Saturday, October 31, 2020

Yucatan: the Motul Pulpit

For last in our current series of posts on Yucatán we take a detour to the town of Motul east of Mérida.
San Juan Bautista Motul was one of the larger, early Franciscan monasteries in Yucatán, built using quantities of cut stone from the abandoned Maya pyramids of neighboring Uci.
In the late 1580s, the convento was complete and the church was well under construction, and by 1600, the monastery was the active hub of a network of seven outlying visitas, rivaling its grand sister mission at Dzidzantún in importance.
Subsequent alterations drastically changed the original, plain facade of the church, with the notable addition of the colonnaded porch and baroque towers. The bold neoclassical entry is softened by delicate passages of sculptural relief including busts of John the Baptist—the patron saint of the church—and St. John the Evangelist set in the spandrels above the doorway.
One of the few furnishings to escape the later destruction visited by the 20th century Revolution is the remarkable old wooden pulpit. Dating from the late 1500s or early 1600s, it is octagonal in shape. 
Rediscovered disassembled, partial and whitewashed in a cell of the old convento after hurricane Isidoro in 2002, the decision was made to restore the pulpit as far as  possible by Fernando Garces Fierros of INAH.
St Thomas Aquinas;                                            St Francis and caryatids
Four shallow niches contain four relief figures of noted Dominicans and Franciscans, including St. Francis and St. Thomas Aquinas, carved in an archaic, Romanesque manner. This scheme diverges from the usual portrayal on pulpits of the four Evangelists.
caryatid detail
Carved from red cedar the surviving niches are separated by narrow panels projecting at an angle on the corners, carved with slender, crowned caryatids reminiscent of the retablos at Mani. During restoration, vivid color, including orange, blue and even gold, indicate that the pulpit was originally richly painted with a rich estofado finish. 
In 2012 the needed restoration and reconstruction was completed.
the pulpit as restored (detail) —INAH

text, graphics and color images © 2019 by Richard D. Perry

Look for our page on the unusual cloister murals of Motul.
See our earlier pages on pulpits of special note in Yucatán: ChemaxUmanCalkini

For more on the history and art of the Yucatan missions, consult our published guides. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Yucatán. Mérida Cathedral: the coat of arms

We wind up our current posts on Yucatan with pages on two colonial  artifacts of special interest. 

Merida cathedral

In an earlier post we discussed the lost main altarpiece of Mérida cathedral. In this post we look at the grand coat of arms emblazoned on the upper cathedral facade.

Although dating from colonial times, the present configuration of this escutcheon shows later changes, notably the presence of the Mexican national symbol of the eagle atop a cactus in the central shield, a modification made following the Mexican Revolution.
   Otherwise it remains as it was, with the date 1599—marking the completion of the building, as well as the original crown and the chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece closely associated with the Spanish monarchy.
Possible reconstruction of original escutcheon with the imperial arms of Phillip lll of Spain. (courtesy Miguel Bretos)

text and graphic © 2020 Richard D Perry
For more on the history and art of the Yucatan missions, consult our published guides. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Yucatán. San Pedro Samahil

The church at San Pedro Samahil is an unusual sight on the Hunucmá loop west of Merida. Fronting the remains of a rustic 16th century visita of nearby Uman, the wide aisled church is set within an elaborate walled atrium. 

 The long nave, capped by crenellated parapets leads to a raised sanctuary and side rooms–—formerly the old open chapel of the visita mission.

The main attraction of this 19th century church is its elegant neo-classical facade, a charming and quite sophisticated combination of Italianate lines with added baroque detail.
    Substantial domed bell towers, unusual for churches of this size in Yucatan, surmount the church front.
Pairs of freestanding Ionic columns support the outlying porch which frames the plain arched doorway, flanked by decorative "Ionic" pilasters spaced across the facade.
   Delicate interior colonnades lighten the nave, lending contrast to the heavy vaulted sanctuary—the former open chapel. A painted stone font in the nave, carved with the knotted cord, mutely reminds us of the mission’s Franciscan origins. (pictures to come)
Unusually, battered colonial statues, some headless, stand atop the entry gateposts.
text © 2002 & 2020 Richard D. Perry
images by the author

For more on the history and art of the Yucatan missions, consult our published guides. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Yucatan. Santiago de Mérida

We continue our survey of Barrio chapels in the City of Mérida with a visit to the church of Santiago in this attractive eponymous neighborhood.
This church was completed in 1637, although little now remains to remind us of the original structure except for the modest sanctuary and the dated inscription placed above the entry. 

The later nave is capped by a decorative, wave-like parapets. The imposing 19th century front features a baroque doorway and a rather overwrought espadaña in three tiers with outsize pinnacles.
Long arcades resting on plain stone columns divide the the side aisles from the nave which is covered like nearby San Juan with a modified log ceiling. 
An austere white and gold retablo in broadly neoclassical style occupies the sanctuary.

text © 2007 & 2020 Richard D. Perry
photography by the author and from online sources

For more on the history and art of the Yucatan missions, consult our published guides. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Yucatán. San Juan Bautista de Merida.

The Mérida barrio chapel of San Juan Bautista, with its multi-tiered towers, recessed doorway and shell archways, is a more modest version of nearby iconic city church of San Cristóbal.
   Originally an ermita chapel marking the southern entry to the colonial city, the church was repeatedly enlarged during the colonial period and beyond. Its precincts were the haunt of the sanjuanistas, a group of early 19th century reformers and patriots.
The elegant proportions of the church and its baroque front are shown off to advantage by the pleasant open site. 
    The imposing facade is divided top to bottom by layered half columns and adorned with carved stucco ornament in the undulating gable to include rampant lion reliefs and a statue of the eponymous saint.
The nave is roofed by a high rollizo or log ceiling in the classic Yucatan style, while in the apse the unusual neo-Gothic retablo—one of the few altarpieces to survive the depredations of the Revolution—was originally fitted with mechanical pulleys designed to cover and reveal the santos mounted in its niches.

text © 2002 & 2020 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and from online sources
For more on the history and art of the Yucatan missions, consult our published guides. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Yucatan. Natividad Ucú

We return to Yucatán to continue our posts on colonial churches in that region.
A few miles west of the city of Mérida, in the little village of Ucú, stands the little church of The Nativity. Located on an open, slightly raised site, probably a former Maya temple platform, Ucú was originally a visita of the church of Santiago in Mérida. 
   The church is conspicuous for its (currently) white stucco facade and pretty espadaña. Although these features, as well as much of the nave, were later additions, the domed chancel and baptistry were, in all likelihood, part of the original 16th century visita mission.
The Main Altarpiece
Inside the church at its east end stands Ucú's principal attraction: the late 17th century altarpiece.
  During recent restoration, it was discovered that the lower part of the retablo was gilded beneath a surface layer of blue paint, thought to have been hastily added during the turmoil of the Revolution to protect the precious gold and silver leaf from Salvador Alvarado's advancing federal troops.
   Now the retablo has been entirely regilded, its dense filigree ornament gleaming brightly as of old. The retablo is skillfully executed, with ornate spiral columns resting on little atlantean figures.

Some of the figure sculptures remain, notably the Virgin of the Nativity herself, and San Luis Obispo, an earlier patron of the church, whose carved and gilded colonial statue has also been restored.
Another outstanding feature is the distinctive folk relief of the Holy Trinity at the apex of the retablo.
Although the original painted panels were missing from the altarpiece, six colorful new oil paintings were created in a compatible style by the local architect and painter Noemy Vallado Negroe, four depicting Nativity scenes and two with portraits of the Four Evangelists on the base panels.
text ©2005 & 2020 Richard D. Perry.
Special thanks to Charlotte Ekland, whose excellent color pictures, taken in December 2005, now adorn this updated page. Thank you again Charlotte!
For more on the history and art of the Yucatan missions, consult our published guides. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Puebla. Asuncion Tlatlauquitepec

We continue our survey of early colonial buildings in the rugged Sierra Norte de Puebla with a look at the conventual church of Asunción Tlatlauquitepec.
Founded by the Franciscans in 1531, the early convento of Santa María Tlatlauquitepec became the most important mission in the northern sierra region of Puebla. Construction of the church of Santa María de la Asunción was finished by 1693.
The refurbished facade shows paired columns flanking the doorway, while a broken segmented pediment frames the plain choir window, which is unusually flanked by two ocular openings.
A stone cross boldly carved with Passion symbols stands atop the crowning gable.
Despite its neoclassical makeover with arcades of fluted Doric columns supporting balustraded upper walks, the outstanding feature of the nave is the mudéjar style coffered beamed ceiling. 
Another recognizable remnant of the early mission is the monolithic baptismal font. 
The convento preserves its ample quadrangular two tier cloister with flattened arches on the lower level, doubling up on the second level.

text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
images by Niccolo Brooker and from online sources

Please review our other posts on the Sierra Norte churches: ChignahuapanIxtacamaxtitlan

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Puebla. San Cosme Ixtacamaxtitlan

Like most people we are partial to ruins, in our case remnant colonial churches across Mexico.
In this post we look at the picturesque roofless church of San Cosme on the outskirts of San Francisco Ixtacamaxtitlan in the state of Puebla near Chignahuapan in the Sierra Norte de Puebla.

Although undated, the church, a former Franciscan visita, was founded on a former prehispanic temple site and appears to have been built or enlarged in the late 16th or 17th century, with a narrow single nave and facade extending out from an earlier chancel or open chapel whose blocky structure still rises from the east end.

The church is essentially untouched since the loss of its roof. The facade is modest enough with a plain doorway, octagonal rose window and a steep gable that once framed a pitched, possibly thatched roof.

Despite long exposure to the elements, remnants of early murals still adorn the nave walls, portraying birds and foliage including the two-headed Habsburg Imperial eagle.

text © 2020 Richard D. Perry.
color images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker