Saturday, August 15, 2015

Historic Haciendas of Zapopan Part 3: Santa Lucia's chapel and tequila factory

A wagon wheel, wooden cask, and part of a column found in Santa Lucia's old tequila taberna. In my previous posting, I showed you some of the exterior and interior features of Hacienda Santa Lucia's casa grande (main house). In this one, I will focus on the capilla (chapel) and the taberna (a small factory where tequila was manufactured and sold in bulk). I will also give you a brief history of the origins of Mexico's famous tequila and its relationship to haciendas like Santa Lucia.

La Capilla de Santa Lucia

The capilla sits at the intersection of two wings of the casa grande. The large grassy area in the foreground was once used to stage bullfights. A capilla can nearly always be found directly connected, or immediately adjacent, to a hacienda's casa grande. When these old estates came into being in the late 16th and 17th centuries, religion was interwoven into every part of daily life. Sometimes this included economic issues. For the first century or so after the Conquest, Spaniards could obtain encomiendas (the right to demand forced labor from local indigenous people). Such forced labor provided the workforce that built the great estates as well as many churches, cathedrals, and convents. In return, a Spanish encomendero was expected to provide for instruction in Christianity--a pretty good deal, if you are on the right end of it. However, religion was not used simply as a cynical ploy to get free labor. From the Conquest through at least the first half of the 20th century, people of all classes in Mexico believed deeply and fervently in Catholicism. Many still do. After the 1910 Revolution, a large percentage of haciendas were reduced to ruins. Often, the only surviving structure was the old capilla, which was preserved to become the community's church.

Symbols of peace and war stand closely together. The capilla is topped by a three-bell campanario (bell tower). Just to the left of the bell tower is a cylindrical brick bastion with gun slits. Since it was built in the 17th Century, this capilla has been used for masses, baptisms, weddings and funerals.

The bastion provides a defensive position from which most of the casco can be easily observed. In the 16th and 17th centuries, structures like this helped protect against raids by the fierce nomadic warriors known as Chichimecs. During the 18th century, bandits became the main threat. After the turn of the 19th century, the threats multiplied. Haciendas had to be defended against assaults by rival armies during the War of Independence (1810-1821), the Reform Wars of the mid-century, the invasions by the United States (1846-48) and then France (1862-1867). Bandit raids continued to be a problem during intervals between periods of organized warfare through the end of the century. In the 20th century, the Mexican Revolution erupted in 1910 and violent aftershocks lasted into the early 1930s. One of the fiercest of these was the Cristero War which raged through this area between 1926-1929. Many haciendas still contain traces of these struggles including rifle-slitted bastions, high walls topped with battlements, pockmarks from bullets, wooden gates studded with iron and topped with warning bells, and escape tunnels to hide the hacendados' money, silverware, and women.

Arched portales line one side of a long corridor along one side of the casa grande. From this shady terraza, the hacendado and his family could view the bullfights and other activities conducted in the broad plaza beyond.

At one end of the corridor stands the tall, wooden, main entrance of the capilla. Chuck, one of our most dedicated Hacienda Hunters, can be seen emerging from the capilla. He is of medium height. This provides a sense of scale for the tall entrance.

The main altar, with a confessional booth on the left and a pulpit on the right.  Although its campanario and entrance door are impressive, the capilla's interior is relatively small. The tall, wooden retablo behind the altar contains statues of Jesus (middle), the Virgin Mary (left), and San José (right). Most of the decor seems to be 19th century Neo-classic style. Notice the fresh flowers on the altar, a sure sign that this capilla still sees regular use.

A niche in one wall contains a statue of Santa Lucia, patroness of the hacienda. The hacienda was  founded in 1630 and the hacendado adopted the name of the adjacent town, which had been established about 80 years previously. When the Spanish originally settled here in 1545, the town was called Nochistanejo. In 1570, it was renamed Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy), a young Christian from a wealthy Roman family. She was martyred during the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Diocletian in 304 AD. As the story goes, Lucia persuaded her mother to give away her wealth to the poor. At the time, Lucia was betrothed to a young Roman pagan. He became enraged by this charitable act because he considered the money to be part of Lucia's dowery. As a result, he betrayed Lucia, revealing her Christianity to the Roman authorities. Her martyrdom story was considerably embellished over the centuries. According to the early versions, Lucia refused to sacrifice at the altar to the Emperor. The local governor then ordered her to be defiled in a brothel. However, her guards were unable to remove her from her cell, even with a team of oxen. Next, they attempted to burn her alive but the wood wouldn't light. Finally she was killed with a sword. Later versions claim that her eyes were gouged out by her guards, but after her martyrdom, they reappeared in her head, intact. Still another story says she plucked out her own eyes to discourage an unwanted suitor. Because of this, and because Lucia means light in latin, Santa Lucia became the patroness of the blind and those with eye troubles.

The confessional booth was crafted in the same peaked style as the altar's retablo. Notice the painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the wall next to the booth. It is a rare church in Mexico that doesn't display some image of the nation's patroness. The elaborately painted walls are typical of decorations found in 19th century haciendas and townhouses.

La Taberna de Tequila

Adjacent to the casa grande is the thick-walled old taberna. Within this building, barrels of tequila were produced for shipment to Guadalajara, Zacatecas, and other markets. Several old wooden casks, similar to those which once contained the fiery liquor, are stacked in the lower right of the photo. A tall chimney rises behind the taberna. It was used in the cooking process.

The walls and part of the roof have collapsed on one end of the taberna. In the foreground is a small iron boiler which may have been part of the distilling process. In the back wall, you can see a circular hole that was the mouth of a furnace. Indigenous people had been making use of the maguey plant for thousands of years before the Spanish arrived. In addition to using the leaves for fiber, and their spiny tips for needles, they crushed and fermented the heart of the plant to make pulque, a milky and mildly alcoholic beverage. Pulque is still a popular drink in rural areas of Mexico, although beer has superseded it in urban areas. When the Spanish settled, they began to distill the agave's juice into a fiery liquor.

The adobe wall of the taberna contains several circular furnace mouths for feeding in the fuel. The openings have been sealed over or filled with debris, like the one above. You can see a second mouth to the right of the truncated pilaster. The Spanish got into distilling maguey because of the  royal monopolies on alcoholic drinks like wine, rum, and brandy made them too expensive for any but the wealthy. The liquor produced from maguey is called mescal everywhere but in the area around the small city of Tequila, to the west of Guadalajara. There, a maguey variety called blue agave is used to make the famous drink called tequila. Today, only liquor made from the blue agave from the area around Tequila can be called by that name. At first, mescal (or tequila) was produced in small quantities intended for consumption on the local haciendas where it was distilled.

The high ceiling of the taverna is supported by arches held up by graceful columns. I am always impressed by the architectural beauty of the workaday buildings on haciendas I visit. What modern architect would design a factory or warehouse this lovely? By the end of the 16th century, hacendados were beginning to realize that their popular liquor had commercial possibilities. In 1600, a hacendado named Pedro Sanchez de Tagle established the first large-scale distillery, based in Tequila. To produce the necessary raw material, he began to cultivate thousands of agave plants. However, while tequila production in the 17th century was increasingly lucrative, the primary focus of most haciendas--including Santa Lucia--continued to be livestock, grain crops, and sugar.

One end of the taberna is roofless, but the thick walls are intact. Nopal cactus grows on the top of one adobe wall, while bougainvillea spills over another. In the 18th century, tequila took off as a major business activity. In the 1770s, José Prudencia de Cuervo was a modestly prosperous merchant and small scale money-lender. He came from a Guadalajara family that was not among the first rank, but was prominent nonetheless. His father, typical of many Guadalajara merchants, had emigrated from Spain early in the century. A brother held a high position in the Guadalajara's Royal Treasury. José began to acquire land with the earnings of his mercantile and lending activities, another typical move for someone in his position. In 1785, he purchased the sugar-producing Hacienda Guadalupe. A year later he bought the 30,000 acre Hacienda San Martin. Growing on Cuervo's various properties were 50,000 agave plants. By the time of his death in 1811, his agave had increased to 400,000 plants and he was heavily invested in distilling and barreling his product. José Cuervo had become the preeminent producer of tequila in Mexico, and his family continued the business.

The Corinthian-style cap from a long-disappeared column rests on the floor of the taberna. There are many picturesque old relics of the hacienda's architectural decorations lying about. With the success of José Prudencia de Cuervo, the tequila industry had come of age. Haciendas like Santa Lucia began to devote significant portions of their land to agave cultivation, and to distill, barrel, and sell their own stocks. The owners of Hacienda Santa Lucia considered their tequila operation important enough to include it within the walls of their casco, the nerve center of the estate.

Today, the old taberna produces weddings rather than liquor. The building is a popular site for wedding photos. Mexico is a country deeply influenced by tradition. José Cuervo is still the name of one of the most popular tequila brands in the world and many other tequilas also bear the names of old haciendas. In the town of Tesistán, very near Hacienda Santa Lucia, the Distileria Santa Lucia produces a fine brand of tequila.

This completes Part 3 of my Haciendas of Zapopan series. I hope you have enjoyed it and, if so, you will leave any thoughts in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

1 comment:

  1. That's a good documentary! I agree that Cuervo is one of the most traditional tequila houses in Jalisco, the land of tequila, but there are also other old and traditional families, like the responsible of making tequila amor mío.


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