Monday, October 3, 2016

Texcoco: an alphabetical doorway

The monastery church of San Antonio in Texcoco, now the city cathedral, was a successor to the first Franciscan mission established in Mexico, under Fray Pedro de Gante.* But by the mid-1600s the 16th century church was falling apart and was entirely rebuilt, starting in the 1660s and largely completed by 1700. 
   Our focus in this post is on the reconstituted north doorway, formerly the portiuncula, or ceremonial entry common to most Franciscan churches. The Franciscan arms, together with the date of its renovation—1694, are emblazoned above the doorway.  
   Of special interest here are the finely sculpted reliefs framing the doorway. While the inner column is plain save for the acanthus leaves of its capital, the adjacent, canted "grotesque" style panel is densely carved with scrolling foliage in a highly plastic style, and capped with a relief of the face of Christ and the Marian monogram.
Texcoco.  north doorway: left side;            right side
The carving on the outer pilasters, although less intensified, is even more intriguing. Highly stylized letters of the alphabet, again dexterously carved in a detailed, rounded style, appear sideways proceeding up the pilasters, starting with B at the bottom right and the letter R on the left hand panel.  
B,  C,  D,  E,  F,  G.
R,  S,  T,  U,  X.   (adapted from an image by Niccolò Brooker)
It seems unlikely that these decorative lettered panels were original to the doorway, certainly in their current placement. They may have been recycled from the early church, or elsewhere, and installed in their present position during the 17th century rebuilding, no doubt to emphasize the continued importance of this historic entry. 
   Whatever the circumstance, a carved stone alphabet frieze is virtually unknown in early colonial Mexico, and this may constitute a unique example. 
   It is tempting to speculate that this former frieze may have been carved under the guidance of Fray Pedro, whose pioneering efforts to instruct the already skilled native masons and other artisans in European artistic traditions were legendary.
text and images © 2016  Richard D. Perry
* see our other posts mentioning Pedro de Gante

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