Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Carved Crosses of Hidalgo: San Pedro Tezontepec

Known as Villa Tezontepec to distinguish it from Santiago Tezontepec in western Hidalgo, the old convento of San Pedro just across the state line from Mexico State, is primarily distinguished by its superb 16th century murals. However, Tezontepec also boasts several stone crosses, although not from this early period.  
The Atrium Crosses
A pair of plain, squared redstone crosses stands to either side of the atrium, one set on a globe and the other on a vase like pedestal.
The Cloister Cross
But of more interest from our perspective is the cloister cross. 
Although from all appearances post colonial in date and partly reassembled, the cylindrical style cross boasts a broad range of bold but flatly carved Passion objects generously spaced around the shaft including several Hands, an upended water Jug and a Cockerel aloft above the Column.
By contrast, the finely modeled Face of Christ at the crossing is framed by a soft, necklace style Crown draped along the arms and around the now plain neck of the cross. 
reverse side with sun and moon reliefs
Large sun and moon reliefs project beneath the arms, which are capped by flared, zigzag finials. A damaged INRI plaque atop the cross features ornamental scrolls in the regional manner.
text and images © 2016 Richard D. Perry
See all our posts on the crosses of Hidalgo: AculcoPino SuarezAlfajayucanAtlanAnayaEl CardonalEl SauzHuichapanJaltepecLa MagdalenaNonoalcoSan JerónimoTecajiqueTepeapulcoTezontepecTlacolulaTlahuelilpaZempoalaZoquizoquipan

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Carved Crosses of Hidalgo: El Cardonal

image: wikipedia
El Cardonal is an old mining town nestled in the foothills of the Sierra de Pachuca east of Ixmiquilpan, a popular area shrine noted for its imposing church of La Purísima Concepción, and its carved stone atrium cross. 
image: el bable
The Atrium Cross 
Mounted inside an impressive domed structure topped by statues of ecclesiastical figures, the atrium cross faces the church.  Still in fairly pristine condition beneath its protective shelter, the cross was reputed to have been crafted by Otomí craftsmen in the 16th century, although it looks later and may be a partial reconstruction.

El Cardonal.   atrium cross: front;   reverse.
   Fashioned from soft, roseate sandstone, the cylindrical cross is carved in the round with classic Passion symbols in low relief.  As with others in area, a worn, spiny Crown of Thorns is loosely draped around the neck. 
In the front, a sensitively modeled Face of Christ at the crossing is framed by flowing locks of hair and flanked by spidery Wounds with large angled Spikes on the outer arms. A third Wound on the shaft is sandwiched between Christ’s tunic and an elegant Chalice with associated Host.  
Passion objects on the reverse side include the spiny necklace and the Rooster atop a long, slender Column on the shaft. The typically bescrolled surmounting plaque is inscribed INRI on both sides.

text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.   images by Robert Jackson, Niccolò Brooker and others.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Carved Crosses of Hidalgo; Santiago Anaya

The church at Santiago Anaya, founded in 1546, is located some 20 kms north of Actopan. Formerly known by its Aztec name of Tlachichilco (Red Rock Country), the town was renamed Santiago Anaya after General Pedro María Anaya, a ex-president of Mexico, born in Huichapan.
The Atrium Cross
Mounted high on a classical plinth in the large atrium opposite the church, this compact cross is densely carved with Passion reliefs in the style of Tlahuelilpa.
   Featuring a stubby, cylindrical shaft and arms with virtually no neck, it is typical of many in the immediate area, including El Cardonal as well as nearby La Magdalena and San Jerónimo.
   The front of the cross, facing the church door, prominently features a bearded Face of Christ flanked by reliefs of elongated Hammer and Tongs along the arms. 
   A loosely woven “necklace” style Crown in low relief encircles the neck, but strangely there are no Wounds displayed on this cross.  An ample Tunic above a Chalice shaped like a wine glass with an emerging Host almost fill the shaft below the Face.
Numerous Passion objects appear on the reverse. Two Hands stretch out along the arms: one like a fist grips a Scourge with metal tips, the other in a thumbs-down position clutches what appears to be a hank of hair, although it may be a Purse. 
   Above a fan of three large spikes, a Rooster sits atop a rope swagged Column; a Ladder and Corn plant stretch down on one side, a row of silver coins down the other.
   Bud-like petaled finials sprout from the arms and a battered but ornate INRI plaque caps the head of the cross.

text © 2016 Richard D. Perry cross images by Niccolò Brooker

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Carved Crosses of Hidalgo: San José Atlán

San José Atlán (Gloria Godinez)
This sixteenth century visita of Huichapan, notable for its ornamental bell tower, also boasts a variety of carved stone crosses. 
Atlán, the atrium cross:  front and reverse.
The Atrium Cross
Sculpted from fine grained, honey colored stone, the cylindrical cross is set on a sculpted pedestal carved with cherubs’ heads like those at Huichapan. The pedestal in turn is raised atop a large polygonal base, probably hollow, with a small arched opening. 
The tall cross is finely carved in the round with a full panoply of Passion symbols including sun, moon and stars rendered in crisp relief. 
   On the front a spiked collar of a Crown of Thorns is loosely draped around the crossing, framing the bearded Face of Christ with a second Crown on his brow. The draped Crown continues on the reverse side, but with no face, although triple Nails and a rosette adorn the neck. 
Numerous Passion objects are dispersed in high relief along the shaft. A Chalice with the Host takes pride of place with a Skull and Bones at the foot. Dice and the Pieces of Silver form a line down one side and the Rooster appears without an accompanying Column. A corn plant strikes an indigenous note.
   As with other area crosses, a large, scalloped INRI cartouche heads the cross, while the Christic acronym IHS is carved on the back of the crowning cartouche. There are no finials.
The Gateway Cross
A second, plainer cross stands on the sidewalk, raised on a pedestal just outside the atrium wall in front of the western gateway. Now somewhat eroded, the cross is square in section with beveled corners. 
As with the atrium cross, it features a wreath like Crown at the crossing together with traces of other Passion reliefs on the arms and shaft. Unlike the atrium cross, the arms of the gateway cross have carved finials in the form of complex rosettes.
posa chapel and cross (Gloria Godinez) 
A double armed papal cross surmounts the church gable and small crosses in varying states of repair rest in the surviving posa chapels over which they once stood.
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry. 
images by the author, Diana Roberts, Gloria Godinez and Niccolò Brooker

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Carved Crosses of Hidalgo: Huichapan

Of those regions of Mexico richest in colonial monuments and artifacts, the state of Hidalgo, north of Mexico City, boasts perhaps the largest and most varied group of sculpted stone crosses, all of them carved by indigenous craftsmen.
   Among these, one style stands out, that of cylindrical crosses carved with the Arma Christi—objects associated with the Passion of Christ.
   In this and subsequent posts we look at the premier examples of the genre in the region, starting with the more complex and finely sculpted crosses and continuing with less sophisticated but imaginative rural versions.
   We begin with examination of two crosses at Huichapan: the magnificent atrium cross and its simpler, rooftop cousin.
Huichapan. the atrium cross: front and reverse

In the mid-16th century a Franciscan mission was founded here. Although the main church was rebuilt in the 1600s, it retained its original carved doorway.
   The complex is enclosed by a spacious atrium or churchyard, whose chief attraction is its 16th century stone cross—the best known and most richly worked of the Hidalgo atrium crosses.  
   Stylistically linked to the famous crosses of Guadalupe and Atzacoalco in the Valley of Mexico, it influenced several other nearby crosses which we will look at in future posts.
   The tall, cylindrical cross stands in front of the main church of San Mateo, set high on pedestal busy with carved angels—a later addition. The arms and shaft are delicately encircled by a profusion of Passion symbols, densely packed on every surface and finely detailed in high relief.
On the front a diminutive head of Christ at the crossing, with flowing locks and Colonel Sanders style beard, is framed by two Crowns of Thorns, one woven around the forehead and the other, larger one, entwined around the crossing. This second Crown overlays narrow strips wrapped around the arms on either side, probably representing priest's stoles
   Beyond these, stylized, flamboyant streaming Wounds are impaled with fearsome spikes at an angle.
   A rooster hunkers atop a festooned Column that extends down the shaft, and below, a third Wound projects in the same convoluted style.
A Chalice with an inscribed, circular Host emerging from it occupies the foot of the cross. Other symbols including silver coins and the hand of Judas crowd the shaft on either side, with reliefs of the sun and moon. The grand crowning INRI plaque, although damaged, is ornately scrolled and carved with winged cherubs.
The reverse of the cross is plain apart from the Crown of Thorns around the neck and another, less ornate, Wound with three spikes on the shaft.

A second cross, carved in a similar but much simplified style, stands atop the adjacent chapel of the Third Order.

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

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Treasures of Mexico City: Tlalnepantla

"Middle Ground" 
After the Spanish conquest of the Aztec capital, the Franciscans founded a new mission town on the boundary between two lakeside communities—the Otomí of Teocalhuacan and the Nahua speakers of Tenayuca—long divided by political, cultural and linguistic differences. 
   In an effort to reconcile the rivals, the Franciscans founded the monastery of San Lorenzo Tlalnepantla as a "middle ground" between the two groups. The enterprise succeeded in a manner unforeseen by the friars, for as the original Indian communities declined, colonial Tlalnepantla grew and flourished. 
© Niccolo Brooker
Known locally as the Cathedral, because of its imposing north tower, the former monastery church of Corpus Christi, reputedly designed by the prolific Spanish architect Francisco Becerra, was rebuilt in the 17th century following a disastrous fire which destroyed the beautiful wooden roof and damaged the main altarpiece. 
north doorway detail © Niccolo Brooker
Nevertheless, a unique, crosscultural record of the founding of the monastery has been preserved above the north doorway of the church. Two reliefs flank a niche with a tiny statue of the Virgin. 

On the left, carved under a relief image of St. Bartholomew with the date 1558, is a row of battlements above a frieze of disks—a glyph that signifies "Walled City," the Aztec place name for Tenayuca.  On the right is a relief medallion of St. Lawrence, the patron of the monastery, beneath which is inscribed the name of Teocalhuacan (Place of the Large Temple) in Roman letters. A dedicatory inscription in Nahuatl mentioning the two towns appears on the pediment overhead with the date 1554. A sculpted disk, also inscribed, is flanked by hovering angels and represents the Host, which, with the monstrance above, tells us that the church is dedicated to Corpus Christi. 
west entry gable © Niccolo Brooker
Another sculpted disc is mounted atop the main west entry.
atrium cross © Diana Roberts
The former atrium is now a landscaped garden. At its center stands the original red sandstone cross, its arms and shaft densely carved with the Instruments of the Passion, some of them now much eroded. 
cross detail © Felipe Falcón
A Crown of Thorns at the crossing is flanked by stylized, bleeding Wounds on both arms, their deep center holes designed to hold nails or plugs. Outstretched hands at the tips point inwards to the Wounds. One hand holds a bag—presumably of silver coins. Pincers, a hammer, a chalice and the martyr's palm proceed down the shaft to the elevated base.
A third Wound now appears on the side of the lower shaft, which originally faced forward as with the other two, but was later turned. 
On the reverse, a pair of profile heads with streaming hair stand out on the arms, one with a speech glyph issuing from the mouth.

Facing the garden, a handsome arcaded loggia of seven bays stretches across the entire front of the convento. 
   Behind its center arch, emphasized by broad supporting piers, lies the recessed sanctuary of the former portería chapel. Perhaps such a long arcade was necessary to accommodate the two rival Indian groups on either side of the sanctuary altar on ceremonial occasions.
The cloister recalls the one at nearby Azcapotzalco, an airy, stone-flagged patio enclosed by simple Tuscan arcades of broad arches. Along the walks are remnant friezes and partial portraits of Franciscan bishops and friars painted in dark gray and sepia tones.

An ancient baptismal font rests in the secluded sacristyRimmed by the Franciscan knotted cord, it is also engraved with the worn glyph of Tenayuca and the date glyph of 1554, a further reminder of the complex history of Tlalnepantla. 
The other principal treasure in the church is the gilded, three part main retablo, which replaced the burned altarpiece. 
   Dating from the later 1700s, and attributed to the eminent designer and retablista Isidoro Vicente de Balbás, it combines a variety of ornate late Baroque and rococo features.  The iconic crucifix at center, El Señor de las Misericordias, is reputedly a processional cristo de caña from the 16th century.

text & b/w images © 1992 & 2015 Richard D. Perry
color images by Niccolò Brooker, Diana Roberts & Felipe Falcón.

See our other posts in the series: San BernardoTepepanSan Felipe Neri El Nuevo;