Monday, September 9, 2013

Chiapas Part 12: San Cristóbal's Templo del Cerrito & Museum of Culture and Popular Arts

"Chiapaneca," by Francisco Jiménez Gómez of Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas. This wood carving is on display at the Museo de las Culturas Populares de Chiapas. This is one of the finest examples of wood sculpture I have seen in Mexico. In this posting we will check out the area of San Cristóbal to the west of the Zócalo (main plaza) which contains several places well worth visiting. All of these are within easy walking distance of the Zócalo. I have already covered one, the Museo de Trajes Regionales,  in Part 8 of this series. The two we will visit in this posting are Templo del Cerrito de San Cristóbal and Museo de las Culturas Populares. For a Google map of the area, click here.

Templo del Cerrito de San Cristóbal

The Templo del Cerrito stands at the top of a formidable staircase. Each of the wood railings marks another flight of stairs leading to the tiny church at the top. Mexicans seem to love placing shrines and small chapels at the very top of steep hills. Carole and I put off climbing this set of stairs until the end of our visit to San Cristóbal. However, the base of the stairs is only a couple of short blocks from the entrance of our hotel, so we had a daily reminder of our commitment to check out the view from the top.

The view from the half-way point. As you can see above, the builders of the stairway thoughtfully included cement benches on each level so weary climbers could take a breather. At the upper center of the photo you can almost, but not quite, see Templo de Guadalupe, the subject of Part 4 of this series. The Guadalupe church also has a steep set of stairs leading up from the bottom of a tall hill.

Near the top, looking southeast toward Iglesia Santa Lucia. The blue and white church in the left center of the photo is known as Iglesia Santa Lucia. It was built in the Neo-classical style in 1884. San Cristóbal sits in a natural bowl, with steep hills and mountains rising all around it. Lacking sufficient flat terrain, some parts of the city climb up the steep hills in a series of terraces.

Templo del Cerrito, viewed from just below the summit. The church sits at the edge of a small, flat plateau. The sides of the hill are thickly covered with pine forest, but there are enough breaks in the foliage to provide nice views of the city and the country surrounding it. The small church was built in the late 18th Century by Fray Juan de Ordoñez. It was dedicated to San Cristóbal (St. Christopher) and is sometimes known as Cerro San Cristóbal Martyr.

Nestled in the corner of the church yard is this tiny chapel. About the size of your average closet, it is only about 1.5 m (5 ft) high inside. The chapel was built by a company called Autotransportes de Carga Lacandonia S.A. de C.V. to celebrate St. Christopher's Day in 1957.  The company operates tour buses in the area.

The floor and alter of the little chapel were bare except for dozens of lit candles. Exactly what this is all about remains a mystery to me. Were the candles left by employees of the company, or parishioners of the church, or both? The crude pictures scratched in the black painted walls indicate a continuing connection with the company, or at least to transport vehicles. As a tourist town, San Cristóbal abounds with buses and vans to transport them, so perhaps the drivers left the candles.

The interior of the Templo is simple but elegant and very well-kept. Notice especially the parquet wood ceiling. Near the altar, a small Maya family sits on the floor of the aisle. Embedded in the floor of the Templo near the door is a sign that is dated April 2012 and dedicated to the Junta Procuradora (Lawyers Group) and the Junta de Choferes (Drivers Group). Apparently these two groups were responsible for refurbishing the floor of the church. Another sign set in the outside wall says "Reconstructed 1940-1942".  Apparently various groups in the community have provided the resources to keep the church in good shape. This, no doubt, has something to do with the fact that San Cristóbal is the patron saint of the town.

Strings of colorful overhead banners decorated the church yard in back. They are similar to the banners that decorated the steps coming up. It is the practice in Mexico to put up banners like this to celebrate fiestas, both religious and political. One of the signs reads "Viva San Cristóbal Martyr." This indicates that the banners are from the St. Christopher's Day fiesta only a few weeks before our visit.

Exercise equipment lines the corridor under a trellis behind the church. The area immediately behind the church has a small plaza with a kiosco and this trellis. I was surprised to find about a dozen different exercise machines under the trellis. Younger, middle class Mexicans seem very interested in exercise and I have seen machines like this in various parks around the country. However, I would have thought just getting up here would be exercise enough.

Museo de las Culturas Populares

Museo de las Culturas Populares is attractive but unobtrusive and easy to miss. The modest colonial building is protected by a wall and fence and shaded by a grove of trees. The only identifying signs are on the walls inside the compound. It is operated by the Directorate General of Popular and Indigenous Cultures, known as CONACULTA. Like many countries, Mexico has a government that is enamored with acronyms. The agency is devoted to the preservation and encouragement of indigenous popular arts and displays some of Chiapas' best work in this museum. What follows are only a few of the pieces on display when we visited.

Detail of the "Chiapaneca" woodcarving seen in the first photo. The sculptor, Francisco Jiménez Gómez comes from a family of sculptors in Chiapa de Corza, a town just east of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas. As you can see, his work is exquisite. His father is Francisco Jiménez Hernandez the patriarch of a famous family of woodcarvers. The younger Francisco focuses on indigenous themes and wildlife, as well as abstract designs. He works with various kinds of wood, including mahogany, cedar, and popistle, as well as amber, bone and stone.

A family of jaguars stands on a floor design made of black beans and corn kernals. The clay animals were sculpted by Anastasia Días Gómez from Amatenango del Valle, Chiapas.

Bronze statue of a Maya woman sculpting a bird. I found no sign indicating who created this beautiful piece. She is dressed in traditional clothing, including a cloth head dress.

Cup in the form of an acrobatic jaguar. This piece was created by María Isabel López Gómez, also from Amantenango del Valle. The sculpture is entitled Jaguar Cirquero (Jaguar Circus Performer).

Arbol de Vida (Tree of Life), made of sheet metal. I failed to photograph the small card on the lower left, as I usually do, so I don't have the sculptor's name or other information about this piece. However, Trees of Life are a recurrent theme in Mexican sculpture. This one is literally crawling with life. There are birds, snakes, rodents, and insects all over it.

Tiny detail from the Arbol de Vida. I could have spent an hour just photographing all the little vignettes intricately sculpted on the tree and its branches. I selected this one as a good example. A bird that may be an owl has captured a small rodent and is carrying it back to the nest.

Clay sculptures of two female figures with ears of corn. I wasn't clear, but the smaller figure may represent the daughter. The pieces are entitled Mujers Desgranando Maiz (Women shelling corn). The sculptor is María Isabel López Gómez, who also did the Jaguar Cirquero.

Wandering west of the Zócalo

One of the narrow, winding streets of San Cristóbal. After visiting the Museo de las Culturas Populares, we wandered about the streets enjoying the cool sunny morning. The area was clean and well-kept, with a sort of Medieval charm.

The Judicial Archives building of the Chiapas State Court is part of a former colonial mansion. It is located on the corner of Cinco de Mayo and Cinco de Febrero streets. Some of the records contained within the Archive are from the period of 1700-1921. Land tenure, commercial documents, and those for family property, criminal and probate matters can provide historians interested in the period with crucial information.

On one street, we encountered these two young Mexicans tourists. Mexicans are very proud of their country and love to tour it. In fact, the majority of tourists in San Cristóbal appeared to be Mexicans just as entranced by the town as we were.

This completes Part 12 of my Chiapas series. I always encourage feed back and questions, and if you'd like to leave a comment, please do so in the Comments section below, or 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. Sir/Madam:

    I recently wrote a travel blog on Chiapas for senior travelers and wanted you to have a copy.

    Please share this site/information with interested persons.  Below is the link.

    Jim Becker, Webmaster
    Professor Emeritus
    University of Northern Iowa (USA)

    Homepage for the above:


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