Friday, July 12, 2013

Chiapas Part 6: Andador Miguel Hidalgo, University of Chiapas, & Templo y Arco del Carmen

Templo y Arco del Carmen looking south. The Arco is a San Cristobal de las Casas landmark and symbol of the city. This tower arch marks the southern end of Andador Miguel Hidalgo (also known as Andador Eclesiastico), the pedestrian-only street extending south from the Zócalo. South of the arch, auto traffic is allowed on the street.  Andador Miguel Hidalgo forms the southern extension of Andador 20 de Noviembre, which I showed in Part 5 of this series. The point where they meet is the Zócalo (main plaza). In this posting, we'll take a look at the many cafes and restaurants along the street, as well as the Templo y Arco del Carmen and the Law School of the University of Chiapas. The Law School has an interior courtyard that is lined on one side with large, vivid murals. For a Google map showing this area, click here.

Looking south down Andador Miguel Hidalgo toward the Arco, with the University on the right. San Cristobal's walking streets are not completely free of auto traffic, since cars are allowed to cross at the end of each block. A taxi like the one above is relatively inexpensive, but you can reach most of the interesting places within the Centro Historico on foot if you are so inclined. We like to "hoof it" when possible because it makes the experience so much richer. In the design of almost every colonial city, the Spanish laid down a strict north-south and east-west grid of streets, centered on the main plaza (Zócalo). Using this grid pattern, we usually divide an area into quadrants, exploring each in turn. This allows us to see a lot more without overtiring ourselves.

University of Chiapas

Looking north, the School of Law fills a whole city block. Carole, dressed in red at the lower left, is approaching the main entrance. The school was originally founded by the Jesuits in 1681 as the Colegio de San Francisco Javier. Its purpose was the education of the sons of the Spanish colonial elite. The style of architecture is Neo-classical. In 1767, the Jesuits were expelled from all Spanish terriorties, so the school was taken over by others. In 1975, the Autonomous University of Chiapas (UNACH) was founded, and the old Jesuit school became its Facultad de Derecho (School of Law).

Facultad de Derecho (center), looking east from atop Templo del Cerrito's hill. The Law School occupies the whole block bounded by Andador Miguel Hidalgo on the east, Crescensio Rosas on the west, Ninos Heroes on the south, and Cuautemoc on the north. The building surrounds a large open courtyard bounded by the long row of white arches you can see in the center of the photo above. On the right side of the photo, the whole south side of the block is filled by the beige-colored, ex-Templo San Agustin, now the Law School's auditorium.

A pair of young students sits in the westside entrance of ex-Templo San Agustin. Engaged in animated discussion, they didn't notice me across the small courtyard with my camera set on telephoto. Notice the ancient carved wooden door behind them.

Large murals line a hallway, separated from the Law School courtyard by portales. Carole, dressed in red, stands about half way down the hall. The white, arched portales are the same seen in the long distance shot, two photos previous to this one. The murals were painted by internationally-famed artist and photographer Carlos Jurado, who donated them to the University. Jurado was born in Chiapas in 1927 and died at the age of 83. He was not only a great painter, but in 1973 he took up photography, considering it to have magical qualities. I couldn't agree more. Jurado used "pin-hole" photography, a very early form of the craft. He invented new ways in which to use the pin-hole technique, achieving remarkable effects and gaining a world-wide reputation.

A priest raises his cross, attempting to defend the Maya from rapacious conquistadors. With some exceptions, officials of the Catholic Church have generally supported the secular authorities when they oppressed indigenous populations of Nueva España (and later, when it became Mexico). Some of the most notable of these exceptions occurred in Chiapas. In the 16th Century, Bartolomé de las Casas was horrified by the rape, murder, torture, and enslavement he personally witnessed in the Caribbean, Guatemala, and Chiapas. He fought the encomienda system (forced labor in exchange for the "benefits" of Christianity), and was officially appointed "Protector of the Indians." In 1544, Bartolomé de las Casas became the first resident Bishop of Chiapas. However, he didn't last long because the encomenderos (Spaniards granted the right to demand forced labor) bitterly complained about his interference and even attempted an assassination. De las Casas returned to Spain and, over the following years, personally lobbied a series of Spanish kings on behalf of indigenous rights. In modern times, Chiapas Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia was a strong  supporter of Liberation Theology, and backed indigenous people in their efforts to organize and defend their rights. He served as Bishop of Chiapas from 1959-1999. As with Bartolomé de las Casas, the Ladino (non-Maya) elite of Chiapas adamantly opposed Bishop Ruiz and demanded his ouster. They were outraged that anyone, particularly a Catholic Bishop, would tamper with their lucrative economic arrangements. Again, there was an assassination attempt. At one point, Pope John Paul II, a strong opponent of Liberation Theology, attempted to remove Ruiz but backed off when other Mexican bishops came to his defense. Many Maya revered Bishop Ruiz, calling him Tatic (father). Bishop Ruiz stepped down in 1999 at the mandatory Church retirement age of 75, to the great regret of the Maya and the relief of Pope John Paul and Chiapas' large landowners.

The first great heros of the War of Independence were both Catholic priests.  In the center, wielding a torch and pointing accusingly at ill-gotten Spanish loot, stands Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, for whom Andador Miguel Hidalgo was named. This first flame of revolt was suppressed in less than a year and Hidalgo was captured, executed, and his head displayed publicly to dissuade imitators. Father José María Morelos y Pavon, wearing his trademark head scarf, picked up the torch from Hidalgo. He is portrayed with a sword in one hand and a written constitution--Mexico's first--in the other. Morelos lasted longer than Hidalgo, but he was eventually captured and executed in 1815. The war continued until Mexico won its independence in 1821.

Another panel shows some of the heros of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Signing a document in the upper left is Benito Juarez, leader of the Liberal Party during the Reform War, and President of Mexico during and after the French invasion in 1862. After five years of uphill struggle he defeated and expelled the invaders, who were reputed to have the strongest army in the world at the time. Utterly incorruptible, he was a full-blooded Zapotec who raised himself from illiterate poverty in a remote Oaxacan village to become Chief Justice of the Mexican Supreme Court, and then President. Juarez died in office in 1876. In the center is Emiliano Zapata, one the greatest military leaders of the Mexican Revolution who was also its foremost social revolutionary. His famous slogan was Tierra y Libertad (Land and Liberty). Although Zapata was assassinated in 1917, he is still revered in Mexico. The Zapatista Liberation Front (EZLN) is very active in Chiapas today and is widely supported among the Maya. In the lower right is Lázaro Cárdenas, a contemporary of Franklin Roosevelt. As Mexican President in 1938, he nationalized the Mexican oil industry against the bitter opposition of the American and British corporations who had dominated it until then. He also redistributed land to the poor and indigenous people, and revolutionized Mexico's education system, dramatically increasing literacy.

Jurado's other murals are more esoteric and whimsical. Here a nude female takes a break from strumming her guitar while she listens to an angel playing a horn and a devil the flute. To me, these two little figures represent the dualism that threads through Mexican philosophy and art going back thousands of years back deep into pre-hispanic times. In this view, everything has its opposite: day and night, light and dark, good and bad, etc. One cannot exist without the other and they define each other. In this mural, they are in balance, but the question is: to whom does the woman listen most?

 In another mural, a female angel pursues a wide-eyed male devil. I wasn't quite sure whether this represented the devil's defeat, or perhaps he is playing hard-to-get against an aggressive, lustful female. This was not a major mural unto itself, but simply one of many whimsical little details on a larger piece.

Here, the opposites seem to have reconciled. This suggests the unity inherent in the ancient pre-hispanic dualism. I found the recurring appearances of the angel and devil figures to be the most intriguing parts of the mural set.

Templo y Arco del Carmen

Restaurants and sidewalk cafes line the street between the University and the Arco del Carmen. Carole and I sampled the fare of several of these and found them very good and usually inexpensive. We were delighted with this aspect of San Cristóbal. You can spend a lot at a fancy restaurant here, but it is not necessary. There are many places to get a tasty meal, in a location with a great ambiance, for a low price.

Templo y Arco del Carmen, seen from a hill to the west. The buildings with the red-tiled roofs surrounding the rust-colored Arco are the Templo del Carmen and the former convent, including the nuns' cells and the cloister. In the late 16th Century, the residents of the area petitioned the Spanish King to allow the establishment of a convent for 236 noble maidens, some of whom were daughters of the original conquistadores. The convent would allow them to live out their lives in seclusion, preserve their virtue, and learn various feminine arts. When it was authorized by King Phillip II in 1595, the convent was the only facility for nuns in Ciudad Real (the name of San Cristóbal at the time). The Convento de la Encarnación was built in 1597, although the famous Arco was not erected until almost a century later.

Arco del Carmen, from the east side. What makes the Arco unique is its Moorish style, called Mudejar, which dates back to 13th Century Spain. It has become one of San Cristóbal's best-known symbols, often described as "the most striking colonial building in the city." Early in 1677, Convent administrator José Antonio de Torres asked for city permission to build a bell tower for the convent. Three years later, permission was granted and the tower was constructed in 1680. The Arco has several interesting features. For one, the arched passageway on the ground level was once the principal entrance to the city. Second, the Arco has a special passageway on the second level which once connected the Templo to the Convent buildings.The Convent administrator ordered the building of this passageway so that the nuns could pass back and forth without encountering the citizens of the city, thus preserving their vow of seclusion. Other interesting features can be found on the ceiling above the ground-level archway.

A corner of the archway ceiling shows some signs of renovation. There appears to be some recent work on the right-hand side. The ornate, flowery decorations on the original sections show some Moorish influence. I often wonder about the craftsmen who sweated over the tiny details of an obscure corner like this. They were almost certainly Maya, since the Spanish didn't tend to dirty their own hands in that era. So the Maya, many of whom still secretly worshiped their ancient gods, were directed by the Christian Spanish to decorate a church bell tower in the style of the Muslim Moors. An interesting combination, so say the least.

An eight-pointed Moorish star is found on the ceiling dome over the interior of the archway. The star is made of wood and plaster. The Mudejar style was adopted by Christian Spaniards of Andalusia during the Reconquista of Spain from the Moors. The 700-year struggle to oust the Muslim Moors led to a love-hate relationship with the Moorish culture.  Especially influencial was the graceful Moorish architecture. The word Mudejar is a corruption of the Arabic word mudajjan, which means "domesticated." It refers to the Moors in areas captured by the Spanish Christians who surrendered to the Christians but refused to convert. Mudejar architecture continued to be popular in Spain until the mid-18th Century, although the Arco is one of the few--as well as the most outstanding--examples of it in Mexico.

The nuns cloister is now filled with small shops where local handicrafts are made and sold. The nuns of the Convento de la Encarnación were sworn not only to seclusion but also, at least theoretically, to poverty. This limited the convent's budget for fancy religious buildings, leading to the rather spartan outward appearance of their  accommodations. This is in contrast to some other orders, the Dominicans for instance, who had a fondness for sumptuous decoration. The small plaza that separates the convent buildings from the Arco is often used for cultural events.

The headquarters of the old convent are now a cultural center. When we visited, there was an art display and the curators wouldn't allow photography inside the building. In colonial Mexico, and in post-colonial society up to the Revolution, there were few careers open to unmarried women. Entering a convent was one of the socially acceptable paths for the daughters and widows of elite families. Although there were often vows of poverty associated with convent life, the women's personal lifestyles were generally not as spartan as the outward accommodations make it appear. The nuns at this convent were known as Concepcionistas which, according to one source "was not an order with a reputation in Mexico for austerity." Often the wealthy families of prospective nuns would ensure that funds were available for hiring personal servants, and for purchasing comfortable furniture, books and good food. From time to time, various convents underwent internal "rebellions". These occurred when Church authorities or factions among the nuns themselves attempted to enforce the poverty vows. These efforts often encountered fierce resistance from women accustomed to a life of privilege, regardless of what the formal rules might say. Usually Church authorities managed to conceal such rebellions from public view, but some colonial records of these outbreaks have survived. They provide a fascinating window into the secretive world of colonial nuns.

Some young graffiti artists were hard at work in the plaza outside the cultural center. They were pleased when I asked photograph their work. Like many other parts of Mexico, San Cristóbal de las Casas has its problems with graffiti. Creating opportunities for graffiti artists to do legitimate work helps keep the streets clear of the illegitimate kind that blights so many areas elsewhere.

Templo del Carmen

A flagstone path leads diagonally across the Templo gardens toward the main entrance. The original church was built in the 16th Century, prior to the convent. It was originally dedicated to San Sebastian Martir in 1578. He may have been the only saint to have been martyred twice (the first time didn't take). The building is constructed in an unusual "L" shape, with the main entrance at the bend of the L, and the two arms forming two sides to the plaza gardens. Between 1753 and 1766, the Convent de la Encarnación and the Templo were both renovated by order of Bishop Moctezuma. Over the doorway to the right of the main entrance is the date 1764, the year the work on the Templo was completed. It was also at this time that the Arco and Templo were rededicated to Nuestra Señora del Carmen.

The Templo has only one nave.  In 1993, an electrical fire swept through the church library and into the nave itself, causing much damage. The nave was rebuilt in Neo-classical style using Chiapas' beautiful and abundant wood in the altar area.

The main altar and its retablo. The retablo behind the altar is set with six wood niches, each with a different saint, Other saints are displayed on the side walls of the nave, including San Juan de Dios and San Antonio de Padua.

Nuestra Señora del Carmen is the central figure of the main altar. Her formal name, in English, is the Virgin (or Our Lady) of Mt. Carmel. She gained that name because her first devotees were hermits living on Mt. Carmel in the Holy Land during the late 12th and early 13th Centuries. According to a Church legend (since disputed) the Virgin of Mt. Carmel appeared to St. Simon of Stock in 1251 and gave him a brown piece of cloth, called a scapular. The wearing of a scapular became a symbol of devotion related to this version of the Virgin. Carmelite is the name given to those who belong to a monastic order devoted to Nuestra Señora del Carmen. They are particularly devoted to prayer and contemplation, and their headquarters is still on Mt. Carmel at the Stella Maris Monastery.

This completes Part 6 of my Chiapas series. I hope you have enjoyed it and, if so, I encourage you to leave any comments, questions, or corrections in the Comments section below. Another alternative is to email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

1 comment:

  1. Very happy to have found your blog. I was trying to find pictures of the area where orchid cuitlauzina pendula grows and I believe you have been in the area. Another site may be Mazamitla. Anyway, I have spent most of the day going through your SUPER blog but am not finished. Tomorrow. I live in Eugene, OR, grow cool/cold orchids, 68 and retired.


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim