Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Churches of Quecholac: La Magdalena

Although little of the 16th century Franciscan monastery of Magdalena Quecholac now remains, it was once one of the largest in Mexico, faced by an enormous atrium.
   Built in the 1560s and '70s to replace a primitive earlier mission, the church was designed in basilical form with three aisles—modeled on, or possibly a model for, the great roofless basilica that we saw at nearby Tecali.

Today, all that is left of the original church is its mutilated but still grand facade, faced with triple entries of dark basaltic stone fashioned in starkly elegant purista Renaissance style. (The towers are later additions)
The main entry of the basilica
The 18th century facade
The present cruciform church, much reduced in size from the original and set well back from the old front, was rebuilt in the 1700s within the original nave walls. 
   Beyond its idiosyncratic colonnaded front, the now single nave is home to several gilded altarpieces preserved in good condition.

Although the altarpieces come in a variety of sizes, almost all are designed in early 18th century baroque style deploying ornate spiral "solomonic" columns densely wreathed with vines, and sculpture niches framed by foliated arabesque panels. 
Retablo of the Archangels (left)                     Retablo of Rosario (right)
All display fine, original sculptural detailing.   
Two altarpieces of special interest include the side retablo of Las Animas, its large center panel depicting Souls in Purgatory with the Archangel Michael. 
The Mass for the Dead, detail
At its foot is a classic depiction of the Mass for the Dead—among the best preserved of the relatively few examples in colonial art. (see another example at Suchixtlahuaca
   A black draped coffin is placed at center flanked by rows of candles. Mourners kneel by the altar where a priest in black robes officiates. A well dressed couple stands apart to his left, probably relatives, sponsors of the mass and possibly the altarpiece itself.
The other is an ungilded retablo, whose ornate twisting columns incorporate expressive caryatids beneath jutting capitals.
The untreated cedar gives a viewer a rare insight—and occasional scent—into the exquisite craftsmanship of the colonial woodcarver's art at its most intricate.
In addition to the 18th century altarpieces, two remnant items from the earlier 16th century mission survive: the monolithic stone fonts.
   The larger and more decorative—ringed by a chain like vine relief with alternating leaves and flowers and set on a carved, footed base—still serves as the principal baptismal font in the church.
   A smaller, much plainer, and possibly older basin currently stands in a forecourt between the original basilican front and the later church. Surprisingly, neither is carved with the knotted cord, usually a standard feature of Franciscan baptismal fonts. 
text © 2017  Richard D. Perry.  color images by ELTB
enhorabuena enrique!

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