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


  1. Is it possible that the two arches of the choir window were at some point re-assembled and the keystones switched?

    1. Yes, it does suggest that something like that happened. R