Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Missions of Michoacán. Santiago Charapan

Santiago Charapan
Dedicated like Tupataro, Angahuan and Nurio to Santiago (St. James Major,) this most imposing of the barrio chapels of Charapan, in the volcanic western highlands of Michoacán, stands on a hill atop what may have been a pre Hispanic structure.
The ancient barrio of Santiago was reputed to have offered the stiffest resistance to the Spanish conquest of Charapan. 
   As elsewhere in this region, the prominent presence here of Santiago Matamoros, the warrior saint so beloved of the Spanish conquistadors, is believed, paradoxically, to reflect his adoption in colonial times by the purépecha natives of the region as a spiritual counter force to often oppressive Spanish rule. 
Santiago facade relief
Images of the saint are ubiquitous. The old stone cross out front of the chapel bears a relief of the warrior saint, as does the 17th century façade.
The Atrium Cross
Charapán is home to a family of carved stone crosses, distributed among the town's several churches and chapels. But the chapel of Santiago boasts the most lavishly carved of them all. 
   We have described it in a previous post, but the details are worth repeating here. Raised on a large square base, the cross faces the 17th century chapel doorway and is inscribed with the date 1676. Its most distinctive feature is a relief of the full body of Christ Crucified twisted in agony at the crossing—a rare portrayal, seen on few atrium crosses. 
   Deeply undercut within the raised outline of the cross, this crude but dramatic figure is especially striking. So too are the accompanying reliefs of Passion symbols that project boldly along the shaft—a Ladder, a Rooster with Column, a stylized Chalice and a mask like Skull with crossbones. A second Skull grins at the foot of the cross. Flared slab finials with relief rosettes cap the head and arms. 
An eroded relief of St. James Major, the patron saint, again on horseback with sword and banner, is embedded in the base pedestal, flanked by outlined reliefs of the Archangel Michael and a female saint, probably St. Anne. 

The Ceiling
The rounded chapel ceiling is painted in a colorful folkloric style closely related to that of nearby Corupo, as well as Tanaquillo in the Once Pueblos region to the north.

The Twelve Apostles are all portrayed, each one clearly named with his traditional attributes and accompanied by articles from the Apostles Creed. Decorative oval rings frame each saint, some blue and others in yellow. 
   Ornamental floral festoons and ribbons run along the apex of the ceiling. The newly retouched ocher background was formerly a star spangled, light blue, symbolizing the heavens. 
Again we see portraits of Santiago (el mayor) and his brother James (el menor), although, in contrast to the exterior reliefs, the former is depicted here as the peaceable Santiago Apostol, clad in full pilgrim’s garb with his shell, staff and broad brimmed hat
Not one but two colorfully costumed equestrian statues of the saint grace the main and side altars.  

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  photography by the author.

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