|Santa Maria Tonanzintla, Puebla, MX|
Make no mistake, it is evident that Santa Maria Tonanzintla is Christian house of worship, but the indigenous identity with its beliefs, sentiments and symbols has found a home here as well. More than any other Mexican church, Santa Maria Tonanzintla, was the place where the Franciscans gave their indigenous flock free artistic reign. In doing this they wisely made a peace between the faiths, letting them co-exist in a way which permitted the indigenous identity to survive and made Christianity more palatable. The sort of negotiated accommodation that Santa Maria Tonanzintla represents is explored more fully in my March 24th post "Converting Christianity".
Technically, no photography is allowed in Santa Maria Tonanzintla although post-cards with images of the church are sold outside. However, no one seemed to object to the few photos of the interior I took standing outside of the church. At first glance, Santa Maria Tonanzintla is overwhelming- so many images and so much vibrant color; walking into this church is like walking into a jewelry box. Every square inch of the walls and ceilings are covered with sculpted figures. It is hard to know where to focus; the best way to see churches like this is just to sit there and keep looking. All photos below can be enlarged by clicking on them.
|Santa Maria Tonanzintla, Cholula, Puebla|
|Santa Maria Tonanzintla|
|Santa Maria Tonanzintla, ceiling detail|
To step into Santa Maria Tonanzintla, from the indigenous perspective, was to step into a kind of paradise. The domed ceiling of the chapel represents the sky of Tlaloc, the god of rain and what seem to be angels are actually people who have died drowning or being struck by lightning and have been reincarnated in Tlaloc's heaven. These figures are mixed in with figures from the Christian tradition.
|Dome Detail, Santa Maria Tonanzintla|
|Cristo Resucitado (Resurrected Christ)|
|St. John of the Cross|
|Figure with Feather Headdress|
To the modern visitor, Santa Maria Tonanzintla is a marvel rife with color and form, a place both exotic and visually enticing. For the indigenous whose hands built this church it must have had a very different significance. My guess is that it was a place where they felt comforted by the presence of what was familiar and meaningful and learned to be comfortable with the new faith that had become a part of their lives.
Some scholars believe that Santa Maria Tonanzintla is a folk reinterpretation of the Rosary Chapel in the Dominican church/convent in nearby Puebla. We will be exploring this chapel and another like it in Oaxaca in the next post, and the proposed connection between Santa Maria Tonanzintla and these will become clearer.