Thursday, March 26, 2020

Chiapas. Forgotten missions of El Camino Real: San José Coneta

The most original and the best preserved of the ruined Camino Real missions, San José Coneta stands alone on a remote ranch close to the Guatemalan border. Founded in the late 1500s, the church dates from the next century, the facade being the final addition. Coneta was depopulated around 1800, and when John Lloyd Stephens visited in 1839 the church roof had already fallen and the mission was in an advanced state of abandonment.While its once grand convento now lies in ruins, the church, although roofless, remains in place.
Like Escuintenango, Coneta has a single nave with a polygonal apse. The walls and church front are of roughly cut stonework set in a matrix of lime mortar containing snail shells - a sturdy mix that may account for its good condition. The fallen vaulting was also of stone, a rarity among pueblo-de-indio churches in Chiapas. 
Coneta, the roofless sanctuary and polygonal apse

The spectacular west front is preserved virtually intact - the result of timely restorative work some years ago and again recently. Its unusual design and highly original decoration are remarkable for provincial Chiapas, and perhaps unique in Mexico. The broad facade rises in five tiers to its crowning gable. 
   Amazingly, much of the stucco facing has survived the centuries in good condition, retaining its intricate decorative designs - an intriguing blend of folk Plateresque, mudéjar and even Mayan motifs.
The central doorway, whose stepped frame is incised with angels, crosses and maize plants, retains traces of its original colors and painted decoration. It is flanked by blind arcades enclosing elongated niches—a regional peculiarity
Three shallow tiers rise overhead featuring rows of little ornamental niches separated by a variety of stubby pilasters in what might be termed a "folk estipíte" style - differing in detail on each level. A bulls-eye window above the doorway is surmounted by a succession of distinctive decorative niches on each level, culminating in a large bell opening on the espadaña. 
   The headless statue of the patron, St Joseph, occupies a larger niche on the fourth tier.
text and images © 1993 & 2020 Richard D. Perry 

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