|Oxkcutzcab, Yucatan (begun 1640)|
The churches of the Yucatan were all products of the Franciscan effort to christianize the Mayan inhabitants of the region. They display the characteristic Franciscan architectural simplicity with the exception that nearly all are crowned by espadañas, bell-gables, of varying complexity. Espadaña comes from the Spanish verb espadañar which means to fan out like tail feathers and it is not hard to imagine these bell-gables as having this quality.
Espadañas not unique to the Yucatan, although they have become the signature component of its churches. They are cheaper and easier to build than a church tower or bell-tower, which was important in an area like the Yucatan which was poor compared to gold-rich central Mexico. The elaborate churches found in that area were not an economic possibility in the Yucatan. In Spain espadañas are common in small village churches which cannot afford to build a more elaborate bell-tower.
Espadañas added architectural spice to the otherwise plain Franciscan-style churches of the Yucatan. They were what provided individuality to each community's church with no two exactly alike and add a great deal if personality to the architecture. Take a look at this sampling of Yucatan churches and you will see what I mean.
|Santiago Church, Merida, Yucatan|
|San Antonio de Padua Church, Ticul, Yucatan|
|Ticul Church profile view|
|Uayma, Yucatan, close up of espedaña|
|San Francisco Church, Campeche, Yucatan|
Art historian Samuel Edgerton contends that the espadañas also contain a Mayan component, being evocative of the dovecotes (holes for nesting birds) that sat atop some Mayan temples. His thought is that, for this reason, the espadaña form resonated with the Mayans for whom and by whom these churches were built. Perhaps, in some ineffable way, the espadañas made them feel more "at home" within the new faith and its houses of worship.
|Uxmal ruins, Yucatan|