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 porterĂ­a 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

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