Monday, April 17, 2017

San Mateo Atlatlahucan, the architecture

San Mateo Atlatlahucan
The Augustinians in Morelos
As latecomers to the “spiritual conquest” of Mexico, the Augustinians were often obliged to confine their missionary activities to more remote or less attractive areas beyond or between those occupied by their Franciscan and Dominican rivals. 
   The benevolent northeastern valleys of Morelos were an exception to this pattern. Like the other missionary orders and the Aztec emperors before them, the Augustinians were enchanted by these green valleys clustered below the great volcano of Popocatépetl. Here in a “land of eternal spring” they too envisioned an earthly paradise where St. Augustine’s long dreamed of City of God might at last be realized.
   In 1533 their first primitive mission was founded at Ocuituco. The next year a second house was established at Totolapan and, within the year, two more, at Yecapixtla and Tlayacapan. Over the next decades, they completed the chain of imposing fortress monasteries along the foothills, including Atlatlahucan and Zacualpan, in addition to annexing former Franciscan houses at Tlaquiltenango and Tlaltizapan. 

Here we take a closer look at Atlatlahucan and its colonial arts, focusing first on its classic “fortress” architecture. 
The towering monastery of Atlatlahucan looks more like a medieval castle than a house of God.  An enormous atrium with high crenelated walls, pierced only by a fortified western gateway, guards the western approach to the monastery.
Two of the four original posa chapels have survived, in the southwest and southeast corners. Both have striking pedimented fronts and are capped with domed cupolas and spiky corner merlons. 
The Open Chapel
The oldest structure here is the open chapel, attached to the church on its north side.  Side walls flare forward from the small, raised sanctuary at the rear to embrace the arcaded front, framed by an exterior alfiz. A tall, narrow archway at center is surmounted by an espadaña studded with merlons—designed to harmonize with the church front.
© Robert Jackson
The Church 

The soaring west front is a study in verticality; angled buttresses topped with crenellated garitas, a crowning espadaña studded with merlons, long rainstreaks plunging like cataracts from the pinnacles atop the parapet—everything seems to accelerate the heavenward movement.
The martial character of the monastery extends to the arcaded portico and cloister, where ranks of merlons top the buttressed arcades.

Sharp, pyramidal merlons and pinnacles march along every wall and belfry emphasizing the fortress aspect of the church. Basalt crosses carved with Passion symbols top the lateral tower and the atrium gateway.

Other examples of early stone carving at Atlatlahucan include the ogival convento doorways and the sanctuary arch in the church sculpted with floral and Passion reliefs.
Looking across Atlatlahucan's battlemented parapets to the twisted gorges of the Sierra de Tepoztlan and the shining plain below, it is easy to feel like a feudal lord commanding his domain from atop the castle wall. 
Note: Our second post on Atlatlahucan, describing the murals, will appear on our sister blog.
text © 1992 & 2017 Richard D. Perry
images by the author except where noted.

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