In an earlier post we looked at the superb carved cross in the atrium at Mapethé. Here we turn our attention to the opulent baroque altarpieces inside the church.
The first church here was founded around 1540 or 1545 although the building took many years to complete. In 1621 a hurricane destroyed half of the roof of the chapel leaving the church abandoned and in ruins.
In 1728 permission was obtained from the viceroy, Juan Vázquez de Acuña and Bejarano, 1st Marquis of Casafuerte for the construction of a new one to replace the original church.
On the lintel of the archway that leads to the altarpiece, the date is engraved: May 26, 1737; with the name of the master builder Gregorio Durán. In 1739 the main arches for the vaults were closed, and by 1744 the architect Nicolás de la Cruz took charge.
Inside there are five wooden altarpieces in late baroque style, a project of the bachelor Antonio Fuentes de León, the first priest, from 1751,
The main altarpiece was finished gilding on May 15, 1765, and by 1773 the two side altarpieces nearest the presbytery had been completed.
Between 1775 and 1778 two other altarpieces were added. All were completed by 1792.
THE MAIN ALTARPIECE, is the most elaborate and opulent of the set. Two pairs of complex estipite columns frame the figures: reliefs and sculptures of saints, virgins and masks; the only paintings being smaller lateral oval paintings with representations of little angels holding crosses, blankets with Latin inscriptions.
An inscription at the bottom contains the date of completion of the altarpiece: May 15, 1775.
The other altarpieces have similar characteristics to the main altarpiece, such as the paired columns and oval pictures of angels, but the designs feature paintings rather than sculpture.
On the left side of the nave are the altarpieces with scenes from the life of Christ (Man of Sorrows) and the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows respectively.
On the right side of the nave are the retablos of THE VIRGIN OF GUADALUPE; AND another dedicated TO SANTA ROSALÍA with painted scenes from the life of the saint.
Below the choir area on the left side of the nave is the canvas of Las Animas whose main image is the Virgen del Carmen, crowned by five cherubs and surrounded by a red curtain. She gestures from the center of the scene, down towards the souls in purgatory engulfed in flames.
The Virgin is flanked by several saints notably Saint John the baptist; St. Joseph, San Nicolás de Tolentino; and St. Francis of Assisi.
In 1964 a fire caused by the candles damaged much of this altarpiece. Restoration work on the painting of Las Ánimas was carried out during the seasons of July 1997, August 1998 and August 2000.
Since the 1980s, this building and its contents has become an ideal location for training and research on conservation and restoration, led by the Manuel del Castillo Negrete National Conservation, Restoration and Museography School (ENCRyM) of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH)
text © 2021 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker & Benjamin Arredondo