Posts Tagged ‘religious architecture’

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An Unexpected Peek at the Patio de los Azulejos

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Patio de los AzulejosSome 482 years into its making, Puebla oozes history. The city’s downtown core is home to more than 2,600 Colonial-era buildings and everything that goes along with them. You can stumble upon intriguing facts, colorful legends, and even unsolved mysteries with minimal effort and a very basic grasp of Spanish. At least, we frequently do. Nearly every trip to the Centro Histórico reveals something new—or old, really, but new to us. It’s one of the reasons I love it here.

Take, for example, a couple of Wednesdays ago, when we were approached by a stranger on Calle 11 Poniente. “Hello!” he shouted at us enthusiastically, running toward us from across the street. “Do you want to see the Patio de los Azulejos?” I shrugged. I had no idea what he was talking about. Neither did my husband, a Poblano. But our friend Antonio, who’d just finished showing us his latest project (some of the city’s first long-term rental suites) nearby, explained that the building was once part of the Nuestra Señora de la Concordia temple. Its patio is a famous example of Puebla Baroque architecture—and it’s gorgeous. OK, I was sold.

We followed our impromptu tour guide through giant wooden doors and down a long, narrow, dimly lit corridor to emerge inside a oddly decorated 17th-century church. It turns out that the once-Catholic nave has been taken over by Freemasons, who’ve pretty much destroyed the interior by painting grotesque pagan imagery on the walls. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry at the sight of their handiwork. (See photos below.) Fortunately, the exquisite central patio of the building remains mostly intact, for now.

Freemasons’ handiworkFreemasons’ handiwork

“The building that houses the most beautiful facade in the historic center today is in ruin due to neglect of state authorities,” complains the local magazine Revista 360. “[The annex] was once part of the retreat house for the Concordia priests of St. Philip Neri. This complex is famous for being the site where the Iguala Plan was printed. It also housed the city’s first newspaper.”

The building’s exterior — at least the part facing the central patio — features a truly spectacular array of inlaid Talavera tiles. It was designed, circa 1676, by architect Carlos García Durango, who was responsible for various religious structures in Puebla. (He finished the north tower of the Cathedral, among other projects.) The Patio de los Azulejos alone is definitely worth a visit; however, it’s unclear whether the site is open to the public or whether we just happened to pass by on a day when the Masons were profiling foreign “tourists” to ask for donations. … We chipped in 70 pesos.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

The Patio de los Azulejos is located at 11 Poniente #111 (between 3 Sur and 16 de Septiembre) in the historic center of Puebla.

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Gold Décor Gives Puebla Chapel a Heavenly Glow

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Templo de Sto. DomingoOn April 16, 1690, hundreds of people thronged the flower-strewn streets of downtown Puebla to inaugurate the Capilla del Rosario, or the Chapel of the Rosary. The celebration in and around the chapel lasted a full 10 days. Although the drawn-out festivities may seem somewhat extravagant now, when you consider that the ornate chapel — a shining example of Mexican Baroque architecture — at the time was regarded as the “8th wonder of the world,” the celebration was more than fitting. Today the architectural jewel, resplendent in gilded stucco, is a must-see for any visitor to this UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

The Capilla del Rosario and the larger temple in which it resides, Santo Domingo, were actually built at different times. The construction of the main church began in 1571, and the majority was completed by 1611; the final touches were worked out in 1659. In 1650, friar Juan de Cuenca conceived the chapel to demonstrate the Dominican order’s devotion to the Virgin of the Rosary and to help convert the masses to Catholicism. To achieve this goal, he made sure that the chapel would outshine any other people had seen before. Thus, its use of gold leaf, onyx stone, and talavera tile is, in a word, stunning.

Visitors only need to spend a few moments inside the chapel to realize the master craftsmanship involved in creating it.

Oil paintings also decorate the space. A transplant from Mexico City, José Rodriguez Carnero, painted many of the canvases. His images depict scenes from the birth of Christ, the mysterious joys of the rosary, and the coronation of Mary, in somber tones that neatly contrast the gilded plaster.

The dome of the Capilla del RosarioThe ceiling of the chapel nave features gilded stucco.Artist José Rodriguez Carnero painted many of the canvases in the chapel.The centerpiece of the sanctuary is the altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who almost appears to float in midair. The gold canopy surrounding her came from the hands of Lucas Pinto, an Iberian artisan, and the columns were carved of stone from nearby Tecali de Herrera. Multiple saints adorn the walls surrounding the altar: At left are Mary’s husband, St. Joseph, and her cousin St. Elizabeth, who was the mother of St. John the Baptist. At right are her parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne. On the next tier up, you’ll note 16 virgin martyrs, each holding the instrument of her death.

While surveying the grandeur of this chapel, I’ve often pondered how a society that grappled with poverty could invest so much in a house of worship. Yet donations from rich and poor alike paid for the realization of the Capilla del Rosario: People of lesser economic means gave what they could to garner the protection of Mary, while the rich were promised burials within the chapel. (It is unclear how many, if any, are indeed buried here.) In more recent history, thanks to a donation from the Mary Street Jenkins Foundation, a team of restorers rejuvenated the noblest characteristics of the chapel between 1967 and 1971.

During any visit, be sure to examine the chapel carefully, slowly, from front to back, ceiling to floor. Try to gaze at the walls from every angle, from various directions, to see how many details you notice. The best time to visit is in the late afternoon: When the sun comes down through the windows, the gold leaf shines brighter than usual and fills the space with a heavenly glow. It’s a sight you simply should not miss.

—Laura McKelvie

The Templo de Santo Domingo and Capilla del Rosario are located at the corner of 4 Poniente and Calle 5 de Mayo, a short walk from the city’s main square. Hours: 8 a.m.-1 p.m. (2 p.m. on Sundays) and 4-8:30 p.m. daily.

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Touring Two of Cholula’s Magnificent Churches

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Fans of religious architecture shouldn’t miss a visit to San Andrés Cholula, where two churches — Santa María Tonantzintla and San Francisco Acatepec — provide magnificent examples of local craftsmanship and the region’s blended Spanish-indigenous influence. Each structure is special and important in its own way, with one displaying its splendor on the inside and the other on the outside.

Tonantzintla's relatively plain facade gives visitors no indication of the splendor inside.Santa María Tonantzintla could be one of the most enchanting places of worship ever constructed in Mexico. Located just six miles from downtown Puebla in San Andrés Cholula, the 17th-century church uniquely fuses European and native designs, a style of architecture known today as indigenous baroque. Inspired by the stunning Capilla del Rosario in the nearby city of Puebla, Tonantzintla’s architects tried to give their church a more local, realistic feel. Tonantzintla is adorned mostly with colorful plaster in place of gilded stucco.

The name Tonantzintla, which means “place of our little mother” in Nahuatl, comes from the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, the earth mother who became the equivalent of the Virgin Mary when the Spaniards conquered the pre-Hispanic world. From the outside, the church doesn’t look like much: Crude figures of St. Peter, St. Paul, and the Virgin Mary greet visitors from their perch atop an austere facade (see photo, at right above). But its magnificence quickly becomes apparent inside. The walls are completely covered with ornate plaster molds and models, which are colorfully painted or coated with gold. It’s an explosion of shapes, symbols, and meanings. And, although the figures and faces are rough, childlike, and less elegant than those typically found in other Baroque churches in México, they are equally breathtaking.

Tonantzintla's walls are covered with plaster molds and models, either colorfully painted or coated with gold.“The church of Santa María Tonantzintla is a required visit for anyone who wants to enjoy a spiritual atmosphere that’s ‘out of this world,’” notes architect Ignacio Cabral in his book, Religious Architecture in San Andrés Cholula, Puebla. “The fruits, flowers, children, faces, masks, birds, figures of saints and more together form an extraordinary mosaic — a frank ‘horror vacui,’ or fear of empty space — that is so typical of the Baroque style and here is interpreted in an indigenous fashion.”

What merits the most attention, Cabral continues, is Tonantzintla’s dome, which is like no other in Mexico. “It’s a ‘celestial vision’ of the indigenous world as they imagined it and captured it with their own hands … a magnificent example of the union of Mexican and European [cultures] and of the syncretism between Christianity and the indigenous worldview.”

The church operates autonomously from the Archdiocese of Puebla and is supported and promoted by the community. Signs in the church forbid tourists from taking any photographs inside, with or without flash, to preserve the paint’s colors (they make exceptions during weddings, which is how we got our shots). Post cards may be purchased at the entrance; the money collected goes toward maintenance efforts.

San Francisco Acatepec offers one of the finest examples of the Baroque talavera style in Mexico.Less than a mile from Tonantzintla, San Francisco Acatepec offers one of the finest examples of viceregal architecture and Baroque talavera in Mexico. Upon arrival at Acatepec, the first thing visitors notice is its beautiful facade, which is entirely covered by locally produced ceramic tiles. The handcrafted pieces are so intricately painted that they appear to change colors with the weather: When the sun shines, the reddish hues catch fire; when it’s cloudy, the cobalt blue tones seem to complement the gray sky. The vivid details and ornamentation are characteristic of Puebla’s trademark pottery, a centuries-old traditional art that continues today. “The magnificence of the façade is such that it looks like a porcelain temple, worth being kept under glass,” renowned Colonial art historian Don Manuel Toussaint once noted.

The church — built during the same era Tonantzintla — is named after its original village, Acatepec, which means “hill of reeds” in Nahuatl, and the patron saint of the new church, St. Francis. Sadly, on December 31, 1939, a fire destroyed its original interior, which featured carved cedar altars and gold-covered stucco details.

Some 15 years before the disaster, an engineer named Alberto Pani made a series of books called Churches of Mexico, which depicted 17th- and 18th-century churches to demonstrate the architectural richness of the country. To present them in the best way possible, he worked with one of the nation’s top photographers, Guillermo Kahlo. (If the last name sounds familiar, it’s because he was Frida’s father. Yes, that Frida!) Based on these pictures, the interior of San Francisco Acatepec was largely reconstructed in 1941, and, although it is nowhere as complete as the original, it’s still stunning — and well worth checking out. —Vica Amuchastegui

Both churches are accessible by taxi and bus, including the Cholula Tranvia, which departs from the zócalo of Puebla at 11 a.m., Tuesday through Sunday. (Adult tickets: 100 pesos.) The churches are open to the public every day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Post updated November 6, 2013.

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