Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Guerrero. Asunción Ixcateopan

In a previous post we looked at the colonial church in Pilcaya, Guerrero. In this post we visit another church in that state, that of Asunción Ixcateopan, a center of controversy in that it was the purported last resting place of Cuautemoc, the last Aztec leader.
The present church clearly dates much later, in late 1600s to judge from its architecture and ornament. The broad single nave church is fronted by a stuccoed facade faced with numerous reliefs, and flanked by a lofty two tier bell tower.
The imposing west doorway is framed by an alfiz of lateral half columns with relief figures in motion in the spandrels.

Other carvings on the facade prominently include paired cross reliefs atop a miter with the crossed keys of St Peter and crudely incised escudos with the quartered lions and castles of the Spanish monarchy.

An inscription dated 1659 runs across the church front below the gable, in praise of the holy sacrament, which is illustrated in a relief overhead.

The papal miter reappears above the pointed arch of the lateral (south) doorway, this time in association with the Mexican? eagle
While the nave is covered by a beamed wooden ceiling, the sanctuary is contained within a narrow, stone vaulted apse—possibly the site of an earlier open chapel. 

This may have been linked with a separate standing structure in the north east corner of the churchyard that was at one time a posa chapel.

text © 2022 Richard D. Perry
photography by Niccolo Brooker with appreciation.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Chiapas. Copanaguastla

For this post we return to Chiapas to revisit the great ruined monastery at Copanaguastla; among the most evocative 16th century monuments in Mexico. Abandoned less than a century after its founding, the sturdily built church has survived almost 350 years of neglect although now a shell. Today it stands a silent but steadfast sentinel, watching over the newly resettled village. 
Soon after the Spanish Conquest, gold was discovered here in the hills and streams above the Grijalva River. The subsequent rush made the encomendero, Andrés de la Tovilla, a rich man, but devastated the Tzeltal-speaking Maya settlement.
   In 1545, four Dominicans arrived, led by Fray Domingo de Ara, an energetic missionary and dedicated translator of devotional works into Tzeltal. In spite of the environmental ravages wrought by gold mining, the friars found the climate ideal—a veritable Jericho, as Fray Domingo once observed. They gathered the surviving Maya together and built a primitive thatched mission. Following the official nomination of Copanaguastla as a priory in 1556, erecting a permanent monastery became an urgent necessity.
   The project went forward, supervised by the talented friar-architect Fray Francisco de La Cruz, but in 1564, by a cruel stroke of fate, the virtually completed church was struck by lightning. Hampered by famine and pestilence in the community, reconstruction of the building continued only sporadically until 1568, when a stone vault at last replaced the charred wooden roof—the final contribution of Fray Francisco who died in the same year. By the end of the 16th century, Copanaguastla had become the principal monastery for the region, and the friars were prospering from their sugar plantations and cattle haciendas.
   But in 1629, another outbreak of the plague decimated the Indian population. Despite the great effort and expense that had been invested in its construction, the monastery was reluctantly abandoned. The friars moved to Socoltenango, near Soyatitan, taking with them the image of La Virgen del Rosario. In this higher, healthier location, the 16th century image (now known as La Candelaria), became the focus of popular pilgrimage during the later colonial years and into modern times.
The Church
The plan of the sturdy stone church is based on the Latin cross—unusual for monastic churches of this early period. Squared buttresses brace its rubble walls, which are pierced at intervals by elongated, Romanesque like windows. Part of a cracked bell tower, which stood above the former convento, clings precariously to the surviving north transept. Long since fallen, Fray Francisco's roof seems to have been constructed in distinct sections using a variety of contruction methods.    The nave was spanned by a wooden artesonado roof resting on stone arches, one of which is still in place above carved corbels.
   An octagonal dome at one time stood on corner squinch arches above the crossing, flanked by two ribbed mudejar vaults over the transepts. The collapsed square apse at the east end may have been covered by a solid barrel vault, perhaps like that at the unfinished priory church of Cuilapan (Oaxaca).
Fragments of the sanctuary arch, carved with shell niches, coffered panels and classical half columns, can still be seen at the crossing. Strangely, there is no evidence of the customary choir at the west end, possibly because the original wooden loft was not replaced after the 1564 thunderbolt.
The West Front
Angled corner buttresses, a structural feature first used in the early Dominican monastery of Oaxtepec (Morelos), neatly anchor the west front. Trees now sprout atop the facade where the gable formerly rose. The squared facade is a plateresque composition, clearly related to Tecpatan and the Dominican missions of Oaxaca. With the judicious use of cornices and pilasters, the various rounded arches and openings have been integrated into a harmonious classical design.
On the lower tier, an elegant Italianate porch of fluted Tuscan pilasters frames the paneled doorway, which is inset with plain Renaissance medallions. Overhead, a frieze of winged cherubs links cameos of bearded saints Peter and Paul?. To either side of the porch are placed large arched niches with stepped frames like the nave windows. 
A semicircular pediment rises above the porch, flanked by curious pinnacles carved with vases and grotesque miniature heads, and topped by fruit-and-flower finials. 
Narrow outer niches with corbeled brackets and delicate molded shell  arches echo the larger openings below.
Emblazoned in the corners of the upper facade are two relief escutcheons, encased in ornamental scrolls and carved with the fleur-de-lis cross of the Dominican order. 
   The once spacious convento has all but disappeared save for a few crumbling archways and stone steps—a victim of the village reconstruction, for which it served as a quarry. 
Although the church remains roofless and overgrown, a crude stone altar and benches have recently been set up beneath the gaping crossing—a faint sign of religious revival after the long centuries of solitude.
text and pictures © 1994 & 2022 Richard D. Perry

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Oaxaca City. La Soledad: Three Kings

For our customary seasonal post on the day of the Three Kings (Los Reyes Magos) we return to the city of Oaxaca*, to the church of La Soledad.
As one of the major colonial monuments in the city, this unique church front was designed by the Oaxacan architect and sculptor Tomás de Sigüenza and finished about 1719. Called a “picture book in stone,” the facade projects like a giant folding screen from the church front, its powerful buttresses spread outwards like wings from the recessed center pavilion. The entire facade is boldly carved with tiers of columns and sculpture niches that increase in ornament but diminish in scale as they go up.
   Famous for the high quality of its stone carving and statuary, the facade also shows imaginative diversity in its framed openings—round, pointed, square and polygonal. Like San Agustín, Santo Domingo and the cathedral, La Soledad proved a decisive influence on subsequent city buildings.
La Soledad. the nave East;                                     West

The Interior
Low, ribbed domes outlined in gold cover the elegant nave, while painted and gilded vaults soar above the apse and choir, all densely carved with ornamental relief figures, foliage, scrolls and strapwork in the Pueblan style. An early pipe organ rests in the choir loft.

A number of large colonial paintings hang in the nave, including scenes from Christ’s Passion.

The special focus of this post is the Nativity with the Three Kings signed by the noted early 18th century Oaxacan artist Isidro de Castro. This crowded canvas shows an angel hovering above the Holy Family to the left, with the Three Kings and their retinues to the right.
   The black king Melchior clad in an ermine trimmed cloak dismounts from his horse to their immediate right aided by his servants, both black, one of whom holds his gift. Behind them the other two kings sit on their horses—fantastic animals with arching elongated necks. The leading royal wears a plumed headdress in indigenous style.
   No guiding star is visible, as was shown for this event in many colonial paintings.
Text ©Richard D. Perry 2007/2022
Graphic © the author
Color photography by the author and from online sources.

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Saturday, January 1, 2022

Ten Years

2022 marks ten years since I started this blog.  While it has given me much satisfaction over this time, I feel that now it is time to wind it down, which I shall be doing over the coming months.

I should like to express my thanks and appreciation to all those aficionados who have followed me over the years, as well as those whose pictures and reports I have incorporated into my posts.  In particular my friend and intrepid Mexico traveler Niccolo Brooker, whose wonderful photographs have been essential to the whole enterprise.

Richard Perry