Sunday, December 18, 2016

Taxco Part 8: Ex-convento de San Bernardino de Siena and ex-Hacienda del Chorrillo

View of ex-Convento de San Bernardino de Siena from the Angel Inn restaurant balcony.  In the background, sheer cliffs rising hundreds of feet provide a dramatic backdrop. Attached to the convent's church is a white building with a red tile roof and five arched windows. This was once part of the convent complex. Behind the ex-Convento, you can see the white steeples of Parroquia Chavarrieta, another of the small churches serving the barrios of Taxco. The ex-Convento is located along Calle Juarez, another of this Magic Pueblo's wonderful walking streets. Juarez stretches from Plaza Borda down to the Carretera (highway) near the eastern entrance to the city. Unlike many of Taxco's streets, Juarez' grade is relatively gentle, making for easy walking. In this posting, we'll look at the ex-Convento and the ex-Haciennda de Chorillo, both built in the 16th century. To locate these sites on a Google map of Taxco, click here.

Ex-Convento de San Bernardino de Siena

Calle Juarez makes a "dog-leg" turn where it meets Plazuela del ex-Convento. The Plazuela is a small plaza which adjoins the church. Ex-Convento de San Bernardino de Siena was built in 1592 by a Franciscan friar named Francisco de Torantos. The initial work was financed by Antonio Verru Bravo, a wealthy Taxco silver miner. However, construction funds ran out before the convent was complete, so the rest had to be financed with alms. In 1802, the original adobe church burned down. When it was rebuilt with stone in 1804, a Neo-classic facade was added to the original Romanesque structure. The convento is named after San Bernardino de Siena (1380 - 1444), a Franciscan friar. In his early career, he threw all of his considerable energy into helping the sick. Later, he began to preach with such impact that some towns refused to let him leave unless he promised to return. Even when he was dying, San Bernardino preached for 50 consecutive days. He refused various offers of a bishop's position, but eventually became Vicar General of the Franciscan Order. Pope Pius II called him the "second Paul".

The church nave shows a strong Neo-classic influence. The Convento played a role in the War of Independence from Spain. In 1821, the war was at a stalemate, with the insurgents unable to beat the royalists, and the royalists unable to stamp them out. Political changes back in Spain prompted royalist General Agustin Iturbide to approach his opponent, the insurgent General Vicente Guerrero, with a proposal to an end to the conflict. Iturbide used the Convento as the site to draft the Plan de Iguala, which is also called the Plan Trigarante (Plan of the Three Guarantees). The Plan established Mexican independence with three guarantees: a constitutional monarchy; an official religion of Roman Catholicism; and equal rights for Mexicans, whether they were born in Spain or Mexico. Vicente Guerrero recognized this as the best chance to end the war and win independence. He agreed to merge the insurgent and royalist armies and signed the Plan de Iguala. On August 24, 1821, the Spanish Viceroy ratified the Plan by signing the Treaty of Córdoba. With this, Mexico became an independent nation.

This Virgin of Montserrat is a copy of one of the most famous statues in Spain. The Spanish statue is kept at the Maria de Montserrat monastery on Montserrat Mountain in Catalonia. The original statue, sculpted from wood in Romanesque style, was probably carved in the 12th century. The Madonna and Child of Montserrat originally had much lighter complexions. Over the centuries, either candle smoke or chemical changes in the varnish caused the faces, hands, and feet to turn black. The copy seen here reflects the original's later appearance. The orb that the Virgin holds in her right hand represents the universe. San Pedro Nolasco (1189 - 1256) made a pilgrimage to visit the Virgin of Montserrat in 1203. As a result he was inspired to found the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Ransom of Captives to help Christians enslaved by the Moors. Three hundred years later, in 1522, a Spanish soldier named Ignatius Loyola visited the Montserrat shrine. There, he laid down his weapons forever, as the first step toward creating the Society of Jesus, or Jesuit Order.

Several of the statues above are carried in Taxco's various religious parades. In the center, under the crucifix, a female figure reaches up from the middle of roaring flames. This is called Anima Sola (the Lone Soul) and represents Purgatory, similar to a statue in the Capilla de San Nicolas Tolentino, seen in Part 7. To the right of Animal Sola is a statue of San Francisco (St. Francis of Assisi) who founded the Franciscan Order. To the left of Anima Sola is a small statue of San Judas Tadeo. He was one of the Twelve Apostles, but was not the Judas who betrayed Christ. Almost nothing is known of San Judas Tadeo because he is the least mentioned Apostle of the Gospels. Abhorring a vacuum of information, Catholic Tradition created a story for him. According to legend, San Judas Tadeo accompanied Simon the Zealot to Persia to evangelize. There, they were both arrested and executed for refusing to worship the local gods. There is some dispute over whether Judas' head was crushed with a mallet or cut off with an ax, but no disagreement about the result. The statue of the monk on the far left is unidentified.

San Margarito Flores Garcia was martyred during the Cristero War. Margarito Flores Garcia (1899 - 1927) was born in Taxco, and is still revered here. At 15, he started to study at the seminary in Chilopie, Guerrero. He became a priest in 1924, only two years before the outbreak of the Cristero War. This was a conflict between Mexico's revolutionary government and reactionaries closely allied with the Catholic Church. There were atrocities on both sides. These included summary executions of priests by government forces and the murders of farmworkers by the Catholic Cristeros. The government was breaking up the hacienda system and farmworkers, called agraristas, were trying to participate in the land redistribution program. The Cristeros had genuine issues about government religious repression, but they were also closely allied with the hacendados (hacienda owners). Many agraristas were murdered by Cristero death squads acting on behalf of the hacendados. Margarito Flores Garcia was one of a considerable number of priests who were arrested and executed for involvement with the Cristero movement. For this, Pope John Paul II sainted him in 2000, along with 24 other priests martyred during the war.

Statue of a participant in one of Taxco's unique religious parades. This is one of three very unusual statues standing behind the ex-Convento. During Semana Santa (Easter Week) members of several cofradias (religous brotherhoods) march in a series of parades over three days. The cofradias as a group are called penitentes (penitent ones) and all wear black hoods with eye holes. Except for the women, all are naked to the waist. Each cofradia acts out a different ritual. The man above is one of the Flagelentes. They carry 100 lb. crosses balanced on their extended arms. Periodically the Flagelentes hand the crosses to helpers and then lash their own bare backs with metal-studded whips. You can see the white-tipped whip hanging down from the Flagelente's right hand.

An Encruzado (crucified one) is strapped to a bundle of sharp-thorned blackberry canes. The bundles weigh 40-50 lbs, forcing the men to walk in a stooped position. The thorns pierce the bare flesh of the Encruzados' arms and shoulders as they walk along. Only when the procession pauses do helpers ease the weight of the bundles to give the Encruzados some relief.

The Animas (Souls) are from the only cofradia that permits women to join. Above, a female Anima carries two candles and walks in a hunched position. Local people sometimes refer to this group as "the bent ones". The Animas hobble along with chains around their ankles and they can only rest on their hands and knees when the procession stops. All three of the cofradias act out traditions dating far back into Medieval history. Over the centuries, the Church has attempted to suppress these rituals, but they continue in Taxco as if it were still the 12th century.

Ex-Hacienda del Chorrillo

This ancient stone structure may have once served as a gatehouse for the hacienda. There was no identifying sign, but its age and proximity to ex-Hacienda del Chorillo strongly suggest that the building was part of the complex, possibly providing some security for the entrance. The ex-Hacienda now functions as the School of Fine Arts of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

View through one of the arches of the hacienda's aqueduct. The building in the background was originally one of the hacienda's work structures. In 1524, only two years after his conquest of the Aztecs, Hernán Cortéz wrote a letter to the King of Spain reporting the discovery of silver near Taxco. The hacienda, originally named Cantarranas, was built to process the silver ore extracted from nearby mines. The water necessary for the extraction process flowed along this aqueduct, which was constructed by Spanish soldiers in 1534. The hacienda later became known as El Chorrillo, which means "steady trickle" in Spanish.

This is the building seen through the aqueduct arch. It may have been where the ore was crushed. Today it houses administrators and classroom space. Although the interior has certainly been remodeled, the rough stone walls of the exterior very likely date back to the 16th century. Hacienda del Chorrillo functioned as a silver processing operation continuously from Hernán Cortéz' day until the Mexican Revolution. However, at various times during the colonial period it was also used for religious and administrative purposes by the Church and by Spanish officials.

An antigue wooden gate provides a passageway between two of several patios. The "patio system" of ore processing was invented by Bartolomé de Medina in 1555. The aqueduct provided large amounts of water which was forced through the ore to help break it up and free silver particles. Then, in the patios, salt and mercury were used to leach silver from the crushed ore.

A smelter chimney stands in the corner of one of the patios. Its construction suggests that it was built in the 18th or 19th centuries when bricks became widely available. After leaching, heat was used to separate the mercury and other minerals from the silver. The molten silver was then cast into bars, most of which were shipped to Spain during the colonial period. Because of this, hard currency was chronically in short supply in Nueva España (Mexico), in spite of the colony being one of the chief sources of this flood of silver.

One of the ore-processing patios now functions as a student break area. The exterior of the stone building and the surface of the patio itself are probably original. Notice the fountain pool at the lower right of the photo.

The fountain's water emerges from a spout extending from the mouth of the sculpture. The statue is of a pre-hispanic god named Huehueteotl, the God of Fire. His name means "Old, Old God" and he may be the oldest deity in the whole pre-hispanic pantheon. The head dress contains a bowl where incense would have been burned during ceremonies. I could not determine whether the statue is an original or a copy.

Another patio contains a well and a small, wood-fired oven. During the Mexican Revolution (1910 - 1921), the hacienda was sacked and demolished by the revolutionary forces of Emiliano Zapata. After that, silver processing ceased and the hacienda stood in ruins for a couple of decades. Then, in the 1940s, an American couple named Sullivan acquired the ruins and turned them into guest cottages. Distinguished visitors to ex-Hacienda del Chorrillo included John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy in the 1950s..

I first mistook this for a chimney, but it actually appears to the the remains of a pillar. In the 1980s the ex-hacienda was purchased by the State of Guerrero for use as the headquarters of the Centro de Gastronomy Guerrerense a cooking school specializing in dishes from Guerrero. Other parts of the property became the Centro de Artes Plastico de Taxco. In 1990, the State offered the ex-hacienda to UNAM, which created a school to teach drawing, engraving, photography, sculpture, jewelry-making, and enamel on metal artwork.

View of the aqueduct, looking out. In 2011, UNAM added Visual Arts, Visual Communication, and Art and Design as degrees offered at the school. Mexico's dedication to preserving and utilizing its architectural heritage has always impressed me. In the US, all this would have long since been bulldozed to put up a Walmart or a glitzy hotel.

This completes Part 8 of my Taxco series. I hope you enjoyed it and, if so, you will leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email them to me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

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