Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. The Cathedral was dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption in 1741, and the exterior displays the Baroque style of that era. The relief sculpture above is found immediately over the main door of the Cathedral and portrays the Virgin Mary ascending to heaven. As luck would have it, we arrived in Oaxaca on the beginning of the Fiesta de la Asunción, which celebrates this event. Like many of the colonial era buildings in Oaxaca, the Cathedral was built with the beautiful green cantera stone found in the area.
Engraved angels in the glass of the church doors. The beautifully carved wood doors were set with windows engraved in the image of angels. The fine detail of this work is remarkable. In 1534, Antequera became a diocese of the Catholic church and the new bishop, Juan Lopez de Zarate, arrived the following year. He began construction of the Cathedral in 1535, using the same type of basilica design found in Mexico City and Puebla. Construction of this first phase was completed in 1574, but the Cathedral has undergone numerous additions and reconstructions over the centuries. Major new construction occurred between 1667-1694. Then in 1714, the Cathedral was seriously damaged by an earthquake and closed to the public. Between 1724-1730, the church was reconstructed enough to resume religious activities, but the work wasn't completed until 1752. In the meantime, as noted above, the Cathedral was dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in 1741.
A vaulted nave runs the length of the Cathedral. This is one of three parallel naves, separated by high pillars which support curved arches. The name "nave" refers to the resemblance of a church ceiling to the ribs found on an up-turned boat. There are lateral naves also, running off to the sides and containing chapels.
Warm glow of the overhead dome suffuses the entrance area. Suspended from the center is a long support cable leading down to an elaborate chandelier. The arches lining the base of the dome contain cavorting cherubs.
The main nave of the Cathedral is lighted by chandeliers and filled with flowers. The high stone pillars, lined with beautifully carved wood, provide both support and a conception of division between the naves, while still maintaining a sense of openness.
The choir area and the pipe organ. In the front part of the main nave, nearest the main entrance, is a beautiful "U" shaped set of seats for the choir, intricately carved from a dark stained wood. Above the wooden U are the massive pipes of the Cathedral's organ.
Sculpture of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción dominates the center of the Cathedral. The bronze statue was made in Italy by a sculptor named Tadolini and delivered to Mexico during the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz (called the "Porfiriate"). The spotlight produces an effect like a beam from the heavens. The statue is located about 1/2 way down the central nave.
At the rear of the central nave, another altar to the Virgin. She sits on a pedestal, attended by bowing angels below and two more floating above. In the background the light from a round window is emphasized by halo-like beams on the walls.
Side chapel in one of the transverse naves is dedicated to Jesus. As a non-Catholic, I am often puzzled by the religious priorities displayed in Catholic churches. For Protestants, Jesus is the central figure, second only to God. In Catholic churches I have visited during our adventures, Jesus is often relegated to a secondary position. Here, he is tucked into a small side-chapel near the back of the church. Clearly the main figure of the Cathedral is the Virgin Mary, as it is in a great many other Mexican churches. There are a number of different versions of the Virgin in different countries, depending on who sighted her apparition and when. The Virgin of Guadalupe is the supreme religious symbol of Mexico. As a dark-skinned Virgin, she is the patron of the poor, the campesinos, and the indigenous people. In a country that virtually invented the concept of macho, I also find it curious that a woman is at the center of religious veneration. I still have a great deal to learn about Mexico, evidently.
Gigantes cavort in front of the Cathedral on the eve of the Asunción. While strolling the zocalo one evening early in our visit, we were charmed by these huge puppets, as was the little boy in the bottom center of the photo. Giant puppets, called gigantes, have a long history in Mexico, and are part of many public celebrations. While we were watching, an older Mexican gentleman kindly explained to us that the gigantes were part of the Fiesta de la Asunción and that most of the people performing as gigantes and dancers had trained for the honor a long time.
A small boy peeps out of the viewing slit of a gigante. As small as this fellow was, I wondered how long he could have trained before putting on his gigante suit. Still, he did a good job, dancing and cavorting about in front of the delighted crowd surrounding him. Wherever we go in Mexico, we are constantly amazed and amused by unexpected spectacles like this.
Indigenous dancer has fun while pleasing the crowd. We never learned the exact meaning of the dances, or what the gigantes were supposed to represent, except that it all had to do with the Asunción de Nuestra Señora.
Colorfully dressed female dancer balances a large flower basket on her head. This woman whirled and twirled around the stone plaza, always with a very serious expression on her face.
The Virgin on her float, with angels in attendance. After the gigantes and dancers finished, a large float full of children dressed as the Virgin and attending angels pulled away from the front of the Cathedral. The crowd followed closely, but it was late and we decided to return to our hotel. It had been a delightful experience, pagan and Catholic all wrapped together as one usually finds in Mexico.
Mimes dressed as Golden angel perform outside the Cathedral. These two appeared to be unconnected to the Asunción activities. For a small donation, they agreed to a tourist photo. Such mimes, in a wide variety of costumes, are to be found throughout Mexico. We saw them dressed as pirates and cowboys in Vera Cruz.