Saturday, January 14, 2012

Etzatlán Adventure Part 3: A tour of the colonial-era Parroquia and the Capuchina Convent

Templo de la Purisima Concepción. It is located on the northeast corner of Etzatlán's Plaza Antonio Escobedo, also known as Plaza de Armas. Construction on the original church on this site was begun in 1527, three years after the Spanish arrived. Like many other early churches it was built upon the foundations of an indigenous temple. La Purisima was constructed under the direction of Franciscan friars. They were the first Catholic religious order to evangelize the newly conquered people. La Purisima became the main church, or Parroquia, for the area. In a previous posting I displayed several more photos of the building's exterior. The church repeatedly played a part in Etzatlán's history. During the Reform War of the 1850s, a group of Federalists holed up in the steeples you see above and fired down upon their enemies, the Centralists, in the plaza below. Most of the Federalists were killed in the skirmish, but their action re-invigorated the Federalists' cause nationally, and they eventually won. During our first two visits, the church wasn't open, but on our third visit we got a formal tour of its interior, as well as that of the Capuchina Convent near the northwest corner of the plaza. In this posting, we'll take a closer look at both of these colonial-era treasures.

A divider with a bench adorns the street in front of La Purisima. The divider was created by a local craftsman who was one of the parishioners of the church. He implanted facing tiles along the sides and base in the shape of animals and other designs, creating a charming and comfortable place to sit in the shade of a tree and enjoy the activities of the plaza scene.

A worker cleans the bronze bust of one of the early Franciscans. Etzatlán's Centro Historico almost seems to glisten from the care taken by the local people. At least two of those whose busts are displayed were martyred during the 1540-1542 Mixtón War. This bloody affair was an indigenous revolt set off by the depredations of conquistador Nuño Beltran de Guzman and mistreatment under the Spanish-imposed encomienda system, a barely disguised form of slavery. The Franciscans were seen by some of the native people as part of that system because the granting of an encomienda to a conquistador required that--in return for the right to demand forced labor--the encomendero would also force the indigenous people to give up their traditional beliefs and be indoctrinated in Catholicism.

Interior of Templo de la Purisima Concepción. The blue and white draperies attached to the columns on the sides were put up as part of the fiesta celebrating the Virgin of Zapopan. This version of the Virgin Mary is highly venerated of Jalisco State and her devotees believe she answers prayers for protection against plagues, storms and other disasters. She was introduced into Mexico by Franciscan Antonio Segovia shortly after the Mixtón War. In later wars she earned the nickname La Generala because she was believed to have helped Spanish forces from Jalisco to win several battles.

The sweetness of Jesus. A statue of the crucified Jesus hangs high above the main altar. This is a very old figure, crafted in the 16th Century from sugar cane paste. The statue used to be taken down and paraded around town during fiestas, but it is so fragile now that it is not allowed outside the church. The substance from which the statue was made also indicates that sugar cane was an important crop in the area at a very early time, as it still is today.

The interior of the main nave is beautifully decorated. The color of the stone pillars and walls lightened up the interior of what could have been a gloomy space.

Painting of the first Franciscans in Mexico. They gather together on the beach as one among them preaches. A laborer watches as the Spanish ships that brought them sail away. The caption at the bottom says "The first Apostles of Mexico." Directly across the nave on the opposite wall is another painting of the same size and framing. This one shows eleven of Jesus' Apostles gathered in a similar fashion. There is a conspicuous blank area in this painting representing the absence of Judas, the man who betrayed Jesus to the Romans. The early Franciscans in Mexico saw themselves as the Apostles of their day, facing the massive job of evangelizing a hostile and idolatrous New World population. The Mixtón War indicates that the indigenous people of Mexico may have seen things a bit differently.

Crypt containing the bones of early Fransican martyrs. This plaque covers a crypt in the wall to the left of the main altar. In the Catholic faith, the bones of martyrs are revered. During the fierce struggles of the 19th Century Reform War, Federalists were enraged by the support the Catholic church provided to the Centralists. At Eztatlán in 1859, this rage was expressed when the local Federalists removed the martyrs' bones from the crypt and dumped them in the street outside the church. A few feet from the crypt, a concealed passageway begins. It leads behind the altar area, and may have been originally connected to tunnels that are purported to lead to the mansions of leading citizens.

Near the exit to the concealed passageway, a Franciscan figure holds a child. In the foreground stands a massive candle in an ornate silver holder. The passageway and its supposed connection with neighboring mansions may have been part of an escape network for Centralists during the Reform War, or it might possibly have figured in the Cristero War of the late 1920s. The latter war occurred when the government attempted to enforce provisions of the Constitutions of 1854 and 1917 that curtailed the influence of the Catholic Church on Mexican life and politics. The Cristero War was waged with ferocity in Jalisco. Many priests were executed, while the religious fanatics backing the Church committed their own atrocities.

A unique religious artifact. This 16th Century stone baptismal font is the first ever carved in Mexico by a native craftsman. It is no longer used and sits in a glass case in the Parroquia's small museum.

A candelabra from the old days. I spotted this when I happened to look up to admire the old wooden rafters that spanned the corridor leading to the Parroquia museum. The candelabra is made of wood and wrought iron and may have lighted this hallway for centuries until it was supplanted by electricity.

San Francisco stands in an interior courtyard of La Purisima. As is typical of his depictions, he is shown with birds on his shoulders. San Francisco (St. Francis) is the patron saint of animals and the environment, among other things. Ironically, he was also the rather dissipated son of an Italian merchant in the Middle Ages and fought as a solder for his native town of Assisi. A vision led him to live with and preach among beggars. He eventually created one of the largest and most powerful religious orders within the Catholic Church. Our guide, Carlos E. Parra Ron, stands beside the statue. Carlos is the official historian of Etzatlán and wrote a delightful little book on nearby ex-Hacienda San Sebastian. It is available in the tourist office. Although there is presently only a Spanish-language version, I read fluently enough now that I have found it a valuable guide not only for San Sebastian but to help me understand hacienda life in general.

Floral relief design on early building block. A large block of stone containing this design lay against the wall behind the statue of San Francisco. It apparently decorated one of the early versions of La Purisima. Carlos pointed out a similar block built rather haphazardly into the exterior wall.

The Capuchina Convent

Steeple of the Capuchina Convent, seen from the roof of Hotel Centenario. One of Jalisco's many extinct volcanos rises steeply in the background. The official title of this church is Monasterio del las Damas pobres, Hermanas Clarisas Capuchinas, de la Divina Providencia y Nuestra Señora de Zapopan (Convent of the Poor Women, Capuchin Sisters of the Divine Providence and Our Lady of Zapopan)This is quite a moniker for a relatively small church, although the original convent was somewhat larger than what exists today.

Entrance to the Capuchina Convent's church. When I first visited, I wasn't impressed by the entrance and didn't bother to go inside. However, first impressions can be deceiving, and I took a closer look on my subsequent visits. The walls on either side of the entrance are plain and unadorned but the towering entrance itself was clearly from an antique period. Santa Clara (St. Clare) of Assisi was one of San Francisco's first adherents. Clare of Assisi was born in 1194 AD and first heard San Francisco preach in 1212 AD when she was 18. Almost immediately, she decided to give up her planned marriage and follow San Francisco. She later founded her own order based on the Franciscan tradition, and eventually both her sister and her mother joined as nuns. In 1958, Pope Pius XII designated her the patron saint of television because she was said to be able to see mass on her wall when she couldn't attend because of illness.

A small cherub-like figure appears on the capital of each column. This happily grinning little figure holds the entrance stonework up like a tiny version of Atlas holding up the world. I always enjoy capturing little details like this, which could easily be missed by a casual glance.

The main nave of the Convent's church. The ceiling was much lower than that of the Parrochia, giving the feeling of being underground. Perhaps it is all the low arches supported by thick pillars. In spite of its tunnel-like atmosphere, the church is surprisingly well-illuminated and didn't require a flash for decent photos.

The main altar is covered by an overhead dome. The style of the altar area is Neo-classic, while the rest of the church interior is Romanesque. To the right of the photo is a doorway, blocked by a huge, solid, and very ancient wood door. Our guides pointed out the antique lock on the door, and noted its age. Old or not, it blocked the entrance to the nuns' quarters, and we could go no further in that direction.

Several elegantly-carved confessionals line the walls on the left side of the church. I was intrigued by the construction of these confessionals. The priest sits inside, out of view, while the person confessing kneels outside and speaks through a grille. Most confessionals I have seen elsewhere conceal both the confessor and the penitent. It seemed to me that this arrangement might tend to compromise the secrecy of the confession.

Jesus, sitting up, in a glass booth. The depiction of Jesus in Mexican Catholic churches is often pretty graphic, showing lots of injuries and blood. I am not religious, but I grew up in a Presbyterian household. In that tradition, Jesus, when seen at all, is always clean and antiseptic. Here, he is shown dripping with blood, but in a rather odd posture. My friends and I paused and stared at this for some time, trying to understand what seemed so strange about it. Finally, someone remarked "he looks like he's talking on a cell phone!" On that rather irreverent 21st Century note, we left in search of lunch.

This completes Part 3 of my Etzatlán series. In Part 4, we will visit the ex-Hacienda San Sebastian, an excellent example of the economic, social, and political structure that controlled Mexico for hundreds of years until it was finally destroyed by the Revolution. I hope you have enjoyed this posting. If you would like to comment, please do so in the Comments section below or email me directly.

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Hasta luego, Jim

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