Wednesday, February 24, 2016

St. Malachy in Mexico

Santa Prisca de Taxco, Guadalupe altarpiece detail: St. Malachy
Saint Malachy was born in Northern Ireland around 1100 and in a rocket like rise he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh, primate of Ireland, at the precocious age of 32. His chief claim to fame was the gift of prophecy. He was even alleged to have predicted the day and hour of his death, dying in Rome in 1148, in the care of his dear friend and biographer St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
In 1139 Malachy experienced a vision which revealed a long list of popes who would rule the church until the end of time—112 in total. This vision, known as the “prophecy of the succession of the Popes,” has resurfaced from time to time over the centuries, most recently with the election of the new pope Francis l, who is viewed in some quarters as the "last pope" of the line, with the "end of days" soon to follow.
To our knowledge, St. Malachy had no connection with Spain and is virtually unrepresented in religious art of the colonial period in Mexico.  However, a full length statue depicting the archbishop resides in one of the sumptuous gilded altarpieces of the great baroque church of Santa Prisca de Taxco.  
St. Malachy is only one among numerous Catholic bishops and seers represented in this retablo and its companion altarpieces.  Here, the bearded saint is shown wearing his cap and archiepiscopal robes and holding the papal cross, while below, an angel holds up his gold trimmed miter. A book of his writings formerly rested in his left hand.
Although many consider his prophesies to be so much medieval "malarky," the saint cuts an imposing figure. 
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry. image by Taxcolandia  

See our earlier posts in this series: 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Mexican Crosses: Ciudad Hidalgo

Ciudad Hidalgo  
Known in ancient and early colonial times as Tajimaroa, Ciudad Hidalgo, in eastern Michoacán, was an important garrison settlement on the eastern boundary of the Tarascan empire. Here Tarascan armies successfully held the expansive Aztecs at bay, preserving their independence until the arrival of the Spanish in 1521.
   A few years after the Conquest the Franciscans founded a monastery here, forging a mission community here from an ethnic mix of frontier peoples: Otomis, Matlatzincas and Pirindas.
    By the 1550s the friary of San José was under construction, but was only completed around 1600.  Its plain, cliff like church front has been stripped of later baroque embellishments and fitted with new battlements emphasizing its original fortress character.
   The severe arched doorway is frugally ornamented with carved wheat sheaves and rosettes.
© Felipe Falcón
The Atrium Cross
Elevated prominently on a pyramidal base in front of the church, the rough hewn but complex octagonal cross is carved with Passion symbols, foliated bands and the Franciscan insignia. 
© Felipe Falcón
This 16th century cross boasts a circular obsidian disk at the crossing—one of the rare surviving examples of this ancient device. The dark disk is embedded in a chain like Crown of Thorns motif which is framed on three sides by fleur-de-lis crosses that bears a resemblance to both the ancient Maltese and Jerusalem crosses—the latter a symbol traditionally favored by the Franciscans. Several other carved recesses of indeterminate shape may also once have contained reflective obsidian insets.
Other Instruments of the Passion on the front of the cross are a trio of emblematic, blade shaped Wounds, each surmounted with three nails and carved in a sharply undercut tequitqui fashion. 
Two Wounds project from the arms while the third—an even larger relief incised with stylized streams of blood—is imposed on the main shaft. 
© Niccolò Brooker  
At the foot of the cross the eight facets merge into four larger sides, each boldly carved with ornate religious monograms. The Franciscan insignia of the Five Wounds (Stigmata) is accompanied by a skull and bones on the base. 
   Crudely carved block finials on arms and above INRI scroll with incised sunburst motifs on the tips of the arms.
Fleur-de-lis rosettes and the Stigmata reappear on the reverse side, and stylized corn plants sprout along the beveled sides. The pyramidal base is carved with the crowned monogram of the Virgin Mary.

The Baptismal Font
Another unique example of stone carving here is the unusual font, which was once the center of a public fountain. Projecting angel and lion reliefs alternate around the broad, shallow basin, originally serving as spouts into a lower pool.
   Apart from the word leon (lion) the remaining letters around the rim seem to spell out the alphabet rather than any dedicatory inscription.
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry. 
images by the author and courtesy of Felipe Falcón & Niccolò Brooker
please review our earlier posts on Mexican crosses: TepeapulcoCuitzeoActopanCharapanBucareli/El Pueblito; TepoztlanUruapanCholulaCajititlanCoyoacanAxotlaChimalistacMixcoacHuipulcoSanto Tomás AjuscoSan Pedro MartirAtoyacCapachoHuandacareoHuangoHuaniqueoCorupo

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Mexican Crosses: San Pedro Zipiajo

This rural community, north of Lake Patzcuaro, is noted for its colorful fiesta with masked dancers honoring the patron saint St. Peter. 
   In addition to the carved, divided choir window (ajimez) and shell encrusted rectangular frame (alfiz) over the church doorway—both moorish features typical of colonial Michoacán churches—the other notable example of stone carving here is the atrium cross.
Although clearly reassembled with a new crosspiece, much of this colonial redstone cross remains, in particular the elegant, tapered shaft, which is emblazoned with several Passion symbols and unusual, stylized corn plants. The ornamental base too is prominently carved with shells and a skull and crossbones. 

text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.  
cross images © Diana M B Roberts. Thank you Diana.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Yucatan then and now: Akil

Santa Inez Akil in 2015 (© Niccolo Brooker)
Located south of Oxkutzcab, the church of Santa Inés Akil is a classic Yucatecan country mission, enclosed by a walled atrium that retains its arched west gateway—still topped with a stone cross. 
Akil, side view (1983)
The long nave, with its sheer walls and barrel vault, links the diminutive 16th century Indian chapel, with its little belfry, at the east end to the west front, whose sinuous espadaña bears a family resemblance to that of nearby Tekax. 
Akil, facade with espadaña (1983)
The facade itself is plain save for a diminutive relief above the choir window of the Franciscan crossed arms flanked by the sun and moon. 
Franciscan arms with sun and moon (2015 © Niccolo Brooker)
Originally built atop a former Maya pyramid, the apse reveals embedded, carved Maya stones, more of which also appear in the village market place.  
Akil, Maya stonework in the marketplace (© Christian Heck)
The plain interior is marked by deep niches within the massive walls, one of which contains an unusual retablo of the Crucified Christ with painted figures
 Akil, painted retablo (© Christian Heck)

text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.  images by the author, Niccolò Brooker and Christian Heck

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