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: 

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