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.
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 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.
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.