Friday, March 13, 2015

Coixtlahuaca: The Church, North Facade

In the following posts we look at the exterior features of the great priory church of Coixtlahuaca, focusing first on the north facade of the church, its design and iconography (#2 on plan).
The North Facade
Close to the open chapel, this portal was the main processional entry in early colonial times and enjoyed enormous symbolic as well as practical significance. In fact, this elaborate ornamental entry was seen both figuratively and literally as the gateway to Heaven, illustrating the Christian message for an unlettered congregation.
  The design and especially the iconography of this epic 16th century facade, with its details sharply carved in classic tequitqui style, spoke to the beliefs, concerns and motivations of the early Dominicans: that salvation and admission to the Kingdom of Heaven can only be achieved through the Catholic Church with the mediation of the Order.
  The lofty doorway takes the classic Dominican form of a coffered triumphal arch, simply but elegantly framed by fluted, paneled pilasters and dentilled cornices. Medallions of the Dominican cross are placed in the spandrels as in the open chapel.
Three life-size relief statues separated by floating half-columns occupy the pediment above the doorway. St. John the Baptist is the central figure, identified by an inscription as the patron of both the church (templo) and the community (ciudad). 
   Raising the banner of Victory and holding up a lamb, John the Baptist proclaims the coming of Christ as Saviour. On either side sit the saints Peter and Paul—pillars of the Latin Church and by tradition apostles to the Jews and the Gentiles (Indians) respectively.
image © Felipe Falcón
A handsome rose window with geometric Renaissance detailing occupies the upper tier of the facade. Rosettes—a classic Dominican motif—are set in coffered bands that ring the inner opening and stud the twelve outer "petals" of the design, symbolizing the Twelve Apostles.  A virtually identical opening also graces the west front of the church.
 Arma Cristi reliefs: left and right   (© Felipe Falcón)
The Arma Cristi
But the most arresting features of the north facade are the large scale, paired reliefs that flank the rose window. Arranged in a schematic composition and carved in a flattened, tequitqui style, these display the Arma Cristi, or Instruments of Christ's Passion surrounding a central crucifix.
Arma Cristi, detail  (© Felipe Falcón)
Sun, moon and stars add to a full panoply of associated objects: crown of thorns, scourge, ladder, cockerel, Veronica's veil, and the 30 pieces of silver spread in a band at the top.    
   Angry speech scrolls—a prehispanic motif—issue from the mouths of two onlookers and Judas is shown with a bag of silver around his neck.
text , graphic and color images © 2015 Richard D. Perry 
(original color images from 1985 & 1990)
sources:  Evangelizacion y arquitectura dominicana en Coixtlahuaca   Magdalena Vences Vidal Salamanca 2000
                Exploring Colonial Oaxaca.  Richard D Perry   Espadana Press  2007

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