Sunday, June 22, 2008

San Miguel de Allende, #3 of 4 parts: Parrochia and the Art Scene

Sun's last rays bathe San Miguel de Allende's Parrochia church. The Parrochia is truly spectacular, particularly at sunset, as the light plays over the ornate façade creating gradually deepening shades of yellow, then orange, then pink and rose. Started in 1689 and completed in 1730 in the baroque style, the Parrochia occupies most of the south side of the Jardin Principal. In 1880, the Bishop of Leon ordered a new facade and commissioned an Indio, Serefino Guiterrez, to do the work. Gutierrez designed the facade based on postcards of cathedrals in Europe. His work is now internationally recognized, a major factor in San Miguel's coming designation as a World Heritage Site.

A bell for the ages. This ancient bell in the Parrochia tower is attached to a rough-hewn beam, hardly more than a thick tree branch. The bell swings from a tangle of old hemp ropes. The white ropes are those that the priests pull from below to sound the bell. No fancy recordings on loudspeaker systems here, this arrangement been used since the founding of the church, and is similar to those used in Europe for thousands of years.

Bell tower detail. The architect Gutierrez set this statue of San Rafael high on the bell tower of the Parrochia, facing the San Rafael Templo seen in the last post. I am always amazed at the fine detail on decorations set at a height difficult for the human eye to appreciate. Thank goodness for telephoto lenses. What may appear to be a pattern of check marks on the stone is actually chicken wire aimed at foiling the pigeons.

Parrochia interior ceiling. Everywhere one looks in the church, the eye is startled by beautiful designs.

Baptismal room. Our guide pointed out that whether you were the highest aristocrat or the lowliest Indio, you could be baptized in this ornate room just inside the entrance of the Parrochia.

A Jesus made of cornstalks. Two things are remarkable about this figure of a crucified Jesus. First, it is made of cornstalks and leather, an ancient technique perfected by the Indios to give a truly human appearance. The statue is very old and was traditionally carried throughout the city from church to church during fiestas. Because of its fragility this is no longer done.

The second remarkable feature is the inscription “Senor De La Conquista”, the Lord of the Conquest. The Spanish enlisted the Prince of Peace in the bloody and rapacious conquest of the native populations. In fact, the Catholic version of Christianity was used as the ideological basis for rape, murder, and plunder throughout Latin America, much as the Protestant version was used to justify genocide and slavery in the US.

The result was the wholesale destruction of native civilizations and cultures and the creation of a system of near slavery for the Indios, which lasted from 1521 to the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1921. Given the complicity of the church in all of this, with some notable exceptions, it is not surprising that there is a strong strain of anti-clericalism in Mexican history that is still evident today.

San Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe. Juan Diego, a poor Indio who was later sainted, kneels before the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe after receiving from her a bouquet of roses to use as proof for church authorities skeptical of the validity of his vision. They finally accepted and the Virgin became the patron saint of Mexico and especially of its Indios. Viewed another way, Church officials saw the wisdom of adapting Aztec beliefs to Catholic purposes. Significantly, the place where Juan Diego encountered the vision was the site of a ruined temple to an Aztec goddess. Giving the Indios their own Virgin to venerate helped bind them more closely to the Church and by extension to Spanish rule. Actually, their action in co-opting an Aztec goddess was quite similar to co-opting the beliefs of tree-worshiping German pagans by creating the Christmas tree.

San Miguel is also a center of secular art and culture

Rope tricks with the Devil. The Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramirez, also known as the Bellas Artes and El Nigromante, is one of several schools for the arts in San Miguel. While great masters such as David Alfaro Siquieros created some of the murals on walls of the Centro, the students also painted many. I have often noted the offbeat humor prevalent in much of Mexican art. Here, valiant Mexican cowboys seek to lasso a demon threatening their womenfolk.

A cool and inviting courtyard at Centro Cultural. Like many public buildings in Mexico, the Centro Cultural has a religious background. Built in 1775 as a nunnery called the Convento de Concepcion, it surrounds a central courtyard planted with a lush garden. Murals cover many of the walls behind the portale arches. It had been a hot day, and the cool passageways and inviting greenery were a welcome relief. The Centro Cultural is a branch of the Palacio Bellas Artes in Mexico City, and students pursue painting, photography, music, dance and many other forms of art.

Men at work. The Centro was a hotbed of political art during the 1930s and Socialist Realism was the rage. The mural crowning the top of these stairs depicts workers in a textile factory. In fact, the Aurora Fabrica textile factory was a major employer in San Miguel at that time. The workers and their union played an active and vital role in culture of the city. The Aurora Fabrica shut down in the early 1990s, a victim of global trade treaties. Arts and crafts shops now occupy the factory buildings. Our guide told us that Siquieros got into a furious political argument with the Director of the Centro and threw him down these stairs. Siquieros then resigned and stormed out, followed by most of the students and teachers.

Centro Cultural vault mural. This arch-roofed vault, approximately 50 feet (17 meters) by 15 feet (5 meters), was once a dining hall for the art students and their teachers. The mural shown on the walls and ceiling is an unfinished masterpiece by Siquieros.

This completes the third of my four-part series on San Miguel Allende. I certainly haven't done justice to the complexity and pervasiveness of the art scene, but then I guess you'll just have to visit and see for yourself! My last San Miguel post will focus on more of the remarkable religious architecture and explore the wonderful desert botanical garden on the plateau overlooking the city. See you again in about a week!

1 comment:

  1. I continue to be so impressed with your narrative content and GREAT pictures. If I had known there was such talent living next door, I'm sure I could have found a creative use for my Kooskooskee neighbors.


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