Friday, June 17, 2016

Mexican Murals: St. Helen at Tula and Tepeji

St. Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, is remembered, according to tradition, as the discoverer of the true cross, unearthed near Jerusalem following a dream. Together with her son, she was instrumental in the spread of Christianity during the late Roman empire.
   Although a notable historical and religious figure, she is infrequently shown in early Mexican murals. However two unusual portraits are found in the neighboring Franciscan monasteries of San José Tula and San Francisco Tepeji in the state of Hidalgo. 
First, at Tula, in a cloister fresco, Helen is portrayed as an empress, richly robed and wearing a crown. She holds up the rough hewn cross. Behind her to the left is a ziggurat style structure, probably representing the pagan temple erected by the Romans over the Holy Sepulcher, which she demolished to build a Christian church. Below the ziggurat, men labor to unearth the true cross buried there, according to legend.
In the large cloister mural at Tepeji, St. Helen appears again, still sumptuously robed although with no crown to indicate her royal status.  Here she holds a very large cross, tinted in a reddish brown hue. A palatial structure is shown behind her, although the poor condition of the fresco makes an identification problematic.  
   The Emperor Constantine is outlined in the adjacent panel, crowned and holding an ornate cross and the imperial scepter, while workers excavate the cross below. 
To our knowledge this paired portrayal of Helen and Constantine is unique among Mexican conventual murals.

text ©2016 Richard D. Perry. color images courtesy of Diana Roberts & Robert Jackson

see our other posts on Mexican Murals:  CuautinchánXometlaCulhuacánZacualpan
OzumbaTlalmanalcoIxmilquilpanMama;  IzucarTree muralsTepeapulcoTulaEpazoyucanZempoalaYecapixtla;

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