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

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