Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Guerrero. Pilcaya

 We rarely feature colonial monuments in the state of Guerrero, in part because of their relative scarcity.  But here we look at the colonial town of Pilcaya. The parish church there has as its patron the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (La Purísima)  

A primitive visita, a dependency of distant Cuernavaca, was established here by the Franciscans in the 1530s, but was replaced by the present church in the mid 1600s. 

The substantial single nave church is roofed by domed vaults although the tower was added in the twentieth century. The front was remodeled in neoclassical fashion with the foliated doorway framed with paired Doric columns and pilasters above. 

The south porch is of greater visual interest, presenting an ogee arched doorway with decoration and relief medallions.

The apse dates from c. 1600,  and contains three highly ornate gilded altarpieces in late Baroque estípite style from the late 1700s.

The main altarpiece is dedicated to image of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception with the patronal figure of  La Purísima standing in the upper niche.

On the left side is the retablo of the Holy Trinity. A Oaxacan style figure of the Trinity occupies the center niche flanked by statues of St Peter and St Paul. 

On the Right is the retablo of San Miguel Arcángel, patron saint of one of the founding barrios of the town. The patron again occupies the center niche while other archangels stand on either side.

text © 2021 Richard D. Perry

color images by Niccolo Brooker and from online sources

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Michoacán. Cheranástico

Off the track in Michoacán.

Readers of this blog may be familiar with our accounts of the indigenous (purépecha) communities of the Sierra Tarasca in western Michoacán.
   In this post we look briefly at the village of Cherán Atzicuirín, aka Cheranástico, located just northwest of the noted indigenous town of Cherán.
   Cheranástico enjoys a vibrant native culture and traditions. The settlement includes this 17th century church of La Asunción, formerly a visita of the mission at Paracho.
The colorful folk baroque facade, follows certain regional features, notably a (once) separate bell tower, and the use of rosettes and shell reliefs above the doorway, which is framed by ornamental candelabra style columns, here capped by carved pinnacles. 

Other features include the curved gable pierced by framed openings and a niche housing a venerable blue robed statue of the Virgin Mary, the patron of the church.
a cut stone cross is mounted in front of the church door.
text © 2021 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker 

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Oaxaca. San Francisco Huehuetlan

Although located in Dominican Oaxaca, albeit close to the Puebla line, San Francisco Huehuetlan, as the name indicates was originally a Franciscan foundation, subject to Huatlatlauca — also once Franciscan but later ceded to the Augustinians.

The 17th century church presents an unfinished look, its west doorway framed by plain paired half columns without capitals.

The square apse of the church may be the earliest part of the building, vaulted by a tiled dome.

The long nave, roofed by wooden beams and currently sheet metal, is home to a variety of baroque altarpieces in good condition.

The retablo mayor is the most conventional, its outer pavilions framed in Oaxacan style by pairs of gilded spiral columns ( the center section is later) which enclose shell niches containing some original statuary:

Two smaller retablos, fashioned in late baroque “medallion” style with undulating outer frames and abundant scrolled relief ornament, face each other across the nave, in front of the sanctuary.
   These are dedicated to El Rosario and Our Lady of the Apocalypse, and date from the Dominican years.
Other gilded altars from the same era line the nave— altogether a treasury of late colonial artworks.
text © 2022  Richard D. Perry
color photography courtesy of Niccolo Brooker

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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Oaxaca. Santiago Tilantongo

Today much reduced and far from the highway, Tilantongo was a leading Mixtec kingdom and populous religious center before the arrival of the Spaniards. The Dominicans recognized its pre-eminence and established an important mission here in the mid 1550s—as a visita of the great priory of Yanhuitlan. 
Picturesquely perched on a ridge top, the large cruciform church has been since been significantly remodeled, although the austere original facade largely survives. 
Possibly a replica of the original Yanhuitlan front, the stone facade is also recessed between uneven but massive tower bases that support brick bell towers. Unmatched domes cap each tower while a larger dome soars above the crossing.

The elevated, plain church doorway is flanked by pairs of slender Corinthian columns, projecting a classical harmony in the Dominican tradition, although no sculpture niches stand between them. 
© N.Brooker
The sole sculpture is a folkloric relief of Santiago Matamoros of later origin overhead. Several fragments of Mixtec carving remain lodged in the church walls.
© N.Brooker
Although of later vintage, the interior continues the theme of classical sobriety. Beside domed vaults and running cornices, the domed octagonal crossing rises high above the sparsely furnished nave and transepts. 
© N.Brooker
A magnificent 16th or early 17th century painted relief of Santiago, with gilded accents—probably the centerpiece of an earlier altarpiece, —rests near the west entrance.
text © 2021 Richard D Perry
color images courtesy of N. Brooker and online sources

Aficionados may be interested in a beautiful modern house currently for rent in a select suburb of Oaxaca City. For long term rental only.
Contact the owner at:

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Oaxaca. La Compañía

The history of the Jesuits in Oaxaca has been a tumultuous one of conflicts with other religious orders, property disputes and seizures, and frequent earthquakes. 

The priory of La Compañía, with its rambling precincts, has occupied its present city site since 1579. On account of several destructive temblors, the church itself only dates from the 1760s—just a few years before the expulsion of the Order from Mexico in 1767. 

The Facade

Facing east, the church front deftly combines elements from many styles, lending it a complex air of sophistication. Classical, Plateresque and baroque details contribute to the mix, as do the variety of openings, niches and outsize relief medallions that animate the intervening spaces. 

From the polygonal corner buttresses—intended as tower bases although no towers were added—the facade bulges outward and upward, outlined by giant candelabra 3/4 columns set on tall, decorative pedestals. Overhead, stepped scrolls lean inward to the pedimented gable which is pierced by triple arched openings. 

The convex north portal echoes the facade, enlivened by fluted Ionic half-columns, flowering urns set at an angle on the corners, and a battlemented parapet overhead. Above the sinuous, Moorish inspired lobed doorway, serpentine swags flank an octagonal monogram of the Virgin. 

The Main Retablo

While side chapels and niches lend interest to the dim and cavernous nave, the principal focus of the church interior is on the imposing altarpiece filling the apse. 

Colored in faded red and gold, the retablo is framed in a confident Churrigueresque style, with powerfully projecting estípites. Although its author is unrecorded, the altarpiece may be based on a design by Felipe de Ureña, the architect of the nearby church of San Francisco, who is also thought to have worked here. 

Flanked by statues of St. Joachim and St. Anne, the entire center pavilion takes the unexpected form of a giant recessed archway. Possibly containing other sculptures at one time, currently it is home to a single image of La Purísima, to whom the church is dedicated.  Ignatius Loyola stands at the top of the retablo, clutching a copy of his Spiritual Exercises. 

La Casa Fuerte

The Convento

Originally, the Jesuit convento and seminary extended south along Calle Flores Magón from La Compañía. Much of the vast complex has now been converted into storefronts and apartments, including the down-at-heel main patio which retains part of its original arcading.         However, the block long exterior wall facing the market remains, its formidable ashlar stonework punctuated by giant pilasters, amply justifying the building’s popular name of La Casa Fuerte.

Of its four patios only the smallest one, beside the church, now belongs to the Jesuit fathers. This intimate cloister, currently under restoration, is graced by a fine, Moorish inspired, arched inner doorway, framed much like the north portal of the church. The precinct also houses an art restoration workshop of national repute. 

text © 2005/2021 Richard D Perry

photography by the author.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Puebla. Izúcar de Matamoros,

Named for the militant saint Santiago Matamoros, this town’s best known colonial monument is the old Dominican convento of Santo Domingo.

The 18th century parish church, or Santuario of Santiago Apostol is another. Built in the later 1700s, it is ornamented and furnished in the prevailing barroco estípite style with Pueblan accents.

The first feature of note is the splendid western triple gateway, an eye-catching assemblage of angular columns, broken pediments and spiny pinnacles, interposed with now empty shell niches.

The church facade is divided by elongated pilasters, and distinguished by the fantastic bell tower, adorned with complex spiral columns and passages of zigzag poblano tilework.

The church interior was damaged during the 2017 earthquake when the cupola above the apse collapsed. The remaining colonial art works, fortunately undamaged, are two late baroque gilded altarpieces set in the shallow transepts of the Santuario.

Our Lady of Sorrows altarpiece

One is dedicated to our Lady of Sorrows and the other appears to be to St Christopher, whose mutilated statue stands prominently in the center niche.

Both retablos feature painted panels of female saints and martyrs framed by ornate estípite pilasters. and swirling rocaille relief.

As noted, the church sustained considerable damage in the earthquake of 2017. Work of reconstruction and restoration is under way.

text © 2021 Richard D. Perry

images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker, who brought this monument to our renewed attention, and online sources

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Puebla. San Diego Huejotzingo

In a previous post we looked at two side altars in the chapel of San Diego Huejotzingo, Here we take a broader view of the chapel and its other features of interest.
We begin with the eclectic chapel front, which although refaced in faux brickwork, retains its generous Mannerist doorframe and in the gable ring a venerable, battered statue of Virgin and child, and above that, a worn statue of the titular saint.

A blind arcade on the north side of the church frames a large relief of St Francis, receiving the Stigmata?
But the church interior holds the finest pieces, notably the retablos and the spectacularly roofed sacristy.
   As noted, we have already described the side altars; here we look at the expansive main altarpiece—a worthy companion to its 16th century counterpart at San Miguel Huejotzingo. Framed with spiral columns, this 17th century retablo showcases canvases illustrating scenes from the life and miracles of San Diego de Alcalá; his statue looks out from the upper middle niche.
Death of St Joseph;             Coronation of the Virgin
Two large paintings of a later date flank the main altarpiece to either side. One depicts the coronation of the Virgin and the other what appears to be the Death of Joseph.
Aside from the previously mentioned side altars, another, fashioned in late baroque estípite style stands out: that devoted to the Immaculate Conception. The statue of the Virgin is flanked by portraits of her parents Sts Joachim and Anne.

In front of the main retablo stands the original well around which the chapel was built. There is also an early stone font ringed by the Franciscan cord and and Isabelline "cannonballs."

Another treasure here is the church sacristy, roofed by an elegant mudéjar style wooden artesonado paneled ceiling dotted with star shaped bosses.

text © 2021 Richard D. Perry
color images © Niccolo Brooker and 
José Ignacio Lanzagorta