Monday, December 5, 2016

Taxco Part 7: Churches and chapels along Calle Hidalgo

View through the entrance gate of Capilla de la Santisima Trinidad. While strolling down Calle Hidalgo, Carole and I visited several neighborhood chapels, some dating back to the 16th century. Capilla de la Santisima Trinidad (Chapel of the Holy Trinity) is situated several blocks from Plaza Borda, at the confluence of three streets: Calles Hidalgo, Cenaobscuras, and Morelos. In this posting we'll examine the architecture and furnishings of three of these old chapels: La Santisima Trinidad, San Nicolas Tolentino, and San Miguel Arcangel.

Capilla de la Santisima Trinidad

Street view of La Santisima Trinidad. Notice the rough stone work of the peripheral wall and of the church's exterior walls. These features date from the 16th century. Every colonial city was built according to a standard plan devised by King Phillip II, of Spanish Armada fame. A town would be laid out around a central plaza, with the most important church on one side. In Taxco's case these are Plaza Borda and Parroquia Santa Prisca (see Parts 2, 4 & 5 of this series) The wealthiest Spaniards built homes on, or adjacent to, the plaza. People of lesser wealth and social status lived in concentric circles radiating out from the center. The indigenous population was the poorest and so lived in the outlying barrios (neighborhoods). La Santisima Trinidad serviced one of these barrios.

View of the church from inside the peripheral walls. La Santisima Trinidad has a single bell tower and is surrounded by a flagstone patio. After visiting quite a large number colonial structures during my nine years in Mexico, I have learned to recognize the era in which they were built. The earliest churches were constructed of adobe with thatched roofs. Few of these survived into modern times. Most were replaced within a few decades by structures built with rough, uncut stones, like those you see above. If there were pre-hispanic structures in the area, particularly temples, these were sometimes cannibalized for building materials. However, no such structures existed in the immediate area around Taxco. Although the interior of La Santisima Trinidad was remodeled in later centuries, the exterior retains its 16th century appearance.

The church interior is simple, with a single nave and no side-chapels. The stark white walls are decorated with various statues and religious paintings. The altar, seen at the far end of the nave, is of the Neo-Classic design. This style became popular in the late 18th century and remained so through most of the 19th century, Notice the robed statue on the wall at the extreme right center of the photo. This is Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (Our Lady of the Sorrows), one of the many manifestations of the Virgin Mary.

The altar is topped with a triangle enclosing the Eye of Providence, surrounded by a sunburst. I was curious about its association with La Santisima Trinidad. The Eye of Providence, also known as the All-Seeing Eye of God, has been an important symbol for centuries. In fact, it appears on the back side of the Great Seal of the United States and on the $1.00 bill. During the Renaissance, the image was used to symbolize the concept of the Trinity. Therein lies, its connection with La Santisima Trinidad. The All-Seeing Eye was not an original part of the 16th century church, since the use of a sunburst in the symbol didn't come into practice until the 17th century. It was probably added when the church was remodeled in the 18th century.

Our Lady of Sorrows. Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows) is one of several statues in La Santisima Trinidad that are taken out and paraded through the streets during religious festivals. The "sorrows" refer to seven sorrowful moments Mary had during Jesus' life, including his crucifixion. She is sometimes depicted with seven arrows puncturing her heart.

Capilla de San Nicolas Tolentino

Capilla de San Nicolas Tolentino stands on Calle Hidalgo, facing Parque Vicente Guerrero. This 16th century Augustinian chapel was constructed using the same kind of rough stones as La Santisima Trinidad. However, some cut stones were used on the corners as you can see above.

The Capilla's facade and steeple. The single steeple has openings for four bells, which are rung by hand. The Neo-Classical facade, with its four pilasters supporting a triangular pediment, was probably added in the 18th century. When we visited, the church had an antique feel about it. Even so, it is one of the most active of the neighborhood chapels.

Carole walks up the aisle of the single nave. The wood ceiling was fairly unusual. That and the stained white walls added to the sense of antiquity. Aside from the altar area, the interior of the church contained few decorations. These included small paintings marking the Stations of the Cross, two depictions of a crucified Jesus, a scene of souls in purgatory, and a small altar to San Charbel Maklouf. Except for the electric lights, it would be easy to feel that one had stepped back into the 16th century.

The main altar contains five statues. The central figure is San Nicolas Tolentino, for whom the Capilla is named. On the lower left is San Rafael Arcangel and to the right is San Gabriel Arcangel. Above are two figures, a woman on the left and a man to the right. These I haven't been able to identify, but they appear to be of 16th or 17th century origin.

San Nicolas was an Italian saint who lived in the town of Tolentino during the Middle Ages. San Nicolas Tolentino (1245 - 1305) was a mystic who gained a great reputation by ministering to the poor. Nicolas joined the Augustinian Order at the age of 16 and was ordained at 25. He acted as a peacemaker during the civil strife in Tolentino between supporters of the Pope and those of the Holy Roman Emperor. According to legend, he cured the sick by feeding them bread over which he had prayed. This was the origin of the Augustinian custom of blessing and distributing St. Nicholas bread. It is a practice continued at the Capilla to this day. Nicolas also fasted, but those around him felt he went too far, sometimes endangering his own health. However, the fasting provided him with visions, particularly of Purgatory. In Catholic belief, this is where souls are purified before being allowed to enter Heaven. As a result, Nicolas spent much time praying for the souls in Purgatory and he is considered their Patron. Notice the small whip held in his right hand.

San Nicolas used a whip like this for self-flagellation. The barbed tip has been painted red to simulate fresh blood. The practice of beating oneself with a whip to drive out sin began in the 13th century during Nicolas' lifetime. As a mystic, he was attracted to this extraordinary ritual because it helped produce his sublime visions. I find it intriguing that the pre-hispanic Aztecs produced similar results using manta ray spines to self-pierce the tongue or the genitals. In both cases, the practitioners sought a mystical connection with higher forces through the infliction of intense pain on their own bodies. Although the Church condemned self-flagellation in the 14th century, it remains common in a few Catholic countries, including Mexico.

Souls in Purgatory. I had envisioned Purgatory as a crowded, uncomfortable and thoroughly boring place of interminable waiting, kind of like the boarding gate at an airport. However, apparently Purgatory is a lot more Hellish than that. Flames shoot up around the nude figures of a man and a woman. Between them stands a third figure  also nude except for his bishop's mitre (hat). Apparently, even high church officials had plenty of sins to expiate. This vignette was created to celebrate San Nicolas' role as Patron of Souls in Purgatory.

Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel

View from the inside of Parroquia San Miguel's main gate, looking out. The street outside is Calle Morelos, which branches off Hidalgo near Capilla San Nicolas. I had wanted to shoot from the street, using this beautiful gate to frame the church. However, as usual in Mexico, some bright soul decided to string multiple power/telephone lines in front of the church,. This prevented any clean, unobstructed shots until you are well inside the gate.. Mexican power, telephone, and cable lines are the bane of my photographic life here.

View from the steps of the church back toward central Taxco and the mountain slopes. This area sits above the street and is known as Plazuela San Miguel. It contains both a broad patio and a lush garden, altogether a great spot to rest yourself in the shade of its trees. Although we experienced some rain in the late evenings, most of our days in Taxco were like this one, brilliantly sunny with blue skies.

Parroquia San Miguel Arcangel is one of the oldest churches in Taxco. When it was built in the 16th century, it was originally dedicated to San Sebastian. However, in the 18th century the church was re-dedicated to the Archangel St. Michael, the warrior angel who is believed to be the commander of God's armies ranged against Satan's forces. A weather-worn and partially damaged statue of San Miguel stands in a niche above the choir window. Like San Nicolas Tolentino, this church exudes antiquity, at least on the exterior.

An brass bell, greenish with age, hangs from a wooden cross-piece in the belfry. This is the lower of the the belfry's two levels. Each contains space for four bells. Notice the two worn figures on either side of the opening. I have no information to identify them, but they may be angels or putti (cupids). There is evidence of brickwork underneath the chipped plaster. This may indicate a later date for the steeple than for the church itself. Bricks didn't come into widespread use in New Spain until the 18th century. It was not uncommon for steeples to be added well after the main structure was completed.

The interior of Parroquia San Miguel shows a strong Neo-Classic influence.  This includes stark, relatively undecorated walls and ceiling, with Greco-Roman columns around the altar. Carole can be seen in the lower right of the photo, sitting in a pew.

San Miguel Arcangel, wielding his customary sword with one hand and a cross with the other. The two columns of pink cantera that frame the statue are topped with Ionic capitals, a definite Neo-Classic touch. St. Michael the Archangel is revered by multiple religious, including Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Within Christianity, he is part of Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran religious traditions.

Santiago Matamoros, the Patron of Spain and of conquistadors in the New World.  Another warrior figure prominent in the church is Santiago Matamoros (St. James the Moor Slayer). He is St James the Elder, one of the Twelve Apostles. His association with Spain is probably mythical, according to biblical scholars. Nevertheless, he became a great symbol for Christians during the Reconquista (Re-conquest) of Spain from the Muslim Moors. The New World was discovered the same year as the final defeat of Spain's Moors. As a result, the Moor Slayer was reassigned the job of sponsoring the conquest and slaughter of indigenous people of New Spain and Peru.

A remarkably realistic portrayal of Christ on the cross. Although I have not been able to verify it, this may be one of the famous cornstalk statues that were created by Purépecha craftmen in Michoacan in the 16th century. They were made from the core of dried and ground up corn stalks, mixed with the boiled bulbs of begonia and orchidea. The result was a very light and malleable substance, ideal for sculpting. The pre-hispanic Purépecha invented the process in order to create statues of their various deities. Since they took their gods into battle with them, and it was sacrilege to leave them behind if they had to flee, a very light, cornstalk statue had a distinct advantage over one of stone or wood. The Spanish adopted the technique for Christian statues, particularly those of the crucified Christ.

A moment of veneration. As I turned to leave, I saw this man standing at the cornstalk statue and instinctively took a photo. It wasn't until after I enlarged the photo in my computer that I realized what he was doing. After he had prayed for some time, he extended his arm up to touch the feet of the statue, as a final act of devotion.

This completes Part 7 of my Taxco series. If you have enjoyed it and would like to leave a question or a comment, please do so in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

1 comment:

  1. Jim, very nice place. Interesting!


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