Friday, May 27, 2016

Yucatán then and now: Yaxcabá

Some time ago we looked at images of the restored altarpieces at Yaxcabá.  Recently we reviewed some of our much earlier pictures, taken in the 1980s before conservation work started, and show here some of our favorite shots from that time and place:
Cemetery gateway, dated 1789, and roofless chapel

thatched village well house, or noria
old side altar with hats (before restoration)
wooden relief of St Francis receiving the Stigmata  (from main altarpiece before restoration)
after restoration
draped cross Yucatan style with carved head
Black Christ with worshippers
16th century baptismal font with carved knotted cord and statue of John the Baptist

Maya altar boys
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.  images by the author and Rosalind Perry
for more on colonial Yucatán see our guidebook:

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Yucatan, then and now: Santa Elena Nohcacab

One of more distinctive colonial churches in Yucatan is the fortress church of Santa Elena Nohcacab, an imposing regional landmark located in the Puuc hills between Uxmal and the bustling city of Ticul.
Santa Elena in 1984 (l)  and in 2008 (r)
Once dubbed the "Montecassino of Yucatan", the church and its precincts occupy a commanding site atop an imposing outcropping in the center of the village. To approach the church one must climb a long flight of steps—a pathway used since ancient times for religious processions ­as witnessed by John Lloyd Stephens during his famous visit in 1843, and still followed today.
   Although the sanctuary, with its high stone archway, formerly served as the primitive Indian chapel erected here in the 16th century as a visita of Ticul, the rest of the church dates from the 1700s.
The massive nave walls accomodate several deep niches and enclose a narrow passageway, or camino de rondo, that runs  inside the upper walls on both sides.
After long years of neglect, the church has undergone much needed conservation: the roof repaired, the walls stabilized and selectively strengthened, and the retablos cleaned and restored. The mummified remains of several children found beneath the nave floor during the repairs are now on display inside the church, a morbid tourist attraction.

The Altarpieces 
Santa Elena is a gallery of late colonial Yucatecan altarpieces, most of which have been restored in recent years. 
The main altarpiece is in provincial late baroque style, painted bright red with its narrow estípite pilasters edged in gold. 
A painted, folkloric Calvary cross with the Instruments of Christ’s Passion occupies the center niche, above a scarred crucifix.
Several smaller side retablos also painted red and gold with spiral columns and estípite pilasters, occupy the lateral niches along the nave. 

Another curiosity is the arcaded stucco wall retablo of the Five Wounds, framed by undulating relief vines.

The Box Retablos
Santa Elena is also home to an unusual collection of wooden diptychs or processional "box" retablos. These cupboard-like portable altars, some with doors, housing crucifixes and local santos, are decorated in colorful folkloric style and most likely fabricated in the late colonial times.
This vibrant box retablo, the most elaborate of the group, retains both its doors and is surmounted by a curving pediment. The rather squat statue of Christ inside is realistically carved with bloody wounds and scarred legs, and wears an embroidered skirt in rustic Yucatecan style. 
   The retablo is vividly painted in a simple palette of blue, green and earth colors, applied in broad strokes. Angels with feathered head dresses appear sentinel-like on the doors, holding candles, while Instruments of the Passion adorn the interior.
A depiction of Souls in Purgatory (Las Animas) on the lower part of the back panel is clearly painted by a skilled hand, with finely drawn figures of The Virgin and a Franciscan friar reaching out to those in torment below.
This charming box retablo, now missing its doors, also housing a primitive, scarred cristo, has a fresher, lighter touch, distinguished by its swirling red and green floral background. The sun, moon and stars add a folkloric accent.
A third box retablo, containing a plain green wooden cross, also displays vivid red and green foliage against a yellow background.
The tiny processional retablo of San Pascualito—the only one dated (1772)—is the smallest of the group, barely containing the figure of the saint, a local favorite who is dressed in Yucatecan "campesino" style.
 text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.  color images by the author
see our other recent Yucatan pages: Akil; Chemax;Oxkutzcab;
for more on colonial Yucatán see our guidebook:

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Yucatán then and now: San Cristóbal de Mérida

San Cristóbal de Mérida in 1860
San Cristóbal 
Southeast of the zócalo or main plaza in Mérida, opposite its own expansive park, stands the parish church of San Cristóbal. This monumental church, located in a city ward of the same name, is the last, the most sophisticated, and certainly the most imposing of Mérida's barrio churches.
   The ancient barrio of San Cristóbal was originally settled by native auxiliaries from central Mexico, who accompanied the Montejos on their conquest of Yucatan in the 1540s, and traditionally guarded the southern approaches to the colonial capital. 
Initially the residents of the quarter were served by the Franciscans from their flagship friary of San Francisco de Mérida (now demolished), where a chapel for the use of the residents was built adjacent to this elevated monastery. Located at a distance from the barrio, this arrangement proved increasingly inconvenient, especially after the monastery was fortified in 1667. 
   Following secularization of the monastic church in the 1750s, pressure mounted to establish a new parish church in the heart of San Cristóbal. The foundation stone was laid in 1757 and the church was officially dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe the next year—marking papal recognition of La Guadalupana as the patron saint of Mexico—and completed in December 1796. 
The handsome design of San Cristóbal has been attributed to Juan de Torres, the builder of the grand church at Umán, and is a major Mérida landmark. Although clearly related to Mérida cathedral, it incorporates many late baroque features of scale, appearance and ornament while successfully remaining within the austere tradition of Yucatecan religious architecture.  
   Multi-staged twin towers anchor the lofty facade—a characteristic feature of the cathedral as well as numerous later colonial parish churches across the peninsula.
Elegant pilasters and a frieze carved with foliage embellish the tall, otherwise classical entry, above which is emblazoned the Latin legend, “This is the House of God and the Gate of Heaven.” 
A great shell archway, carved with vines, frames the recessed choir window and is the most striking feature of the upper facade, which is surmounted by an ornamental cross.

text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.   images by the author and Niccolò Brooker
for more on colonial Yucatán see our guidebook:

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Yucatán, then and now: Umán

Now almost a suburb of Mérida, in ancient times Umán was known as Dzibikal, “Painted Building,” an important Maya town and ceremonial center. 
   San Francisco Umán was one of the later Franciscan foundations, established in 1576 and only becoming a residential mission in 1583. The appearance of the church and mission at Umán has changed little since the 1980s when these photographs were taken.
The early 16th century mission was distinguished by its imposing open chapel which still stands, on an elevated platform beside the church to the north east—probably the site of a former Maya temple.  
   Although stripped of its once vast pole-and-thatch ramada out front, the now blocked archway of the original chapel remains visible, its founding date of 1576 inscribed above the entrance and its high dome and tall belfry still pointing skywards. 
The church, by contrast, is much later, designed in the 1790s and probably completed in the early 1800s by Juan de Torres, the urbane architect of San Cristóbal in Mérida. The broad nave, wide transepts and prominent dome above the crossing are typical of late colonial church design throughout Mexico. 
Dwarfing the adjacent open chapel, the impressive dome of the church rests on a high drum ringed by 16 stained glass windows and surmounted by a cupola bristling with pinnacles, 
   The fortress-like exterior, with its sheer walls and narrow buttresses, has been repointed in typically Yucatecan style with white limestone cobbles glistening like gems in a dark matrix. 
The facade however, is atypical. Although incomplete, lacking towers or even a belfry, it is dominated by an eclectic porch. A simple, rounded doorway is enclosed by a cluster of receding, pointed arches of Gothic inspiration framed in turn by classical Doric pilasters. 
   The lofty interior is clean and uncluttered, focusing attention on the giant modern crucifix raised above the main altar. Except for the crossing, the church is rib-vaulted throughout—another neo-Gothic element. 
Nothing now remains, however, of the reputedly magnificent baroque altarpieces that once graced Umán, although a colorful colonial era pulpit stands out with its bold reliefs of the Four Evangelists and the Tetramorph
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.   images by the author and Niccolò Brooker
for more on colonial Yucatán see our guidebook: