Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Hidden Gems: Santa Caterina Lolotla

From time to time we take a look at modest rural Mexican churches with colonial antecedents that are overlooked by most students of viceregal art and architecture, but that often possess features of artistic interest.  We like to call them Hidden Gems.Santa Caterina Lolotla is one.
This modest former visita of the Augustinian monastery at Molango, along with other churches in the mountainous Sierra Alta region of Hidalgo, began life as a simple open chapel, elements of which are still preserved in the current building.
Eroded reliefs from these early years, before 1560, are mounted in the gable of the church above the later facade. The principal relief portrays a crowned St. Catherine of Alexandria holding a sword— the instrument of her martyrdom. 
  One of the two smaller figures below is her persecutor, the Roman emperor Maxentius—to our knowledge a unique representation in Mexican sculptural relief. Starlike rosettes constitute the other facade reliefs.
The present facade, although recently refaced, essentially dates from later colonial times when Lolotla became a priory in its own right.  Its richly carved doorway, choir window, and the wall cross mounted between them all date from this period. 
Stylized, foliated O and S shaped motifs * alternate around the arch of the doorway, while a chain of rosettes adorn the archway of the choir window.
But the relief ornament framing the intervening wall cross is of most interest. Here phytomorphic dragons mix with urns and vines with eagles pecking on the bunches of grapes.
   Above a skull and crossbones, the Calvary wall cross bears a crown of thorns at the axis with raised reliefs of Christ’s bleeding wounds on the arms and shaft—a thematic link to the grapevine reliefs. 
A second, larger cross atop the gateway to the atrium is fashioned in the same manner, except that here the skull is bizarrely placed atop the cross instead of below it as is customary.
* These letters may signify the O.S.A. monogram of the Augustinian Order.
Check out our other Hidden Gems: Xichu de IndiosSan Felipe Sultepec; San Pablo Malacatepec;  OcoxochitepecMixquiahuala

text © 2019 Richard D. Perry. color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker
some other posts on crosses:
AlfajayucanTepeapulcoCuitzeoActopanCharapanBucareli/El Pueblito;TepoztlanUruapanCholulaCajititlanCoyoacanAxotlaChimalistacMixcoacHuipulcoSanto Tomás Ajusco;San Pedro MartirAtoyacCapachoHuandacareoHuangoHuaniqueoCorupo

Friday, January 25, 2019

Hidden Gems. San Luis Tehuiloyucan: four evangelists and two crosses

From time to time we take a look at modest Mexican churches with colonial antecedents that are overlooked by most students of viceregal art and architecture, but that often possess features of special historic and artistic interest. We like to call them Hidden Gems.*
Tehuiloyucan is a suburb of San Andrés Cholula in the state of Puebla, best known for its odd colonial “House of the Devil,”
   Our focus here however is on the 
handsome parish church of San Luis de Obispo, notable for its expansive, colorful front of elegant domes and towers, framed by a large atrium with an elaborate, triple arched gateway.
San Luis Tehuiloyucan, the triple gateway
The Statuary
Although the church interior was remodeled in a glitzy neoclassical style, a fine set of older statues of the Four Evangelists, mounted on two side altars, survives from earlier colonial times.

side altar with older statuary
The four—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—are seated on wooden thrones, each with an identifying inscription and their appropriate symbol from the Tetramorph, and holding his gospel. 
   Although somewhat worn, they are in good enough condition so that we can appreciate their expressive sculptural values and fine   polychrome and estofado finish.
St. Matthew with his man/cherub                                 St. Mark with his lion

St Luke, missing the bull                                     St John with the eagle
Possibly survivors from an earlier baroque altarpiece now lost, these statues are the sole colonial art works now remaining in the church.

The atrium cross
The Crosses
Two other colonial items of interest in Tehuiloyucan are its carved stone crosses. 
   Hewn from black basalt, the atrium cross is now raised in an arcaded kiosk in front of the gateway. the striking rectangular cross is carved on the front with bas reliefs of classic Passion symbols, regularly spaced between the raised borders and currently crudely outlined in white paint. 
   A Face of Christ covers the axis, lightly portrayed with modest side locks and a crowned brow below a fan of three Nails. The recessed eyes may once have held inlays. Instruments like a Hammer, Pincers, Lantern, Jug an, unusually, a pair of Tunics are evenly laid out along the arms.
   One unusual relief is a cowled or helmeted figure on the shaft with raised arms, flared skirt and embroidered costume, perhaps an archangel.

A second, smaller, basalt cross in the same style occupies a similar location on the main town plaza.
Check out our other Hidden Gems: Xichu de IndiosSan Felipe Sultepec; San Pablo Malacatepec;  OcoxochitepecMixquiahualaCherán;
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by Diana Roberts and ELTB

Monday, January 21, 2019

Hidden Gems. San Francisco Jalacingo

Following our previous post we report on another colonial gem in the state of Veracruz:

Located in a mountainous region of Veracruz just across the state line from Puebla, Jalacingo was reputedly founded as early as 1545 by Fray Francisco del Toral, the famous Franciscan bishop of Yucatán.  
   His original mission church of San Francisco was until recently abandoned and in ruins. However, the modest church front retains an elegant carved doorway of unusual quality.
Classical, layered pilasters of excellent workmanship flank the rounded doorway, carved with bold reliefs of urns and foliage.
floral urn;                                          two or three? headed serpent 
Remarkably, the molded doorframe arches high above the enclosing pilasters, and is carved all around with a vine motif that springs from a two headed serpent at the base.  
   Unlike many other early vine reliefs that feature winding stems with flowers, grapes and birds, this sterner version deploys a single straight stem, sinuously wrapped with outsize acanthus like leaves skilfully sculpted in the round—indicating a quite sophisticated hand.

The doorway and facade are also unusual in that no Franciscan symbols or insignia appear.  Traces of blue paint suggest that the entire doorway was brightly colored at one time.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
color images © Niccolò Brooker, who brought this "hidden gem" to our attention.

Check out our other recent posts on Mexican colonial facades and doorways of note: 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Hidden Gems. San Juan Acultzingo

Veracruz is a state not usually noted for its early colonial architecture, one reason why this is our first feature on the region.
   Tucked into a steep valley between Tehuacán and Orizaba, San Juan Acultzingo may boast the oldest and most unusual carved reliefs of any in Veracruz State. 
After an earthquake in the early 1970s, the nave was gutted and most of the colonial artifacts stolen. The church front too has been altered over time, most recently with the addition of an unsightly clock tower.
Although also reconfigured at various points—the surmounting alfiz and its sculpted spandrels are later additions—the west porch retains its extraordinary elevated 16th century doorway.
Highly stylized relief foliage, carved in flat tequitqui fashion, rings the outer face (archivolt) of the archway, each motif linked by a zigzag ladder.  Tall plant reliefs also adorn the broad jambs.
But the most unusual features of this doorway are the outsized stone spirals that line the inner face (intrados) of the arch and continue down the inner jambs of the portal. 
  The spirals are carved with a long inscription in Latin–no doubt a religious invocation—designed to frame spiritually as well as physically the entry to the early church.
   (Unfortunately so many of the letters have eroded that the meaning of this winding text is not legible, although it might be deciphered by an expert from the few remaining passages.)
13 Rabbit;                                                                         One Reed;
In addition, the base reliefs on either side of the doorframe together comprise a pictorial Aztec date that reads 13 Rabbit - I Reed; or 1570/71 in our calendar, which probably marks the foundation or initial construction date of the church.
Another early feature at San Juan Acultzingo is the handsome, arcaded gateway to the large walled atrium, incorporating four sturdy columns which also may date from the early years.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy © Niccolo Brooker and ELTB

Anales del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. 1952 
Please view our other recent posts on Mexican colonial facades and doorways of note: 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Another "drowned" church: Santo Tomás de Los Plátanos

Located in a subtropical valley in western Mexico State, beyond the Valle de Bravo and close to the Michoacán border, Santo Tomás was founded on the order of the celebrated Bishop Vasco de Quiroga in the 1550's. 
    In accordance with the bishop’s desire to assign specialized activities to newly established mission towns, he designated Santo Tomás as a producer of bananas, hence the suffix: de Los Plátanos.
Since the 1950s, however, the old village and its church were inundated by the lake that rose behind the nearby dam of Presa Santa Bárbara, and the inhabitants were removed to the new community of Nuevo Santo Tomás de Los Plátanos.
Through the effect of the lake waters, today the village buildings and most of the church have disappeared and largely disintegrated, leaving only the tower and its cupola showing above the surface.
Even when the waters on occasion recede, the massive quantity of silt on the lake bottom hides whatever remains of the former nave.

see our earlier posts on Mexico's drowned churches: Jalapa del MarquésSan Juan de Las PerasQuechula; as well as others on El Bable.
text © 2019 Richard D, Perry. 
color images from the internet and courtesy of Niccolò Brooker 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Yucatán: the Three Kings of Tizimin

January 6th is celebrated throughout Mexico as El Día de Los Reyes, the festival of the Three Kings or Three Wise Men, which marks Epiphany and the traditional climax to the Christmas season 

Images of the Three Kings ­ Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar ­ are on display in churches throughout Mexico.
   Tizimín, in northern Yucatán, is especially famous for its festival of Los Santos Reyes, when the faithful form long lines to enter the vast church, to ritually brush the religious images with fresh green branches sold outside.

Almost lifesize images of the richly robed Three Kings are housed in an elegant neo-Gothic showcases inside the church.
Gaspar, Melchor & Baltazar.  (© Niccolo Brooker)

text © 2019 Richard D. Perry

Friday, January 4, 2019

Drowned churches:San Antonio de Padilla

San Antonio de Padilla was founded in 1749 by José de Escandón, the Count of Sierra Gorda and a ruthless Spanish colonizer who was the founder and first governor of the large gulf colony of Nuevo Santander (including much of present day Tamaulipas). The town was named for Maria Padilla, the wife of Juan Francisco de Güemes, then the viceroy of New Spain.
   Padilla is where the Mexican liberator and Emperor Agustín de Iturbide was executed by a firing squad. 
In 1970 the town and its church of San Antonio were inundated by the waters of a new dam, the Presa Vicente Guerrero. Inhabitants were removed to the new town of Nueva Padilla, established beside the lake.
   The deteriorating shells of the abandoned 18th century buildings can still be seen projecting above the lake surface.  
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
images from online sources
see our earlier posts on Mexico's drowned churches: Jalapa del MarquésSan Juan de Las PerasQuechula; as well as others on El Bable.