Friday, July 2, 2021

Chiapas. San Felipe Ecatepec

Winding up our current series on Chiapas we visit the community of San Felipe Ecatepec.
   Located beside a sharp curve in the Pan American highway, this rustic mission town clings to the sheltering slopes of a wooded valley just west of San Cristóbal. Now virtually a barrio of the expanding city, it was a separate village in the colonial period. In 1625, the English Dominican Thomas Gage received a rousing welcome here: 
   "The whole village of St. Philip waited for us, both men and women, some presenting us nosegays . . . others dancing before us all along the street, which was strewn with herbs and orange leaves and adorned with many arches hung with garlands for us to ride under until we came to the church."
The Church
One of the first missions to be founded by the Dominican order, about 1550, San Felipe was later ceded to the Franciscans. The primitive adobe church was greatly expanded in the 1600s, when masonry buttresses strengthened the nave and tiles replaced the old thatched roof. During the same period, the narrow rubblestone sanctuary was added and the formidable stone facade erected.
facade detail
The plain exterior, with its mix of materials and uneven finish, proclaims the humble origins of the church, and the detailing of the facade and windows reinforces the feeling of an authentic pueblo-de-indios mission. Viewed from the walled forecourt, the west front is especially impressive. The facade rises in three tiers, culminating in a wide arcaded espadaña that towers above the nave behind.
graphic © Richard Perry
Elevated at the head of a steep flight of stone steps, the west porch dominates the main tier. Two massive wall buttresses, inset with niches, anchor the simple arched doorway like a medieval gateway. Flat pilasters, crudely incised with fluting and diaperwork, divide the two upper tiers and enclose a low, Romanesque style choir window and two larger side niches. Roughly formed volutes bracket the crowning espadaña, which is flanked by slender belfries with high, round domes that add even greater height to the facade. 
Inside the church, a broad plank ceiling with wooden tie beams spans the nave, abutting at the east end a triumphal sanctuary arch inset with niches. Beyond the archway lies the narrow squared apse, covered by an angular hipped roof. 
Several intriguing colonial furnishings enliven the rural simplicity of the spacious church interior. A large gilded altarpiece in provincial late baroque style, occupies the sanctuary. Restoration following the 2017 earthquake revealed its date : 1813. 
    The main altarpiece shows both Franciscan and Dominican emblems and portraits, including an original statue of the titular saint, St Philip of Jesus, in the center niche, and a contemporary image of the Virgin Mary.
The lateral retablo of San Antonio (Haydee Orea)
A pair of smaller late baroque retablos face each other across the nave. One, dedicated to St Anthony of Padua is elegantly framed by spiral columns, and crowned by a painting of the Mexican Trinity and the Franciscan crossed arms insignia.
    Other curiosities include a gaily painted wooden confessional and the monumental carved stone baptismal font placed just inside the entrance. 
text and graphic© 1995 & 2021 Richard D. Perry
color images as acknowledged and from online sources

For more on colonial Chiapas, consult our guidebook, available from Amazon

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