D. Perry.  color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker and Charlotte Ekland
black and white images © Pablo Escalante
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Chapels of Metztitlan: Malila

Perched on a green hillside and perfectly framed by a grassy atrium, reputedly the oldest in region, this picturesque little chapel is typically enclosed by crenellated walls and an elegant arched gateway—a virtually untouched 16th century visita in its secluded, rustic setting and with its tall cross.
Malila was founded in the mid 1500s, initially as a visita of Metztitlan although it later became a dependency of Molango. The church appears on the celebrated 1579 Metztitlan Map 
The chapel boasts a steeply pitched roof and, in common with other area visitas, a broad, arched doorway carved with winged angels and bordered with rosettes linked by serpentine vines in classic 16th century tequitqui style.
The Crosses
Cylindrical in section, the atrium cross stands on an elevated base facing the church, fashioned in the regional style established at Metztitlan.
A bold, interwoven Crown of Thorns relief projects at the crossing of the arms, which, along with the shaft, are carved with three Wounds, each inset with round holes and cascading drops of blood in high relief.  
An elongated INRI plaque with exaggerated scrolls and an indistinct inscription crosses the neck.
The cross sits on a large stone pedestal in the form of a scrolled capital. On one side, what appears to be a sepulcral niche has been partially blocked, while a shell relief framed by more rosette/vine motifs is outlined on the side facing the church.
A second, smaller cross in similar style, with Crown and prominent Wounds, stands atop a small shrine beside the church.
* The Metztitlan Map 1579 (courtesy The Benson Library)
text © 2013 Richard D. Perry. color images by the author and courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

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Monday, November 18, 2013

The Chapels of Metztitlan: Nonoalco

In our continuing exploration of the churches and chapels associated with the Augustinian priory of Metztitlan, we now shift our focus to the more modest missions, especially those with churchyard crosses of interest.
Where Water is Spread
An attractive hill town in the Sierra Alta near Molango, Nonoalco is another former visita of Metztitlan.  As with other smaller churches in the area it stands at the end of a wide, walled atrium with grass lined stone walks, and with pointed merlons capping the walls and crowning espadaña of the church front.
In the regional pattern, the rounded doorway is carved and crowned by an enormous alfiz ornamented with foliated relief currently obscured by thick blue paint.

The Atrium Cross
Raised atop a pyramidal base and currently painted green, the imposing atrium cross has octagonal arms and shaft. In the regional pattern, its ornament is confined to an entwined Crown of Thorns at the crossing and prominent bleeding Wounds on the arms and shaft—all carved in high relief and painted white to stand out against the green. A tiny heart is embossed at the Crown’s center. 
   A bescrolled INRI cartouche projects at a jaunty angle from the head of the cross and although there are no finials as such the tips of the arms are embossed with a star motif. 
But the most distinctive feature is the pedestal on which the cross stands. Carved in the form of a ridged barrel cactus and painted realistic green, it reflects the local abundance of these succulents.
Its possible sacrificial symbolism has also been suggested, for the barrel cactus was used by the Aztecs to stretch human victims before cutting out their hearts.
The stepped base too, has an inset cavity for offerings, underscoring the sacrificial function.

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

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Chapels of Metztitlan: Tlatemalco

The Buried Church of Tlatemalco
Just below the twisting road that winds through the scenic Barranca de Metztitlan, stands the squat 16th century church of San Pedro Tlatemalco, an early visita of Santos Reyes Metztitlan. 
The church was originally much taller and more imposing, as the facade diagram below reveals and its broad, out of scale belfry indicates. In fact, now only the upper section of the building remains above ground, its lower parts having been buried by landslides from the steep cliffs of the barranca above.
The original doorway is still below ground. Today, the old choir window, framed by an alfiz ornamented with carved rosettes and currently gaily painted red and blue, serves as the diminutive, arched entry. As some of these photographs show, the church is still subject to periodic flooding.
Inside the church, the low vault and the present side windows now almost at ground level confirm this partial infilling of the nave. Holes for the beams that once supported a raised choir can still be seen, also just above the floor. 
 In addition, a cave like aperture, set back on the south side of the church, is the eroded head of an archway that may formerly have fronted a raised open chapel, an identification supported by its elevation as well as the still visible sections of another carved alfiz (see diagram; red line indicated present ground level). 
The rest of the convento, further to the south, is entirely buried.  Tales of eery howlings in the night, which once gave the mission the reputation of being haunted or possessed, were traced to missing dogs or other animals trapped in isolated sunken pockets in the old conventual rooms.  
text © 2009 & 2013 Richard D Perry. 
 color images by the author, and courtesy of Niccolo Brooker and Diana Roberts
diagram © Pablo Escalante.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Chapels of Metztitlan: Atecoxco


Formerly a visita of Metztitlan and now a dependency of nearby Metzquititlan, the little church of San Nicolás Atecoxco is one of the most delightful of the regional churches, distinguished by its fine architectural detail and prolific stone carving.

To the simple open chapel, dating from the mid 1500s, a broad, shallow nave with a classic rectangular front in the regional style was added, probably early in the following century.

Winged angel heads and fleurs de lis alternate around the grand archway of the original entry, which is set on jambs carved with twisting foliage that terminates in pomegranates on the capitals.

 A great square alfiz above the doorway is again ornamented with winged angel heads, this time mixed with Augustinian escutcheons. It also encloses a pair of tequitqui style reliefs of the Christic monogram IHS held by more angels with elaborate, spread wings.
The plain inner doorway—a later addition—is also surmounted by a carved alfiz of undulating vines and complex rosettes.

A decorative frieze runs below the crenellated parapet of the church, also carved with winged angels displaying the Augustinian emblem of the pierced heart.

© Niccolo Brooker
 On the center battlement, another remarkable relief displays robed angels with raised, fan like wings displaying an escutcheon invoking the Holy Spirit. The presence of eleven heads inside the escudo suggests a reference to Pentecost, although the portrayal of the Habsburg Imperial insignia instead of or in place of the dove of the holy Spirit is strange.
An unusual third alfiz adorns the bell opening just below its upper cornice of the tower. Composed of fluted moldings, it encloses a trio of relief rosettes. A good sized cross in the Metztitlan style caps the tower.

The original sanctuary arch of the open chapel remains in place inside the church, carved much like the exterior archway and surmounted by part of an early mural of the Last Supper—one of the few fragments to survive of this formerly painted chapel, perhaps once adorned like its celebrated neighbor at Xoxoteco.

text © 2013 by Richard D. Perry.  color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Chapels of Metztitlan: Metzquititlan

Founded by the noted Augustinian missionary and prior Fray Juan de Sevilla in 1542 and dedicated to St Augustine, the founder of the Order, the church at Metzquititlan began life as a visita of Metztitlan.
The church is linked with a miraculous image of Christ known as Nuestro Señor de La Salud—Our Lord of Health—still an object of pilgrimage in the region.
The church front follows the pattern of Metztitlan and other area churches with a rectangular front capped by a wall belfry.
The facade is otherwise plain save for the splendid carved doorway which may date from the 16th century, although a plaque beneath the choir window is dated 1675—probably commemorating a later refacing.  No alfiz is now in evidence although one may have been there in colonial times.


The arabesque reliefs on the jambs and around the doorway are rather more compressed and stylized than others in the area, although still based on patterned foliage.

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

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Monday, November 4, 2013

The Chapels of Metztitlan: Itztacoyotla

San Lorenzo Itztacoyotla
Set on an elevated site within its walled atrium, San Lorenzo Itztacoyotla lies in the foggy heights beyond the lake some 30 kms north of Metztitlan.
As with other area churches, San Lorenzo started life as a 16th century capilla abierta, or isolated open chapel, but was later elevated from a visita to a residential mission, or vicaria, although still under the control of Metztitlan.
The raised atrium with its centrally placed cross and corner posas of uncertain date, is accessed by a broad flight of stone steps.
The imposing square front is very much in the regional style, now surmounted by a triple belfry flanked by towers of varying sizes—later additions. Recently cleaned and restored, it creates a distinctive outline that recalls its similarly sized neighbors at Zacualtipan and Zoquizoquipan.

As with other area chapels, the grand original archway of the facade is framed by a large, rectangular alfiz with plain, fluted moldings. The arch encloses a smaller doorway—another later addition.
Like other regional churches too, these framing devices are carved with a variety of motifs. The reliefs on the older arch are thought to represent corn or possibly a native reed (Acatl = Aztec day sign) while roundels with religious monograms alternate with fleurs-de-lis around the archway.

A calvary cross relief with skull, scourge and ladder surmounts the archway

text © 2013 Richard D. Perry.  color images © Niccolo Brooker all rights reserved.

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