Monday, March 26, 2018

Cuernavaca Cathedral: The Baptismal Fonts

In the mid-1950s, the new Bishop of Cuernavaca initiated drastic changes to the interior of the Cathedral. This controversial program of limpieza involved removing the many old baroque altarpieces and santos along the nave in an attempt to recover the simplicity and focus of the early Franciscan building—a process which fortuitously led to the uncovering of the whitewashed murals of the Japanese Martyrs on the walls behind.
The "new" font
One element of this liturgical "cleansing" was the placement of a new baptismal font in a sunken circle just inside the west door of the cathedral, replacing the monolithic 16th century font of the church, which was banished after 400 years to the sacristy, where it remains.
The 16th century baptismal font
Although an attempt was made to retain some colonial forms in the new font, notably in the knotted cord rim, its bland symmetrical lines have none of the character or patina of the monolithic original, carved with the Five Wounds and inscribed with the Latin words of the sacrament of baptism: in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.
   The replacement of an authentic 16th century font by a modern basin in the name of a return to the "primitive" church of the early Franciscans can be seen as an unintended irony.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry. 
This is the last in our series on the architecture and sculptural highlights of Cuernavaca CathedralThe North DoorwayThe relief of the Assumption; The Open Chapel; The Atrium Cross;
See also our series on the murals of Cuernavaca cathedral: The Church FrescoesThe Open Chapel muralThe Spiritual Lineage; The Crucifixion;

We welcome your comments

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Cuernavaca Cathedral: The Atrium Cross

In previous posts on Cuernavaca cathedral we noted the themes of death and sacrifice that pervade the precincts of this former Franciscan monastery. These could not be better represented than in the atrium cross that stands before the magnificent open chapel.
the atrium cross, eastern face
The present reconstituted cross is set on a massive square base stepped and battlemented on all four sides. What intensifies the macabre interest of this Christian symbol of death and sacrifice, are the bold reliefs of a skull and crossed bones embedded at the foot of the cross.
© Niccolo Brooker 
Not only is the projecting skull a rare Aztec sculpture but it is attached to a square stone box called a cuauhxicalli, designed to receive the hearts torn from sacrificial victims—a remarkable prehispanic survival—and an artifact that now often holds floral and other offerings!
text and images © 2018 Richard D. Perry, except where noted

Visit our other posts in this series on Cuernavaca cathedral: 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Cuernavaca Cathedral: The Open Chapel

In a previous posts we have described various aspects of this former Franciscan monastery, including its architecture, sculpture and muralsIn this post we look at one of its most original elements, the grand open chapel, located on the west side of the cathedral church.
In the early years, before the church and even the convento were completed, the Franciscans faced the problem of how to minister to the countless new converts. Their innovative response was this great, arcaded open air chapel, described by John McAndrew, the distinguished art historian, as, “a dramatic design, strikingly ambitious and elegant, the most original work from the first half of the 16th century in Mexico.”
From the vaulted sanctuary at the rear, the friars could preach and administer the essential sacraments in full view of the masses assembled in the facing atrium.
The imposing frescoed convento entry stands to the left of the sanctuary.
In front of the sanctuary, a majestic transverse nave soars to a height of over 60 ft, creating an almost Gothic sense of lightness and openness—a space that may also have functioned as a portería for the convento beyond. 
   Tall, slender pillars capped by delicately carved oak leaf capitals support the triple arcade out front, which is braced by stepped open buttresses that also serve to direct the viewers gaze in towards the sanctuary.
Above the arcades, the crenelated parapet of the chapel is inset with Jerusalem crosses cut from coarse black basalt. Although repaired and altered over the centuries, the chapel remains in need of further cleaning and conservation.
Visit our other posts in this series on Cuernavaca: 
The North Doorway; The relief of the Assumption; The Atrium Cross; The Baptismal Fonts;
see our sister blog for posts on the murals of Cuernavaca cathedral
text and images © 2018 Richard D. Perry

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Cuernavaca Cathedral: a sculptural relief

angels of the under choir
Cuernavaca cathedral, formerly the Franciscan monastery of the Assumption, is noted for its architectural sculpture and detailed stone carving, as well as its varied murals
One area where fine stone carving is viewed to advantage is the well preserved 16th century under choir of the church, notably in its supporting columns and the handsome wheel vault overhead.

At the hub of the vault is placed an intricately carved, unusual rectangular relief of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, a reminder of the dedication of this cathedral church.
   The praying figure of Mary is borne heavenward by angels, as God the Father above places the crown on her head. He is flanked by trumpeting angels with monograms of Christ and the Virgin on banners, all rendered in fine detail—a delightful and accomplished example of early colonial Mexican stone carving, undoubtedly the work of native sculptors.
Visit our other posts in this series on Cuernavaca: 
The North Doorway; The Open Chapel; The Atrium Cross; The Baptismal Fonts;
see our sister blog for posts on the murals of Cuernavaca cathedral
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and ELTB

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Cuernavaca Cathedral: The North Doorway

This is the first in a series of posts on the architecture and relief sculpture of historic Cuernavaca Cathedral, in the state of Morelos, in tandem with several posts on the murals, on our sister site.
  In a previous post we remarked on the pervasive images of death throughout this former Franciscan monastery.  Here we focus on the north doorway of the cathedral, the main ceremonial entry to the church in colonial times, as it remains today.
This lofty, 16th century entry retains its medieval appearance and ambience. Unadorned columns capped by Gothic capitals flank the plain arched doorway. 
Above the doorway, a lofty, rectangular alfiz encloses a steep, triangular pediment, which in turn frames a trilobed, mudéjar niche with foliated jambs. Archaic reliefs of hovering angels, sculpted tequitqui style with spread wings and windblown draperies, lean in from either side
Overhead, a crowned monogram of the Virgin Mary, dated 1552 and emblazoned within a wreath, was no doubt intended to remind the faithful of the dedication of the church to the Assumption of the Virgin, as well as the historic significance of the north doorway, or portiuncula, of the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi, rebuilt by St. Francis himself.
Finally, a foliated Calvary cross with a crown of thorns around the neck stands over the pediment, atop a chilling skull and crossbones set against the black rocks of Golgotha—an arresting memento mori to impress the entering worshipper or pilgrim.
text and images © 2018 Richard D. Perry

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Hidden Gems: Santiago Tilapa

From time to time we take a look at modest, often rural Mexican churches with colonial antecedents that are overlooked by most students of viceregal art and architecture, but that often possess features of artistic interest.  We like to call them Hidden Gems.
Santiago Tilapa is an Otomí village near Tianguistenco, south east of Toluca in western Mexico State. This 16th century chapel was reworked in the 1670s as the parish church, when the tower was added. It has been recently restored. 
Santiago Tilapa plan (Inez Ortiz)
Framed by its large atrium and elevated gateway, the large, plain church front nevertheless displays several highly distinctive features. Floating cornices with supporting corbels—possibly part of former alfiz—frame an ocular choir window.

Atop the upper cornice is an embedded stone relief cross of interest. Unusual carved motifs include a spiky crown-of-thorns at the crossing that once enclosed an insert, possibly obsidian?  
   What appear to be paired, opposing song or speech scrolls alternate with quatrefoil rosettes on the arms and shaft. Wound holes are drilled into the extremities of the arms and the shaft—the last issuing dripping streams of blood. The IHS plaque on the surmounting plaque suggests a date from later colonial times.   

The archway extrados
But the most striking feature of the facade is its extraordinary sculpted doorway, almost certainly dating from the 16th century and clearly reassembled/relocated—the original plinths, carved with foliage/serpents, are now elevated.
The extrados inscription, detail
The arch intrados
The focus of the rounded doorway is its archway, densely carved along the inner face (intrados) as well as the outer arch (extrados.)  Thorn and ribbon moldings enclose relief inscriptions formed by highly stylized, glyph like, foliated letters in the style of a Gothic illuminated manuscript or Maya glyph. Although not fully readable, possibly because of later reassemblage, the texts appear to concern praise.
The intrados, detail
The arch rests on jambs carved with exuberant foliated pilasters, although they show different stone types and styles of carving, no doubt due to partial rearrangement or replacement at one time.

Elaborately carved, outsize capitals on either side—now unfortunately defaced—portray winged angels rising above song scrolls, proclaiming this as the sacred entry to the house of God.
Inside the chapel a flat, beamed roof spans the nave, set on carved wooden brackets atop the walls, while two stout posts with ornamental zapatas support the choir.
But the centerpiece is the exquisite wooden artesonado ceiling above the apse, carved with alternating diamond and oval coffers and an octagonal boss or gloria
Another early colonial survivor is the rugged stone baptismal font, rimmed by the Franciscan knotted cord.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
photography courtesy of Niccolo Brooker
Some of our other Hidden Gems: Xichú de IndiosSan Felipe Sultepec; San Pablo Malacatepec;  OcoxochitepecMixquiahualaCherán; Xanenetla