Friday, September 28, 2018

Ucareo: the atrium cross

We continue our series on Mexican crosses of note with a description of the atrium cross at Ucareo.
   The rugged region east of Lake Cuitzeo in Michoacán is home to an extraordinary variety of elaborately carved atrium crosses. In addition to that of Ucareo, they include those at San Matías El Grande, Jácuaro and Ciudad Hidalgo.
   Founded in 1555, the hilltop priory of San Agustín Ucareo was one of earliest Augustinian houses to be established in eastern Michoacán. Although the church was later remodeled with an austere classical front, the magnificent 16th century atrium cross still stands before the church door.
Ucareo, atrium cross: front 
Brilliantly sculpted on all sides, the Ucareo cross is, in our view, one of the finest in Michoacán. Enclosed by a projecting border, the extraordinary variety of reliefs that distinguish the cross are picked out with clarity in an especially harmonious composition.

On the front, the haloed Face of Christ at the crossing inclines with anguish, apparently gushing blood. Christ is flanked by a turbaned head, probably representing Caifas, and another onlooker spitting an epithet. Disembodied nailed hands point outwards from the arms.
   The Instruments of the Crucifixion are arranged in a column along the shaft. Half way down, blood streams from a Wound, apparently held by two hands, into the Chalice. A Jug and Ewer appear at the foot.  A simian-like skull projects from the cubed pedestal supporting the cross with the crossbones of Calvary carved below.
Ucareo, atrium cross: reverse

The Reverse Side 
The back side of the cross is more densely, if less conventionally, carved than the front. One unusual element is the triangular sunburst at the crossing. Radiating enormous rays, it features a large eye at its center, a motif that may symbolize the Trinity or more likely, the Eye of God, who watches over all things—a unique representation on an atrium cross to our knowledge.
   A writing Hand on the left and a solitary Malchus’ Ear on the right are the only reliefs on the arms, while the Augustinian emblem of the pierced heart is carved above the eye. 

Laden with grapes and inhabited by small birds, a sinuous and skilfully carved Eucharistic vine snakes up the shaft. At the foot, incongruously, is a beautifully realized relief head of Christ; sculpted in a more refined, detailed manner than the boldly outlined Instruments above, it suggests a different hand and possibly a later date. 
Even more Passion symbols line the two remaining sides of the cross: on one side a Corn plant winds between a Lance and a Ladder, atop the woven monogram of Christ on the pedestal below. 
   A column of Dice cascades down the other side flanked by a Spear and a Reed with an odd looking Sponge. A Hand holding a tress of hair and a Sword and another Ear are squeezed in at the top, while a Lantern is outlined at the foot.
In our view one of the most intriguing and beautifully sculpted crosses in Mexico.

text and graphics © 2018 by Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker
Check out our earlier posts on exceptional Michoacán crosses: Uruapan; San Felipe; HuaniqueoAngahuan; Zacán; Tarecuato; Tlacolula;  Santiago Charapan;

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Panotla: the lost cross of San Nicolás

San Nicolas Panotla, facade © Felipe Falcón
The sumptuous baroque temple at Panotla, dedicated to St. Nicholas of Bari, is located a few kilometers west of the city of Tlaxcala. It displays an opulent stone and stucco facade reminiscent of the nearby shrine to the Virgin of Ocotlán. 
The Panotla cross, author's reconstruction

The Atrium Cross 
In 1908, the American antiquarian Frederick Starr visited Panotla, noting in his book, In Indian Mexico, “Before the churchyard stands a quaint old cross of stone, dated 1728, upon which are represented all the symbols of Christ’s passion; a long inscription in Aztec is cut into the base.”
   Today this handsome colonial cross is missing. Only the inscribed base is still in place. Based on early photographs, this archaic stone cross, with its stubby arms and neck, was quite unlike others in the Tlaxcala region.
   The primitive Face of Christ at the crossing resembled that of a Pharoah, with spreading locks and a zigzag Crown. In part because of their odd shape and position as well as their eroded state, several of the numerous Passion reliefs on the arms and long shaft were ambiguous. Two relief Nails with four pierced rosettes flanked the Face. Above Christ’s head, a band of wavy lines, possibly indicating Coins, crosses the neck below a more complex, sunburst style rosette set with outlying buds or points—perhaps also intended as a Crown. However, another stylized, wreathlike Crown was juxtaposed beside a Chalice atop the shaft, below which an enigmatic figure appeared apparently bearing a cross—a unique in- stance of this motif, if our interpretion is correct.
   Further down, a fan of three Nails, a Hammer, a Scourge and diminutive crossed Spear and Reed led to an open Hand beside a Column and Rooster, ending with a Ewer at the foot.
Alhough the whereabouts of the missing cross is unknown, the pedestal upon which it stood still remains, 
inscribed with the date of 1728, as noted by Starr.
text and graphic © 2018 Richard D. Perry

Friday, September 14, 2018

Cuernavaca.Tetela del Monte

In previous posts, we looked at early stone crosses in the Cuernavaca area: in the precincts of Cuernavaca cathedral, a former Franciscan monastery, and in the suburb of San Jerónimo Tlaltenango.
Chapel of Los Reyes Magos in Tetela del Monte
Today we visit the 16th century Franciscan chapel of Los Reyes Magos (Three Kings)in the northerly suburb of Tetela del Monte, to describe its early carvings and atrium cross.
Founded perhaps as a retreat, this gem of a hillside chapel may also occupy the site of a prehispanic shrine.  Like many other early mission buildings, its founding is attributed to the pioneering missionary Fray Toribio de Benavente (Motolinia).
The square chapel front is notable for its plain doorway whose jambs are headed by large, frontally posed, tequitqui style reliefs of angels, inscribed with the date 1551? 
front                                                                 reverse
The Atrium Cross
Located by the gateway in the spacious, leafy atrium, the cross is set high atop a multilevel base and pedestal. Like many early stone crosses, the Tetela cross is carved with now worn Passion related symbols on the front.
   Identifiable reliefs include an earless head, a ladder, a lance with a sponge a corn plant and a grape vine. A skull and crossed bones appear on the pedestal below.
The reverse side is plain, although the Christic monogram (IHS) is carved on this side of the pedestal.  The head of the cross, with its smaller crosspiece, may be a later addition. ?
Tetela is also noted for its looping atrium wall, created by the 20th century English artist John Spencer.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker and ELTB

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Cuauhtinchan: Eagle, Jaguar, Sundial

For a new wrinkle in our recent series on colonial stonework, we pay another visit to the Pueblan convento of San Juan Cuauhtinchan.    In a previous post on the murals there, we drew attention to the famous cloister mural of an Annunciation flanked by an eagle and jaguar drawn and colored in pre hispanic style (Cuauhtinchan = House of the Eagles)
We also noted the large eagle statue atop the cloister fountain. 
Sculptures of an eagle and jaguar reappear atop the parapet above the cloister. The eagle spreads his wings while jaguar shows his teeth and roars.  
This time they flank a colonial sundial, which seems to still be functioning!
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry.  color images by Robert Jackson

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Folk Baroque in Puebla: The Chapel of the Seven Joys

Although the principal colonial buildings and monuments of the city center of Puebla are well known, it is often in its outlying barrios that the vernacular flavor of the art and architecture is truly experienced. 
   While the colorful tiled fronts of Puebla represent one immediately recognizable strain of this distinctive popular tradition, several "retablo" style facades of painted stone and stucco show another, equally folkloric face of el barroco poblano.
One of these facades is that of La Capilla de Los Misterios Gozosos de Nuestra Señora, simply called Los Gozos  (13 Poniente 113 /16 de Septiembre & 5 Sur) 
   Located in a former artisan's barrio south of the city center, this modest chapel was formerly part of a Franciscan nunnery and college in the quarter.The present facade dates from the 1730s.
Framed by classical fluted columns, the church front displays seven large reliefs, four of them lozenge shaped, illustrating The Seven Joys of the Virgin Mary, a popular devotion promoted by the Franciscans. 
   This Seraphic or Crown Rosary, as it is known, comprises the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity of Jesus, the Adoration of the Magi, the Finding of the young Jesus in the Temple, the Resurrection of Jesus, the Ascension of Jesus, and the Coronation of the Virgin, all of which are shown on the Los Gozos chapel facade.
The Coronation and the Nativity
The Coronation of the Virgin is represented as a statue set on a pillar in the gable. She wears a crown of roses and is swathed in billowing robes. The Seven Joys are depicted as spear points piercing her breast, following the more common pictorial tradition of the Seven Sorrows. The relief tableau above depicts the Nativity of Jesus. 
   The remaining Joys are depicted in the six oval reliefs, although many of their details have been blurred by repeated whitewashings.
The Annunciation,                                                          The Visitation 

The Ascension of Christ;                                    The Resurrection of Christ 
The one incongruous element on the facade is the clerical figure mounted in the broken pediment of the portal. He raises one hand in benediction and holds what appears to be a document or proclamation in the other. Although not so identified, the statue may represent Ignacio Asenjo y Crespo, a canon of the cathedral who promulgated the cult of Los Gozos in Puebla in the early 1700s.

2018 Update: repair and restoration of the facade of Los Gozos, lightly damaged during the 2017 earthquake, was recently completed.
text © 2010 & 2018 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker
Please review our earlier posts on the folk baroque churches of Mexico: San Jeronimo AljojucaSanta Inez XanenetlaTlancualpican;  Santa Ana JolalpanSanta Maria Jolalpan;  San Simón Quecholac;