Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Mexican Crucifixes: The lost crucifix of Totolapan

As part of our ongoing series on Mexico's stone crosses, we publish the occasional post on the sculpted stone crucifixes often found on church facades.
Totolapan, the church front and crucifix before the earthquake (Beverley Spears)
One of these crucifixes, affixed to the surmounting espadaña of the church at San Guillermo Totolapan—an early Augustinian monastery celebrated for its 16th century Cristobecame a victim of the earthquake that devastated the Morelos region in September 2017. 
Niccolò Brooker
Although less stylized and probably later than the related example at nearby Yecapixtla, this crucifix is not unsophisticated. With arms and legs partly disengaged but nailed to the cross, the figure of Christ is also notable for its aged face, its prominent ribs and the multiple folds of its flared loincloth.
Niccolò Brooker
During the 2017 earthquake the tower and entire espadaña collapsed into a heap of rubble in front of the church door. Tragically the colonial crucifix also succumbed, to the point where reassembly or restoration seems unlikely.
Totolapan, the church front after the 'quake (Robert Jackson)
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
images courtesy of Beverley Spears, Niccolo Brooker and Robert Jackson

Look for future posts in this series:Yecapixtla; San Agustin Salamanca; Santiago Silao; 
San Jose Irapuato; San Agustin de Queretaro; Zacatecas Cathedral; Singuilucan;

Friday, May 25, 2018

Zacualpan de Amilpas: The Baptismal Font

In a previous post in this series, we looked at the monolithic baptismal font at Tlalmanalco, whose rim was inscribed with the Latin legend:  
Qui crediderit et baptizatus fuerit, salvus erit; qui vero non crediderit, condemnabitur.
Whomever believes and is baptized will be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
The first part of the same quotation, from the gospel of St. Mark, is carved on the rim of a more complex font at Zacualpan de Amilpas in nearby Morelos state.
© Niccolo Brooker
Below the inscribed rim, the delicately delineated, shell like form of the basin rests on an inner ring carved with cannonball reliefs.
But the most extraordinary feature of this font is the outer ring, with its freestanding supports of luxuriant carved foliage modeled in high relief.
© Niccolo Brooker
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
See our earlier post on the early colonial murals of Zacualpan

Please see our earlier posts featuring early Mexican fonts of  interest: OaxacaYucatanMichoacaneastAtlixco (Puebla); AcatzingoTlaxcalaCholula
CiudadHidalgoTepepanMolangoTecamachalcoQuecholacTecaliZinacantepecCuernavaca; Otumba

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Picota of Zempoala

In a previous post we described the architecture of Todos Santos Zempoala, an early Franciscan monastic complex in the state of Hidalgo, together with its carved stone crosses.

In this post we look at another unusual early colonial monument there, the celebrated "picota" of Zempoala. This rare 16th century structure, more properly called El Rollo de Justicia, was designed as a monument to Imperial authority and punitive justice.
image © Niccolò Brooker
As evidence, the Spanish royal coat of arms is carved on its pyramidal cap, with an inscription that reads in part: “Erected by order of the exalted Don Juan de Piñeda, Corregidor of His Majesty…” 
lion's head and inscription image © Niccolò Brooker
Situated in the central plaza, in the colonial era it would have served as a public whipping post and perhaps also to exhibit severed heads and body parts of executed wrongdoers.
 image © Niccolò Brooker
Royal lions' heads face outward at the top, and primitive coyote like figures, with markings that suggest feathers, crouch around the base of the column.
The picota in the Plaza Real de Tlaxcala (from the Relación Geográfica de Tlaxcala 1584)
In colonial times, the picota was a common fixture in the main plazas of major Mexican towns and cities. After Independence, most such monuments were removed as hated symbols of Royal colonial authority, although a few survived and continued in use, often in other guises. 
The picota in the Plaza de Armas, Mexico City (18th c. print)
 picota column in Celaya
Although many still stand in Spain, today few identifiable picotas are to be found in Mexico. Aside from one beside the church of San Francisco in Celaya, the Zempoala picota, with its colonial inscription, may be the only unaltered example to have survived.
Visit our page on the murals of Zempoala
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Otumba: The Baptismal Fonts

In our first post on Otumba we looked at the sculpted doorways of the church and convento.  For our second post we survey other examples of early stonework there, notably the various fonts.
Carved stone basins in all shapes and sizes proliferate in the church. They have a family resemblance, ringed with the Franciscan knotted cord and emblazoned with large, eight-pointed rosettes.
The larger baptismal font, housed beneath a shell niche in the baptistry, sports huge ball pendants and a trumpet-shaped hood.  This font is accompanied by a smaller version as well as a third font with a barbed quatrefoil basin, foliated swags and an inset ceramic bowl.

The knotted cord rims another font in the nave, in front of a similarly banded dado, also with star-like relief rosettes
Finally a more elongated version rests in the convento, carved with four petaled rosettes and a cross relief.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry. images by the author and ELTB

Please see our earlier posts featuring early Mexican fonts of interest: 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Stones of Otumba: The Carved Doorways

Place of the Otomi 
High on the high northeastern rim of the Valley of Mexico, Otumba has the only regional place name to commemorate the Otomi, the aboriginal settlers of the valley who had long been a marginalized by a succession of invaders including the Aztecs.
The Monastery of La Purísima
Shortly after the Spanish conquest, in 1527, the Franciscans built a primitive mission of rude adobe atop the earthen mound of a former temple here. With the completion of the Arcos de Zempoala
, a famous aqueduct which brought water over 45 kilometers from Zempoala, Otumba prospered as an agricultural and trading center.
   The present stone monastery replaced the early mission sometime after 1550, possibly supervised by Fray Francisco de Tembleque, the builder of the aqueduct. Although the fabric of the monastery has suffered over the centuries from neglect and thoughtless alteration, happily much of the original stone carving has survived. 

Otumba, the west doorway
In contrast to the elegant Renaissance style of nearby Acolman, most of the stonecarving at Otumba exemplifies the classic early Franciscan style in Mexico—a combination of late Isabelline Gothic, Hispano-Moorish and Romanesque motifs, unified in appearance by the traditional tequitqui sculptural techniques of the native Indian artisans who actually built and ornamented the mission.
In contrast to the blandly resurfaced west front, the west porch is densely textured with relief carving. Sinuous vines and bands of fleurs-de-lis rosettes rise between the slender colonettes that divide the broad triple jambs of the doorway. 
Bulbous "basket" reliefs and pearl moldings head the columns, the outermost of which has been transformed into a Franciscan knotted cord that extends upwards to form a generous alfiz above the doorway. Narrow relief panels of rosettes and vines run along the imposts and continue over the flattened arch of the doorway.
Cord motifs and eight petaled rosettes also frame the choir window surmounted by another knotted cord alfiz.
The Convento
Although the cloister and much of the convento are now in ruins, the imposing double arcade of the grand portería has been restored, retaining its later 16th century Renaissance style. 

In common with several other early monasteries, the portería also housed an open chapel. Its broad, raised archway, framed and ornamented in the same style as the west porch, with rosettes, carved foliage and twisting vines, can be seen recessed into the rear wall behind the larger center arch of the arcade. 
© Niccolò Brooker
The ample convento entrance, at the north end of the portería, is another close relative of the church doorway, its wide triple jambs again carved with narrow colonettes and rich foliar decoration. Medallions of the Five Wounds and passages of mudéjar strap work alternate with thistle-bearing vines around the arch.
convento entry details by ELTB
Several other doorways inside the convento are also intricately carved with curling, spiky foliage.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry. 
 images ©1986 by the author, except where noted.  all rights reserved

Monday, May 7, 2018

Jarácuaro, the stone carving

Now a peninsula, reached by a curving causeway that crosses the low-lying marshland, Jarácuaro, "Where She Appears," was once an island on Lake Patzcuaro. In preconquest times, it was sacred to the Tarascan moon goddess Xaratanga, the "she" in the place name, whose hilltop temple was the object of ecstatic devotion and long distance pilgrimage.
   Today, the early colonial church of San Pedro Jarácuaro occupies what must have been the dramatic site of this ancient shrine. From its atrium of windblown cedars, the church commands panoramic views of the surrounding lake.
The church of San Pedro Jarácuaro and the adjacent chapel provide an outstanding variety of early colonial stonework:
   A close relative of the church front at Erongarícuaro, of which it was a dependent, the gabled facade of honey-colored stone displays its wealth of primitive sculpture, notably the iconic bas-reliefs of St. Peter and St. Paul carved on the jambs of the arched entry.
Animated figures of both saints—Peter with his keys and Paul with a sword—overflow their shallow, confining niches in an exuberant display of graphic energy that typifies the 16th century Mexican interpretation of medieval European religious imagery. There is a searching eye for detail, with an almost abstract rendering of the sharp folds of the saints' robes.  
   No similar reliefs are to be found elsewhere in Michoacán. Their nearest relatives are the figures of Peter and Paul beside the north door at Huaquechula—a Franciscan monastery in the mountains of Puebla State.
A second relief of St. Peter, the patron saint of Jarácuaro, in similar, sinuous style, is mounted above the choir window—an ornamental two light ajimez opening divided by a baluster column and carved with scallop shells and acanthus foliage—a classic regional motif. 
Sun, moon and various star reliefs are also embedded in the facade alongside the Mexican eagle and a cross.
A simply carved atrium cross stands in front of the church door.  Although mostly free of conventional Passion reliefs, this decorative cross features flared finials and an octofoil rosette at the crossing, linked to the base by a twisting vine with broad veined leaves.   
An early, boldly carved, monolithic, baptismal font stands in the nave. Bands of large, fleur-de-lis rosettes are ringed by the knotted Franciscan cord above and below, anchored by "serpents tails" that lend the font a powerful indigenous flavor. 
The Capilla
The nearby former hospital chapel at Jarácuaro presents a related front. Its mismatched door jambs imitate those of the main church, this time displaying archaic reliefs of St. Paul and St. Clare.  
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry.  images by the author and courtesy of Niccolò Brooker
Please see our previous posts on the Missions of Michoacán: TupataroQuinceoZacánPomacuaránNurioSan LorenzoCocuchoNaranjaAjunoSantiago Charapan; San Sebastián CorupoTanaquilloSanta Clara del CobreTlalpujahuaTzintzuntzanUruapanCapácuaroSan Nicolas de ObispoHuiramangaroTarímbaro, Jarácuaro; Arocutín; Ziracuaretiro;

for more on the churches around Lake Patzcuaro consult our guide book to west Mexico

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Tlalmanalco: The Baptismal Font

In our series of posts on the early baptismal fonts, we go next to the venerable Franciscan monastery of San Luis Obispo Tlalmanalco to look at its historic font.
The open chapel baptistry
Originally placed in an arched baptistry to one side of the grand open chapel, formerly accessible through the church, this monolithic stone basin, now located inside the nave, may be the earliest documented baptismal font extant in Mexico.
Reportedly carved in 1533 by order of Fray Martín de Valencia, the leader of the first Franciscan Twelve and at that time Guardian of Tlalmanalco, its large, round basin is emblazoned with heraldic monograms of Jesus and Mary and the Franciscan emblem of the Five Wounds, as well as unusual foliated or feathered pedestals or urns.
   Of special interest is the unequivocal Latin quotation from the gospel of St. Mark (16:15) carved around the rim:

Qui crediderit et baptizatus fuerit, salvus erit; qui vero non crediderit, condemnabitur.
Whomever believes and is baptized will be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

text and color image © 2018 Richard D. Perry
Please see our earlier posts featuring early Mexican fonts of  interest: Oaxaca; Yucatan; Michoacan-east; Atlixco (Puebla); Acatzingo; Tlaxcala; Cholula; Ciudad Hidalgo; Tepepan; Molango; Tecamachalco; Quecholac; Tecali; Zinacantepec; Cuernavaca; Otumba;