Sunday, May 14, 2017

Oaxaca. Francis and Dominic together

In the summer of 1215, Francis of Assisi was in Rome with a small group of friars seeking approval for his Rule from the Pope. One night during his stay, the story goes, The Virgin Mary appeared to him presenting two men who would labor for the conversion of the world. Francis was startled to recognize himself as one of these apostles.
   The following day, he was in one of the churches of Rome when suddenly, an unknown person came up to him, embraced him, and said: "You are my companion, we will work together, supporting one another toward the same end, and no one will prevail against us." Francis immediately recognized him as the other man in the vision. It was St. Dominic, who had also received a similar vision. 
   This meeting of the founders of the two great Mendicant preaching Orders is still commemorated twice a year when, on their respective feast days, the brothers of both Orders sing Mass together, and afterwards break bread at the same table. 
   While the story of Francis and Dominic actually sitting down at table together may be apocryphal, its parallel to the Last Supper, when Christ charges the Apostles with spreading the Gospel, conveys a powerful message about the Mendicant mission in life and in art.
Despite the history of rivalry and conflict of the two Orders in the New World, the two founders occasionally appear together in Mexican colonial art. 
   In our previous post we saw statues of saints Francis and Dominic in the museum at Santo Domingo de Oaxaca. Here we feature two contrasting examples of the two together, from Dominican priories in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca: a pair of statues in the upper facade of the church at Teposcolula (above), and an extraordinary painting that still graces the former refectory at San Juan Bautista Coixtlahuaca.
The semicircular composition, by the poblano artist Pablo de Talavera and based on the Last Supper theme, shows the two saints gazing heavenward at the far table, while the Franciscan Twelve—the first friars to evangelize Mexico—sit at the adjacent tables, waited on by archangels with trays of food.
text and images © 2017  Richard D. Perry

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