Tuesday, January 25, 2022
Saturday, January 15, 2022
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 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).
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.
Thursday, January 6, 2022
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.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 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.
Saturday, January 1, 2022
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.