Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Yucatán. San Bartolome Opichen

We follow our series on eastern Yucatán* with a look at two early missions nearer to Mérida the colonial capital to the west.
   The rambling old mission of San Bartolomé at Opichen is an odd assemblage of incongruous elements.
The plan is that of a typical country mission, with a modest church attached to an earlier 'visita' chapel. 
At the east end, looms the high, domed sanctuary/with an unusual narrow bell tower rising above the north wall. This was undoubtedly the original open chapel of the mission, probably built towards the end of the 16th century. 
The nave was added to the west with substantial masonry walls, pierced with octagonal windows on the north side. 
The church has a steeply pitched gable indicating an original thatched roof, but is now covered with a tin roof set much lower than the original, revealing an inscribed plaque over the sanctuary, apparently dated 1830 (possibly 1630).
   There is no trace of the old open chapel arch however., only the ashlar frame of a small window cut into the wall below the plaque.
   This fact, together with the large chapel attached to the south side of the sanctuary with its carved doorway and upper belfry, suggests that the main nave was abandoned in the 19th century, with the sanctuary and side chapel modified to serve as the entire church. This is not uncommon in Yucatan, for example at Tinum and Piste and may indicate population movement or decline following independence.
decorative door jamb south side
Opichen is unusual for the appearance of fine masonry work incorporated into what was otherwise a modest village mission. In addition to the elegant carved inscription, there is a Doric colonnade of unknown purpose running east from the south east corner of the church.
Several beautifully carved capitals and pedestals with stone angels heads adorn the west porch, reminiscent of nearby Chocholá.
 These however, appear out-of-place, haphazardly added to the older fabric of the mission. The presence of these carving may even indicate a previous location.
   Parts of the church have been restored: re-pointed at the
corners with ashlar blocks which may have come from the nearby
Maya ruins at Oxkintok. 
   Nevertheless much of the mission remains in poor condition. The roof leaks, and vegetation grows from the cracks in the old chapel block
It is to be hoped that the ravages of time and neglect will be halted
before this curious monument falls into irreparable ruin.

text © 1984/2021 Richard D.Perry
images © by the author


Friday, October 22, 2021

Yucatán. Espita

As an addendum to our recent series on the churches of eastern Yucatán, another worthwhile detour  is to Espita, "Leaping Water," a charming colonial town located 14 kms west of Calotmul along a straight but narrow road. 

Espita was a vital frontier outpost during the later colonial years and into the 19th century. Local lore has it that, when suddenly coming under attack during the Caste War, the town was heroically defended by a force that was finally reduced to only fifteen, including several women dressed as soldiers. 

The imposing parish church of San José was completed in the late 1700s—one of the last to be erected during the colonial era in Yucatán. Its soaring west front is a handsome example of the late secular style of church architecture in Yucatan. The long single nave is braced by numerous buttresses.

As at Peto, the porch and choir window are framed by a large recessed arch ornamented with floral reliefs and set on giant pilasters. The carved relief of an angel is set high in the surmounting pediment, which is capped by a triangular stone parapet pierced with diamonds and rosettes. 

The most unusual feature of the facade is the vertical bands of stucco relief, depicting lions and stars, that extend to almost its full height.

Multi-tiered bell towers are capped by shallow domes masked by open parapets like miniature triumphal arches. The tower cornices were formerly tipped with ornamental "pineapple" pinnacles on each stage, most are now missing. 

A large patio with surrounding rooms lies to the north east of the church, while a two story arcaded former camarín adjoins the apse.

text © 2021 Richard D. Perry

images by the author and from online sources.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Hidalgo. chapel of St Bernard of Clairvaux

 Our attention was recently drawn to this little hilltop chapel of unknown date dedicated to St Bernard of Clairvaux—an unusual dedication in Mexico.. 

Located in northern Hidalgo state, near Zacualtipan, on a windswept knoll accessed by a steep stairway, we have no details on its history.

The arcaded portal of the chapel is surmounted by an archaic carved relief of the saint, holding his crozier and gesturing in benediction — one of the very few representations of him that we are aware of in Mexican sculpture.

text © 2021 Richard D. Perry

photography by Niccolo Brooker who brought the chapel to our notice.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Hidalgo. Ixmiquilpan: the Facade

The imposing west front of the priory church at Ixmiquilpan is one of a broad series of classic, Augustinian Renaissance
Plateresque facades.  
    Based on the refined front at Acolmantogether with those at Actopan, Yuriria, Cuitzeo, Atotonilco el Grande and Metztitlan, it is one of an unequalled suite of boldly sculpted 16th century church fronts.
Faced with rose and lavender ashlar stone, a triumphal arch  dominates the facade design at Ixmiquilpan. Paired, fluted Corinthian columns enclose slender niches, now void of statuary but surmounted by cornucopia of slotted speech or song scrolls.
A broad, two tiered arch caps the doorway, its coffers framing a variety of reliefs, Carved in the round, winged angels and seraphs alternate with floral urns and rosettes, while tasseled, Augustinian pierced heart emblems nestle in the spandrels.
A feather motif is carved on the scrolled keystone of the archway, while winged horses or griffons prance along the frieze above, song scrolls issuing from their mouths.
More ornate floral urns flank and cap the elegant, classical choir window, some balanced atop more song scrolls—a veritable choral symphony in stone. 

The Facade Escutcheons
As at Acolman, heraldic shields project on each side of the choir window. Although not easily decipherable from the ground, these escudos are highly significant. Their imagery excludes any reference to Spanish or Christian symbols, foreshadowing the extraordinary murals inside the church. 
    To the left of the choir window the relief shows an eagle perched on a cactus sprouting from a rock above a lake—a motif adopted by the Aztecs as their imperial symbol and now the emblem of modern Mexico. Beside the cactus, the eagle is costumed as an Aztec warrior with a tlauhquechol, or plumed headdress, unfurling his pantli or war banner. A pair of eroded jaguar figures crouch carrying chimalli, the native war shields. 
The relief on the right portrays an eagle and jaguar on either side of a stylized foot-path, again with water below. Comma-like speech scrolls curl from the mouths of the two animals, indicating a dialogue between them. 
text and photography ©1992 & 2020 Richard D. Perry