Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Salamanca: La Nativitas crosses

In previous posts we looked at some so-called "syndesmos" crosses, those designed to symbolize the physical body of Christ, carved with head, hands and feet.  
Here we describe another example.
La Nativitas in 1994
Located in an outlying workaday barrio on the east side of the industrial city of Salamanca, Guanajuato, the the tiny, 18th century chapel of La Nativitas is a folk baroque gem.
La Nativitas, the gable in 1994
The sculpted facade is framed by geometrical estipite pilasters and crowned by a scalloped, rounded gable. Boldly carved shells and spiraling foliage adorn the openings and niches. Archaic statues of the Virgin of the Assumption and her aged parents Joachim and Anna occupy the upper niches.

Until fairly recently a striking stone cross, thought to be the original atrium cross, topped the gable, moved there in the last century when the atrium was reduced in size. Bordered by serrated edges like other regional crosses—notably in Queretaro—the cross is carved with reliefs of the Instruments of the Passion.
One special feature of this cross is its framing as the symbolic body of Christ. A detailed relief of Christ’s head, complete with crown of thorns , wavy hair and beard, is flanked by outstretched, stigmatized hands on either arm, with a pair of crossed feet on the lower shaft.
More recently the cross was moved from the gable to a place atop the adjacent tower, replaced by a scarred statue of St Michael.
   A Calvary cross relief, also serrated or carved with "tree stubs," is mounted above the sculpted north doorway of the chapel.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
b/w images © 1994 by the author.  color photography by Niccolo Brooker and Benjamín Arredondo

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Tepoztlan: the baptismal fonts

In previous posts we have described the carved stone crosses at Natividad Tepoztlán. In this post we look at its carved stone fonts.
The present baptismal font in the church, sunk in a circular recess in the nave as we saw at nearby Cuernavaca cathedral, probably dates from the 1600s or later, and is carved in a conventional style with a fluted, shell like basin set on a square base.
As at Cuernavaca however, a second font at Tepoztlán, possibly earlier, is of greater interest. Set out by the west front of the church it too features a fluted basin set on a square base, but is also carved with relief medallions displaying the Dominican fleur-de-lis cross (fashioned in the manner of the convento murals) as well as the ancient place glyph of Tepoztlán: A hill cleft by a copper axe.
text and images ©1987 and 2019 by Richard D. Perry

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Crosses of Acuamanala

Continuing with our occasional series on the early stone crosses of Tlaxcala, we travel to Acuamanala.
With nearby Panotla, Acuamanala boasts one of the most ornate of Tlaxcala's baroque church fronts, densely carved in painted stucco with estípite columns and pilasters laced with rocaille decoration and lambrequin pendants.
Between the columns, elaborate niche pilasters with extravagantly scrolled outlines are bedecked with shells and heraldic relief medallions, and house larger than life size statues of saints in windblown robes. A tiny bust of the Virgin Mary reposes in an irregular cartouche above the doorway.
The Crosses
Set on a high, hollow base just outside the ornate atrium gateway, the unusual atrium cross is quite distinct from others in the area and presents several features of interest.

Heavily inscribed at the foot with dates in the 1600s, the cross features deep, regular grooves along the arms and shaft terminate in angel heads carved in high relief. The cruder Face at the crossing is missing its nose—possibly once an inlay.
Holes drilled above the Face and on the lower shaft, are designed to receive wooden or metal Spikes. The distinctive, scrolled and pointed finials, derived from a fleur-de-lis motif, are reminiscent of some in the Valley of Mexico.
Two other crosses stand in the corners of the atrium: one with assorted Passion symbols and relief figures, and the other boldly carved with vines.
text and graphic © 2019 Richard D. Perry
cross photographs courtesy of Niccolò Brooker
see our post on the cross of Santa Cruz Tlaxcala

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Zacatelco: the carved baptismal font

In a previous post we looked at the church of Santa Inés Zacatelco and its beautiful gilded main altarpiece. Here we draw attention to the carved stone baptismal font—a remnant from the original 16th century Franciscan mission here.
Like many other early Franciscan fonts the monolithic basin is carved with stylized reliefs of bleeding Wounds, except that in this instance there are only three in each frame instead of the five that are customary—references to the Five Wounds of Christ and the Stigmatization of St Francis.

Other examples of early stone carving at Zacatelco are the figure of patron St. Agnes in the facade, the keystone relief of The Archangel Michael above the west entry, and this statue of a crowned female figure in a niche beside the church.
text and images © 2019 Richard D. Perry
Other Tlaxcalan baptismal fonts

Monday, April 8, 2019

San Pedro Jácuaro: the atrium cross

We continue our series on Michoacán crosses of note with a description of the atrium cross at San Pedro Jácuaro.
San Pedro Jácuaro
This country church, formerly a Franciscan mission, features an early carved doorway in classic 16th century tequitqui style with spiky, looping acanthus like foliage.
© Niccolo Brooker
The Atrium Cross
This is an extraordinarily complex and unusual octagonal cross, with numerous inscriptions. Elongated Passion symbols and other motifs are carved into all its facets in an almost geometric fashion.
front;                                                   reverse
On the front, a woven Crown of Thorns motif is carved in bold relief at crossing and may once have framed an inset obsidian disk—as seen at Ciudad Hidalgo and San Felipe de los Alzate.
   An especially interesting feature of the cross is its four rosettes placed around the Crown. Composed of a center circle with four outer petals, this pattern, as set here on all four directions, may represent the prehispanic view of the cosmos, with special significance to the stonecarver and his native viewers.
   Heart shaped slots are cut into the outer arms, possibly to house more obsidian inserts—now also missing. Simplified, eight-petaled fleur-de-lis finials, incised with crosses on the bulging terminals, cap both arms and surmount the head.
   Passion Instruments crowd into the narrow front facet of the tall shaft and include a Hand, a Scourge, the Host, a Rooster atop the Column and a partially effaced profile Head—probably representing Judas. A third heart-shaped recess in the center may also have contained an obsidian plug that, in tandem with the other two, suggests Wounds.
© Niccolo Brooker
The octagonal shaft is chamfered to become rectangular in its lower section, where a large armorial shield bears a relief of the Franciscan insignia of the Stigmata, again with round recesses in the Wounds.
The cross is set on a pyramidal base bearing a complex Spanish inscription on all four sides and carved with a Skull and parallel Bones on the front.

The Reverse
The reverse of the Jácuaro cross is even more surprising. Its crosspiece is inscribed with the words “Jesus Christ” on either side of a monogram of Mary. A Chalice with the emerging Host is squeezed into the narrow center facet of the neck, flanked by the letters I H S.
   In the center panels a Corn stalk, Scourge and a slender relief cross continue down the shaft flanked by other Passion symbols on the adjacent facets. A Crown with a large disk like recess like that on the front relief, except more worn, appears unconventionally near the foot.
An enigmatic relief on the third facet of the cross resembles a pre hispanic head in profile with ear spools and a feathered headdress. On the fourth face, a box like motif with a cross may indicate Christ’s tomb, possibly derived from the Mass of St. Gregory imagery
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry.
graphics and color images by the author except where noted
Check out our earlier posts on exceptional Michoacán crosses: UruapanSan FelipeHuaniqueo;  AngahuanZacánTarecuatoTlacolula;  Santiago Charapan;

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Jilotépec: The Doendo Cross

Located in the northwestern reaches of Mexico State, Jilotépec was an important indigenous Otomí center in ancient times. The 17th century church of San Pedro and San Pablo is noted for its late baroque gilded retablo as well as fine stone carving, in particular its decorative archways and monolithic font dating from the early Franciscan years.
Jilotepec, the baptismal font
Also several distinctive carved stone crosses are found here, including the original atrium cross (left) dating mostly from the 16th century, and a smaller but more decorative cross (right) located in the cloister patio beside the church.
But perhaps the most interesting one, and the subject of this post is the so-called Cross of Doendó. Reputedly the oldest Mexican standing cross in its original location, this elevated Calvary cross, or humilladero, is mounted at a crossroads almost a kilometer from the church. 
   Its Otomi name signifies “built over stone” and in fact, a large number of stone objects and offerings were found buried at the base of the cross—evidence that the site remained sacred to both religions during the early colonial period.
While the arms are rectangular in section, the shaft and neck are round or oval in section. The cross is now severely eroded, to the point where details of many remaining reliefs are almost undistinguishable. The only clearly identifiable motif is the Crown at the crossing, enclosing a worn Face of Christ. Wounds are barely apparent on the arms, which terminate in battered fleur-de-lys finials.
An enormous stepped base supports the cross, with relief medallions of the Stigmata prominently carved into its upper stage. A large, square recess below provides a place for offerings. 
text and pictures © 2019 Richard D. Perry