Saturday, January 30, 2016

Yucatan: The Hermitage at Oxkutzcab

Many travelers to Yucatán are familiar with the town of Oxkutzcab, noted for its busy citrus market as well as its imposing 18th century church and colorful altarpiece.
However there is another treat in store for the curious visitor to Oxkutzcab: the quaint hilltop chapel or ermita of the Virgin of Pilar.  Beyond the main square, a long, paved ramp leads steeply up to this 17th century former hermitage, now a popular wedding chapel. 
On either side going up are traditional thatched Maya houses whose residents use the ramp for access.
Emblazoned over the doorway of the simple baroque facade is a rare colonial survival—a relief of the Spanish imperial insignia, crudely inscribed with the date 1697, with its twin pillars and the double headed Hapsburg eagle. 

Inside the chapel, a simple blue altar frames the image of the Virgin of Pilar perched precariously on her pillar, and nearby, a venerable painted wooden cross, dressed in traditional Yucatecan style with an elaborately embroidered cloth recuerdo.
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.  1980s images © by the author

for complete details on the colonial churches of Yucatán
consult our classic guidebook

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Yucatan then and now: San Antonio Chemax

This is the first in a new series of posts featuring the colonial arts and architecture of Yucatan, a long time interest of your author.
I have scanned numerous slides taken in the 1980s which I plan to compare and contrast with those taken in the 2000s as well more recent photography by my worthy collaborator Niccolò Brooker.
    I begin with the little visited but imposing 18th century frontier  church of Chemax.
Chemax front in 1984
As the easternmost outpost of colonial Yucatán, Chemax attracted pioneering settlers of independent spirit, and in the 1700s the church became the headquarters of the episcopal clergy for a vast frontier region that reached to the coast of present Quintana Roo. 
   Like other frontier churches, San Antonio Chemax was conceived on a grand scale. Completed in 1760, it possesses what is one of the most elegant late baroque facades in Yucatan. Its soaring towers were a beacon of civilization, visible for miles across the then trackless wilderness to the south and east. 
   Chemax flourished until the onslaught of the Caste War in 1847. Because of its exposed position, the town was overrun by Maya rebels virtually without a fight. Although its interior was stripped to the walls, the basic fabric of the church was spared, including a carved pulpit pedestal.
Chemax porch in 1984
Today the church is in good shape.  Its handsome proportions are successfully integrated with an ambitious program of late baroque ornamentation. Slender estípite columns flank the arched doorway of the porch.
Chemax in 2007
An undulating stone balcony* underpins the choir window, which is capped by a foliated relief canopy with the royal arms and the date 1760—all carved in stucco. 
Chemax, the pulpit stand (1984)
It is possible that this balcony, together with the carved stone pulpit—unique in Yucatan—may be attributed to the eminent Maya sculptor Pascual Estrella, whose related work can be seen in many frontier churches of the period.
Chemax front in 2007
Stepped star parapets surmount the facade. At the crest, the episcopal miter is supported by open, scrolled brackets that also accent each stage of the triple-tiered bell towers, which are pierced with slender, cusped bell niches at every level. 
   In the late afternoon sun, the restored west front of Chemax is a luminous study in sculpted golden stonework—as dazzling today as it must have appeared two hundred and fifty years ago! 

text © 2016 by Richard D. Perry.  
Photography © 1984 & 2007 by the author and Rosalind Perry
for complete details on the colonial churches of Yucatán
consult our classic guidebook

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mexican Murals: San Miguel Xometla

San Miguel Xometla
An important former visita of the great Augustinian priory at Acolman, the mission at Xometla was founded in the late 1500s and dedicated in 1604 to the Archangel Michael.
The present church front is fashioned in a sober baroque style with large scale reliefs of saints Peter and Paul flanking a brown stone statue of San Miguel. Like Acolman, the coffered archway of the west door features reliefs of breads and various fruits.
image © ELTB
Inside the church, the most interesting feature is the painted baptistry, covered with murals in popular style, probably dating from the later 1700s and painted in vivid tones of red, blue and earth colors. Echoing the facade, full figure portraits of Saints Peter and Paul flank the imposing decorative entry. 
Ornately framed medallions along the inside walls show Augustinian friars engaged in various activities, ministering to natives and Spaniards alike, with a focus on baptismal scenes.
The principal panel shows an elite baptism featuring a Tree of Redemption with the crucified Christ—analogous to another, more detailed mural in similar style at nearby San Francisco Mazapa.
(The banderole above the cross quotes from Psalm 106: "Misit verbum suum, et sanavit eos." — "he sent his word and healed them.")
San Francisco Mazapa. Tree of Redemption mural
text © 2016  Richard D. Perry.  mural images courtesy of Diana M. B. Roberts.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Water, Water: the Pilas of Yucatan

baptismal font at Chikindzonot
In earlier posts on this topic, we looked at the stone baptismal fonts of Oaxaca and Tlaxcala.  On this page we feature a selection of pilas from the colonial era in churches across Yucatán.
   As might be expected, the earliest fonts were generally plain and of modest size. In the later 1600s and especially the 1700s, carved relief decoration increased along with the size and breadth of the basins, reaching an apogee with the fonts at Tihosuco and Ichmul, 

This worn, plain 16th century stone pila from the old open chapel at Uman is set, like many early fonts, on carved pillars or pedestals, some of Maya origin.
Other early basins are simply carved; with incised rosettes as at Santa Elena and zig zag decoration from Tizimín.
Another relatively early example is this monolithic baptismal font from Telchac. Above a castellated fringe, the rim is crudely carved with the Franciscan knotted cord.
The Franciscan cord is also carved around the rim of this large 17th century pila from Ticul, which is banded with a relief frieze of foliage and winged cherubs interspersed with the Cristic monogram XPS. 
The base is also carved, possible with the date.
Many baptismal basins ancient and modern, in Yucatan as elsewhere, employ a classic shell form derived from the traditional use of the shell as a container in baptism. 
   These later examples come from the churches of Mamá and Mérida's San Cristóbal.
This rugged example of a shell font from Dzemul also boasts a carved rim, elaborately inscribed with a dedication to the patron St. Anne along with the name of the carver—a Mayan artisan, Lorenzo Chimalmelac—and the date 1691.

Perhaps the most distinctive group of carved stone fonts in Yucatan are those by another native artisan, the talented Mayan sculptor Pascual Estrella
   Thought to be among his earliest works, this finely carved font with angels' heads, hanging foliage is found at the roofless eastern church of Tihosuco. The inscribed rim records its dedication in 1786 to the newly resident priest, Bachiller D. Francisco Sugasti, a native son of Tihosuco.
The twisted cord also rims this monolithic Estrella font from Chikindzonot in eastern Yucatan. The basin is again lavishly carved with angels' heads and animals gambol amid lush, looping foliage.
A later work by the same sculptor as the Chikindzonot and Tihosuco pilas, this baptismal font from Ichmul is even more densely ornamented.  
   Exotic plants with leaves, fruits and writhing tendrils spiral around the lower basin. Stylized, interwoven floral reliefs fill the center band and a ring of curious, horseshoe like "mushroom flowers" encircles the rim.
 text © 2016 by Richard D. Perry. Photography by the author
Please review our earlier posts on regional carved baptismal fonts; OaxacaTlaxcala; Eastern MichoacánWestern Michoacán

for complete details on the colonial churches of Yucatán
consult our classic guidebook

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Treasures of Mexico City: San Cosme

image: Tacho Juarez Herrera
The present 17th century church of San Cosme began life as a modest hospital chapel, founded in 1535 by Bishop Juan de Zumárraga as part of a hospice serving indigenous residents and pilgrims. Appropriately, the chapel was dedicated to the martyrs Cosmas and Damian, patron saints of physicians and medical care.
   Late in the 1600s the Franciscans rebuilt the present church as a shrine to the miraculous wooden image of Our Lady of Consolation.
facade images: Tacho Juarez Herrera
The Facade
The narrow church front is dominated by a grand relief of the Holy Family, set in a square, eared frame, flanked by statues of Saints Joachim and Anne in oval frames. A smaller statue of the Virgin Mary occupies the moorish style niche overhead.
The retablo mayor
The Main Altarpiece
The church has retained some of its altarpieces, mostly in late baroque “churrigueresque” style. The original main altarpiece, believed to have been designed by the baroque master Felipe de Ureña, was replaced in the 1880s by another baroque altarpiece in a later style, transferred from the Carmelite church of San Joaquín in Naucalpan.
   The gilded altarpiece, whose designer is unknown, is framed in a highly ornate late 18th century manner with elongated estípite pilasters enclosing expansive niche-pilasters filled with polychrome statues and relief portraits. Putti and angel heads appear throughout.
Reflecting its Carmelite origins, much of the imagery relates to that Order, most prominently the statues of St. Teresa, the founder, in the uppermost niche and Our Lady of Mount Carmel holding a scapular in the niche below. 
Jesus of the Sacred Heart
An image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus occupies the center niche. which is framed by an elaborate canopy enclosing a bust of St. Thomas Aquinas. Busts, medallions and full length statues of numerous Catholic saints, notable and obscure, fill the other spaces.
canopy with bust of Thomas Aquinas.  
St. Angelo of Sicily and St. Albert of Jerusalem with background mural of St. Cosmas.
Although Saints Cosmas and Damian do not feature in the altarpiece, earlier murals depicting the two martyrs can still be glimpsed on the space behind it.  Since the imported San Joaquín altarpiece did not reach up the vault, a gilded crest was added to help fill the space, now showcasing a bloody image of the Crucified Christ. 
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry
retablo photography by Niccolò Brooker and facade images by Tacho Juarez Herrera
gracias a todos
See our other Treasures of Mexico City: San BernardoTepepanSan Felipe Neri El Nuevo; Santa Isabel Tola

Friday, January 1, 2016

Mexican Murals: The Adoration of the Magi at Culhuacan

San Juan Culhuacan, from the Uppsala map (1550)
Although it has undergone structural changes over the centuries, the rugged Augustinian monastery of San Juan Culhuacan in Mexico City, hewn from coarse black lava, conveys the same timeless monumentality as the few surviving Aztec structures scattered throughout the valley.

The Convento Murals 
Although some were lost over the years to reconstruction, neglect and ill considered over painting, and many remain only fragmentary, the bleak convento is brightened by numerous 16th century murals in a mixture of styles and colors. Executed in fresco de secco—paint applied to dry instead of wet plaster—they picture a wide range of classic stories and themes dear to the Augustinian Order.
   Around the upper cloister, large Renaissance inspired scenes from the Life and Passion of Christ are interposed with medieval style portraits of Augustinian saints and martyrs.  In contrast to to the multicolored murals of the lower level, the frescoes here are entirely monochromatic, beautifully drawn and highly detailed in warm grisaille tones, and framed by lively grotesque panels and running foliated friezes.

In this seasonal post we focus on the elegant Adoration of the Magi in the southwest corner, the most complete of the compositions. The Holy Family, serenely posed on the left with lowered eyes, rests in a surprisingly well appointed structure of uncertain perspective.
   The elegantly robed Three Kings on the right, two standing and one kneeling, are skillfully portrayed  in careful detail with their costumes and gifts.
Three horses prance on the extreme right, with the Star of Bethlehem in the center hanging above a prominent hill—evoking the sacred local landmark of the Cerro de la Estrella, site of the Aztec New Fire ceremony, which appears in other murals at Culhuacan. 
Please revisit last year's Santos Reyes post.

text © 2016 Richard D. Perry
images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker