Saturday, May 15, 2021

Chihuahua. Santa Maria de Cuevas.

In the coming weeks we look at colonial structures of interest from border states at either end of Mexico: Chihuahua in the north and Chiapas in the south.
   We start with posts on Chihuahua, focusing on a group of churches with painted wooden ceilings, a feature rare in Mexico outside western Michoacán.
First we consider the church of Santa Maria de Cuevas, a late Jesuit foundation in the Tarahumara region of Mexico.
The church dates from c. 1700 by an inscription. The rectangular front is distinguished by its singular Mannerist/baroque entry, emblazoned with the crowned monogram of Mary below the choir window. 
The plan consists of a long single nave with an octagonal apse.
whose signature feature is its painted beamed wooden ceilings, along the entire nave and over the underchoir as well as murals above the sanctuary arch and baptistry.
   The nave walls were also painted at one time, but are now largely whitewashed.

ceiling detail
The Nave
The eight painted divisions spanning the nave between the beams employ centrally placed Marian symbols set in diamond shaped frames or floating amid repetitive floral motifs; these include the sun, moon, star, a mirror, a fountain, a cypress tree, a lily and a rose.
A colorful frieze runs along the nave beneath the ceiling in which marian and Christic symbols are entwined in vines together with flowers, angels’ heads and songbirds.

The Sanctuary arch
On either side of the sanctuary arch angels uphold banners with Latin inscriptions that together, read “ all future generations will call me blessed” .
The Baptistry arch
Here two archangels gesture to a Christic monogram with an inscription referring to a Jesuit missionary.
The Choir.
Although in poor condition, the ceiling above the choir is decorated in similar fashion to the nave, with floral motifs but without obvious Marian symbolism.
Another art work of interest at Santa Maria de Cuevas is a painting by the noted Mexican artist Juan Correa, currently hung in the sacristy, illustrating a baptism scene with the Jesuit saint Francis Xavier.
Four Other churches.
Four other Jesuit churches in the region also show painted ceilings, mostly partial but in a similar vein, using distinctive native color sources.  We shall look at these in subsequent posts.

text © 2021 Richard D. Perry, with acknowledgment to Clara Bargellini
all color images © Niccolo Brooker except where noted.

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