Monday, April 20, 2020

Oaxaca. Tlacochahuaya: the church front

As planned, this is the first of a series of posts on the picturesque church of San Gerónimo Tlacochahuaya, among the most lavishly decorated of the churches in the Valley of Oaxaca. 
   Nestled in rolling countryside only 20 kms from downtown Oaxaca, Tlacochahuaya was nevertheless quite remote in early colonial times. In 1558, Fray Jordán de Santa Catalina, a Dominican ascetic, chose this spot as a retreat for prayer and meditation, dedicating it to St. Jerome, the patron saint of hermits and penitents. 
    In the late 17th and early 18th centuries the spartan 16th century ermita was transformed into a substantial monastery to also serve the nearby Zapotec communities.  
 We first look at the facade. As noted, the church is the outstanding example of folk baroque architecture and decoration in the region. Massive towers support squat belfries adorned with fluted pilasters, undulating pediments and high tiled cupolas sprouting feathery wrought-iron crosses.
   Despite its imposing scale, the salmon colored stucco front retains a folk-like quality, with plain scrolls, uneven cornices and simple half columns. And faded patches of blue and red paint reveal that the facade was formerly boldly accented in bright colors, which it would be a delight to identify and restore. 
Fortunately most of original stone statues remain in place. These include Saints Dominic, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine and Francis, along with The Virgin Mary. God the father and archangels occupy the gable niches.

Most conspicuous is the figure of the patron St Jerome in the niche above the doorway. He kneels in penance before the crucifix, one hand clutching a rock and the other resting on a skull. The bearded saint strains hear the word of God emanating from the horn beside his left ear.
text & images © 2007 & 2020 Richard D. Perry


  1. As most churches in the Tlacolula Valley, Tlacochuahaya is beautiful. Something interesting about its facade is that the choir window has been identified as an open chapel of the simpler, tribune-like type that were built in Peru and Bolivia.

  2. Doubtful. This is a late colonial facade, long past the era of evangelization. In any event no open chapels are located in the church facade in Mexico. Who made this identification?

    1. The first one to identify it as such was Rafael García Granados, along with a similar tribune in Tepecoacuilco and one in the later church of Real del Monte. This broader definition of what constitutes an open chapel has recently been used to describe the front tribunes of some XVII century churches in Peru.

    2. He even refers to this image of an open air mass in El Escorial as an example of their possible use.