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;

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