Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Folk Baroque: San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya

San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, Oaxaca
When I walked in the doors of this church in a small town some thirty minutes outside of Oaxaca City, I had some idea of what I would see, but was totally unprepared for what I found.  Unequivocally, I can say that it was the best thing I have ever seen in my life; on a scale of one to ten, I would give it a fourteen.( Note the solidity of the architecture, which I have already discussed at length in my April 16 post "Oaxacan Baroque: Environment and Architecture".)  

Entering, I heard an organ playing and it dawned on me that I was being treated to a rehearsal of the recital that I had been told would take place in this church later that day.
The impact of the music and art together was surreal and I am including a video that I shot of this event in my stunned state, forgetting all the rules I knew about how to shoot videos.  You can view this video at

Interior of San Jeronimo

Tlacochahuaya means "watering place" in the Zapotec language and was founded in 1558 as a retreat hermitage not reaching its current size until the 18th century.  The interior is a mix of colonial altarpieces and Oaxacan folk art and painting, which itself is a composite 
of indigenous and Spanish styles. It is to this blending of Spanish Christian and indigenous elements that the term Folk Baroque refers. 

Main altar
The main altar of San Jeronimo, seen in the photo above, is a Oaxacan baroque masterpiece with spiraling Solomonic columns and a painting of "The Descent from the Cross" believed to be by Juan de Arrue, a well-known Oaxacan painter of the time (late 17th-early 18th centuries).  Zoom in on the photo for a better look.  The statue of Christ on the altar is that of Cristo Resucitado, the resurrected Christ, as the photo was taken during the church season of Easter when this particular image of Christ is central.  

Close-up of Cristo Resucitado

There was one image of Christ in the church that is very specific to rural Oaxaca:
that of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey;  you will see this image in
many of the churches there.  I have not read any theories about why this particular image is so popular in Oaxaca, but visiting the rural animal markets in the small towns, you get an sense of the connection people have to animals.

Jesus riding to Jerusalem on donkey

There was another beautiful statue of Jesus Nazareno, (again please refer to the post I just referenced for more information), in the church, seen below.

Jesus Nazareno
Close-up of above photo

La Virgen de la Soledad is the patron saint of Oaxaca and her church, the Basilica de la Soledad is located in Oaxaca City.  Her statue is found in many rural Oaxacan churches and San Jeronimo was no exception.  There will be more about this iconic image in a future blog post.

Virgen de la Soledad.

For the most part in Western Europe and North American, the Trinity is an abstract concept, but in Latin American Colonial art it is represented in a more graphic way, as can be seen in the Padre Eterno below.  In this statue and others like it, all persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are represented.  In other places, Jesus is not shown crucified, but rather as another person.  The Holy Spirit is seen in the gold bird that sits on the top of the crucifix.  The orb and crown, both royal attributes, emphasize the kingship of God the Father over all.  Notice the elaborate brocade of the robe.

Padre Eterno

Everywhere you turned in this church, there was another engrossing treasure. In addition to the main retablo (altarpiece) there were a number of beautiful side altars. 

Calvary Altar  with portrait of St. Catherine of Siena

Guadalupe Altar

 The decorative painting that covered the church walls was outstanding and present to an extent I have not seen in most other places.  Below are just a few instances:

There is a tradition of Colonial-era organ restoration in Oaxaca and much emphasis is placed upon these beautiful instruments.  The organ in San Jeronimo is a masterpiece among them  with its exquisite detail and painting and I was lucky enough to be able to go up into the organ loft which is rarely permitted.  The organist at the organ is the one  playing on the video,  the noted Mexican organist Gustavo Delgado Parra.

No comments:

Post a Comment