Thursday, September 14, 2023

Yucatan. Santa Inez Dzitas

Dzitas was an important crossroads town in colonial times, located on the old Merida—Valladolid highway, as well as major stop on the former railroad line.
The old church of Santa Inez started life as a 16th century indian chapel It stands in a large, raised walled atrium, its broad stone apse housing the sacristy and friar’s room as well as supporting an impressive belfry which still stands. 

The later main church suffered during the Caste War but has been fully refurbished in recent times.
The wide rectangular front is capped by a triple belfry and corner merlons. A modern sequence of alfiz like moldings frame the arched doorway, small choir window and a recently fashioned heraldic relief of an eagle holding a serpent.

The nave is spanned by a classic Yucatecan log ceiling resting on a series of substantial stone arches, An old stone font rests in the baptistry. The rebuilt casa cural lies to the north east.

text ©2023 Richard D Perry
photography by the author and from online sources

Monday, August 28, 2023

Mexico City. San Lorenzo Xochimanca

San Lorenzo Xochimanca is best known for its well-preserved chapel of San Lorenzo Mártir, whose former atrium is now to a popular neighborhood park.

The Temple of San Lorenzo Mártir, originally a visita of Santo Domingo Mixcoac, dates from the 16th century.

 The chapel was rebuilt in the 17th century by the Franciscans, and is constructed of brick and volcanic stone. The bell tower is noted for its colorful brickwork, from a local brickworks.

The facade retains the form of its original doorway, surmounted by a plain alfiz and ornamented with unusual rosettes with windblown centers.

A venerable stone cross stands before the church door, fashioned in the regional pattern with a prominent crown of thorns at the crossing; its foreshortened arms lack the fleur-de-lis finials as at Mixcoac and other area crosses. A row of rosettes like those on the facade adorns the base of the chamfered cross.

The interior is unexceptional save for the sculpted sanctuary arch, densely carved with grapevines and ornate reliefs of the Stigmata.

A statue of the patron saint St Lawrence stands in the nave holding his grill—the instrument of his martyrdom.

text © 2023 Richard D. Perry

color images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker 

and from online sources.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Guerrero. San Antonio Tehuilotepec

We follow up on our earlier posts* on churches in Guerrero, with a visit to San Antonio Tehuilotepec, “mountain of crystal.”
This unassuming country church, located in an old hillside mining town just east of the silver city of Taxco, is set in an elevated atrium braced by high stone walls. It is dedicated to Franciscan notable St. Anthony of Padua, whose rustic stone statue rests in the upper facade.

Behind the plain facade are found two colonial artifacts of note; first the handsome gilded main altarpiece, fashioned in “solomonic” baroque style with ornate spiral columns, Although a statue of the patron saint occupies the lower niche, it is surrounded by an original? and apparently complete? cycle of fine, large paintings of scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, with the Annunciation in the main center panel.

A second altarpiece here, dedicated to St Joseph, is designed in a later manner, distinguished by elegant freestanding estípite columns. Again a central statue, this time of St Joseph, is framed by a sequence of quality paintings documenting scenes from the life of the saint and the young Jesus.

These opulent retablos are believed to have been commissioned by the 18th century mining mogul José de la Borda, who owned the local silver mines and also founded/funded the notable church of Santa Prisca in nearby Taxco.

* Ixcateopan; Pilcaya

text © 2023 Richard D Perry
photography by Niccolo Brooker and from online sources

Monday, July 10, 2023

Mexico. The crosses of Aculco: Santa Ana Matlavat.

 In an earlier series we looked at several carved stone crosses in area churches of Aculco 

In this post we feature a cross at the former 16th century century visita chapel of Santa Ana Matlavat, located a few kilometers north of Aculco.

The cross in question stands atop the gable of the church. Formed from reddish sandstone? the cross is carved with numerous Passion reliefs, including a crown of thorns around the neck and dripping Wounds on the shaft and both arms. A chalice with emerging host, and a worn column with cockerel perched atop? also adorn the shaft, while an ornamental INRI plaque caps the cross.

Because of the location of the cross it is not clear if the reverse side is also carved.

The other item of interest is the row of ten raised dots along the base of the cross. Although their meaning is also unclear, it may be that they may signify the number ten — a reference to the Aztec word for ten (matlactli) possibly part of the original place name or even the 16th century date of the chapel itself.

A second cross tilts precariously atop a stepped pedestal without the atrium opposite the church doorway.

text and images © 2023 Richard D. Perry

based on data from Javier Lara Bayon

Monday, June 26, 2023

Chiapas. Two equestrian statues

The focus in our second post on Chiapas is on two related equestrian statues of colonial origin in the city of San Cristóbal.

The first is a virile of Santiago Matamoros now located in the city museum of Los Altos, adjacent to the church of Santo Domingo.

The saint is seated on a horse whose front hooves are elevated—possibly originally part of a larger tableau. The helmeted figure of Santiago is in his usual militant pose with sword upraised. 

His costume as well as the saddle and saddle cloth are painted and richly finished in estofado style.

There is no definite date for the statue but the pose and the horse especially is fashioned in a folkloric style, which suggests the 17th or early 18th century.

The second figure, known as El Señor del Sótano, is sometimes mistaken for Santiago. He also brandishes a sword, but in fact represents St Martin, shown in the act of dividing his cloak with a naked beggar. The pose is more sophisticated than that of the Santiago statue: in the gestures of the saint, his headwear, the folds of his costume and even the turned head of the horse. 

 The decorative finish is also simpler, although the costuming is more realistic and brightly colored in reds and blues. Again no date is indicated although the ensemble suggest the later 18th century.

San Martín is located in a side chapel of the church of La Caridad, the former resting place of the Santiago figure.

text and graphic © 1993 & 2023 Richard D. Perry

photography courtesy of Niccolo Brooker

consult our illustrated travel guide to colonial Chiapas

Friday, June 9, 2023

Chiapas. San Cristobal: La Merced

We have not posted frequently on Chiapas on this blog. But we have two new posts on this remote southern state.

The first looks at the church of La Merced in the city of San Cristóbal and the second on a pair of colonial statues also in this city.

Mercedarian friars came to Chiapas with the conquistadors and ministered principally to the Spanish residents of colonial Ciudad Real (San Cristóbal de Las Casas as it then was) rather than to the indigenous Maya of the barrios. 
Although little visited today, the old monastery of La Merced, located just outside El Recinto (the old city center), west of the main plaza, was the first to be established in the city. 
Faced by a long, elevated forecourt, the imposing church was almost entirely rebuilt early in the 20th century, from its colonnaded "wedding-cake" front to its brittle neoclassical interior. 
The only surviving colonial remnant is the 18th century sacristy, whose archway and massive supporting pillar are decorated in colorful folkloric style. 
Sprouting from the fanciful rampant lion reliefs at its base, rising tendrils of painted foliage entwine the pillar. 
On the underside of the arches, bands of classically-inspired grotesque ornament, incorporating sirens and stylized masks with fan-like feather headdresses, curve upwards to meet bas-reliefs of the sun and moon. 
sun;                               moon detail

An inscription, dated 1757, is incorporated in the floral frieze above the arch, and in the spandrels, the Hapsburg imperial eagle almost disappears in a profusion of foliage and flowers.
Imperial two headed eagle

text © 1993/2023 Richard D. Perry
photography courtesy of Nick Brooker
and online sources

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Aguascalientes. La Casa Teran

 In this blog we have featured several colonial buildings/art works in the city of Aguascalientes, with connections to the Ureña family of architects and retablistas. *

Casa Teran facade
In this post we look at another such building, La Casa Teran.

Now a cultural center, this former mansion is one of the most important 18th century buildings in the city; It was built by the sub-delegate (colonial official)  Felipe Pérez de Terán in 1795, under the direction of the master builder Gregorio Reyes and the stonemason Rodrigo Rodríguez, both associated with the celebrated baroque architect Felipe de Ureña who maintained a major workshop in the city.

While it may have been based on a Ureña plan,  it seems more likely given the late date and transitional style, that his son, architect Francisco Bruno Ureña, was involved in its design.


patio columns

Although it retains some baroque features, much of the detailing owes more to the neoclassical movement then becoming dominant in architecture and design. The overall effect is one of sober classical elegance, harking back in some ways to the severe Mannerist style of the early 17th century.

Devastated by a gas explosion some years ago, the building has recently been fully restored and its cultural activities resumed.

text © 2023 Richard D. Perry

images from online sources

* Jesus Maria retablo; Santuario de Guadalupe; Encino

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Guanajuato. La Hacienda de Burras

LA HACIENDA DE BURRAS: a fragment of Mexican history 

Mexico abounds with significant historic sites - some celebrated and elaborately preserved, others neglected and virtually forgotten. In Guanajuato, the "Cradle of Independence", both kinds are to be found. While the former attract many visitors, few encounter the latter. We visited one of these out-of-the-way, neglected sites recently, still a place of authentic character and nostalgic melancholy.

Located some 25 kms SW of the city of Guanajuato, just off the main Highway 45, the former Hacienda of San José de Llanos, originally known as La Hacienda de Burras, was one of the first great rural estates acquired by the silver magnate 
José de Sardaneta in the 1700s. Initially devoted to cattle raising and agriculture, primarily to support the needs of his family and the mining community of Mineral de Rayas, this extensive hacienda later became a strategic storage and staging area.

As part of the vertical integration of mining operations carried out by Don José's son, the first Marqués de Rayas, this expanded hacienda de beneficio was the site of a company store and most importantly, an arrastre or innovative mule-driven stamping mill and refining facility to process silver ore, which may have given the hacienda its name, thus keeping this profitable aspect of mining under family control and substantially contributing to revenues. 

The Hacienda Chapel 
Originally dedicated to San Antonio de Padua, the modest 17th century chapel was rebuilt in the late 1700s and re-dedicated to San José, the namesake of the hacienda owner. A statue of the saint still rests in the niche above the doorway.

The chapel played a historic part in the saga of Mexican Independence: In September 1810, following the Grito de Dolores at nearby Dolores Hidalgo, Father Miguel Hidalgo led his ragtag army towards the key city of Guanajuato. Before the final assault, his troops were quartered at the hacienda, from where he sent an ultimatum (see below) to his former friend and liberal sympathizer, the Spanish intendenteJuan Antonio Riaño, who had withdrawn to the city stronghold of Alhóndiga de Granaditas* with 500 troops and many Spanish residents of the city. Before leaving the hacienda, Father Hidalgo celebrated an open air mass in the chapel patio. After a costly and bloody battle, the 20,000 strong insurgent force, coincidentally aided by a Rayas miner now famous as El Pípila, stormed the redoubt and killed all the defenders including Riaño.

Following the capture and execution of Hidalgo and his general Ignacio Allende a few months later at the hands of Royalist troops, the severed heads of the insurgent leaders were hung in baskets from the Alhóndiga walls. After Independence in 1821, the skulls were brought back to the hacienda chapel where the second Marqués de Rayas, a patriot and signer of the Mexican Declaration of Independence, ordered a requiem mass said in their memory.

Today, what is left of the main hacienda building is being used as a school, conserving some of the handsome original arcading and now happily, serving a worthy social purpose. Despite its historic role in Mexican history, the abandoned chapel has fared less well. The roof and tower have gone and only the much altered lateral facade and part of the atrial wall remain - in a poor state of preservation despite heavy-handed stabilization measures carried out some years ago.

 Especially poignant is the battered, armless statue of Father Hidalgo that still stands, its paint peeling, on an unmarked pedestal in front of the chapel - all that is left to remind the visitor of the role played by this former colonial hacienda in the turbulent pageant of Mexican history. 

Headquarters: The Hacienda de Burras, 
28th of September, 1810.

The numerous army that I command chose me in the fields of Celaya to be Commander in Chief and Protector of the Nation. That same city, in the presence of fifty thousand men, ratified this election, as have all the places through which I have passed.
I thus wish to inform your Excellency that I am legitimately authorized by my Nation to pursue such ends that I deem necessary for its benefit. These are equally useful and favorable both to Americans and Europeans [Spaniards] that have seen fit to reside in this kingdom, and simply proclaim the independence and the freedom of the Nation.

As a consequence, I do not view the European as an enemy, but only as an obstacle to the success of our enterprise. I charge your Excellency to present these ideas to those Europeans that are gathered in the Alhóndiga so that they may either declare themselves enemies or, if they choose, remain as our prisoners and receive humane and benign treatment - as do all those in our company - until freedom and independence are achieved, in which case they will become citizens, with the right to the restitution of such goods and possessions that, for the exigencies of the Nation, we have thus far appropriated. 
If, on the contrary, they will not accede to this request, I will apply all the force necessary to destroy them, without hope of sanctuary.

May God keep your Excellency many years, as so wishes your obedient servant,

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.
Captain General of America

text & pictures © 2003/2023 Richard D. Perry

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Puebla. La Trinidad Tepango

We have dedicated several pages on this blog to el barroco poblano, the distinctive, colorful, and arguably most influential regional expression of the popular baroque style in Mexico, best known for its glittering tiled facades and painted stucco decoration.

Located just south of Atlixco, a colonial hillside community west of the city of Puebla, the picturesque church of La Trinidad Tepango presents a particularly spectacular example of el barroco poblano. Its mosaic like tiled front carries the Pueblan style to the Nth degree. Every surface: facade, belfries, dome, gables and openings, is faced with polychrome tiles of every hue, some patterned in bright colors (azulejos) as well as plain tiles in more subdued earth tones (ladrillos) set in herringbone or zigzag patterns. In addition, many of the tiles are antique, dating from colonial times.

   Like the facade, the tower, dome and cupola are encrusted with stucco pilasters and painted pinnacles, adding even greater texture to the mix.

But as with San Juan in Atlixco, the church gateway is probably its most attractive feature, designed and ornamented in classic folk baroque style. Constructed in the form of a classical triumphal arch with baroque touches, the imposing entry is flanked by paired columns embossed with red and green vines that stand out against the tiled front. Unlike the facade, there are sculpture niches between the columns containing statues of brown robed saints in a popular vein, notably St Paul, while the diminutive figure of El Padre Eterno looks out from a gable niche above the main archway.

An inspiring display of vernacular architecture and ornament in a rural town.

text & photography © 2023 Richard D. Perry

Monday, March 6, 2023

Mexican Stone Crosses: Tlatilco

This 17th century chapel in the unprepossessing Mexico City neighborhood of Naucalpan, is chiefly notable for its surviving carved stone atrium cross from that period.

Set on a tiered pedestal in front of the church, the cross follows other area crosses in design, its rugged surfaces bearing on the front a stylized crown of thorns, and simplified fleur-de-lis finials on the arms and at the head of the cross on both sides.

fleur-de-lis finial
reverse side of cross

text © 2023 Richard D. Perry
color images © Niccolo Brooker