Friday, July 12, 2013

Espadañas: Yucatan Churches

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.

Chumayel, Yucatan

Mama, Yucatan
This church in Mama, Yucatan, dedicated to the Virgin of the Assumption. is a good example of how these unique and elaborate facades were built. The church began as a small shrine in the 16th century, expanded in the 17th and in the 18th century, the triple-tier espadaña was added to it.  

Santiago Church, Merida, Yucatan

San Antonio de Padua Church, Ticul,  Yucatan

Ticul Church profile view
Uayma, Yucatan, close up of espedaña

Dzitas, Yucatan
Tunkas, Yucatan

Sitilpech, Yucatan
San Francisco Church, Campeche, Yucatan
These eleven churches with their unique espadaña fingerprints are just a sampling of the churches of the Yucatan.  Most of them, like the church in Mama, evolved from simple buildings being added to in stages with the elaborate bell-gable, the espadaña,  being added last.  Architecturally, these espadañas are a later development reflecting the growth of the Spanish ultra-baroque ornamental chirrugueresque style in the 18th century. 

 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

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tihosuco, San Martiniano: The "Other" Mayan Ruins

Like the rest of Mexico the state of Quintana Roo, located in the eastern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula and bordered by the Caribbean Sea, is known for its ruins.  The ruins of Tulum,  which in its time was the main port for the inland Mayan city of Coba, are always full of tourists from all over the globe.   With its location alongside the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean Tulum, historic value apart, is flat-out beautiful.  Coba, located further inland, is a very different sort of site. It is an extensive ruin that is well-visited, as are all the Mayan ruins in Quintana Roo and the rest of the Yucatan.  

Tulum, Quintana Roo, MX

Tulum, Quintana Roo, MX

Coba, Quintana Roo, MX

Coba, Quintana Roo, MX

Then, there are the "other" Mayan ruins, products of a different time in Yucatan history, but equally interesting and equally important.  A major event in the history of the Yucatan was the Caste War, Guerra de las Castas,  which started in the mid-nineteenth century but was not really finished until  the early 20th century.  It began as a Mayan uprising against the Spanish overlords and ultimately resulted  in the independent state of Quintana Roo in 1974.

Tihosuco, Quintana Roo, MX
From the outside the Church of the Divine Child in Tihosuco looks abandoned but, in fact, the interior has been partially reconstructed and it is in use as a church.  Prior to the Caste War, there had been some deterioration in the building, but during this war the church was intentionally destroyed by the uprising Mayans. Fortunately not all of the gunpowder in the keg that was meant to level the church exploded and the church was not totally demolished.

There is little information about the destruction of the old Guadalupe church in San Martiniano which is in a small pueblo not far from Puerto Morelos. I have been told that the church fell apart due to neglect over the years and now the ruins, apart from the facade seen below,  are being torn down to construct a new church that is a reproduction of the original one.

 San Martiniano, Quintana Roo, MX

 San Martiniano, Quintana Roo, MX

At the present time the church in Tihosuco as well as the one in San Martiniano  are functioning as churches  with active congregations.  Each will be explored in-depth in a coming post, but here are a few photos of their interiors.

Interior of San Martiniano church ruin

Interior of Tihosuco church ruin
Neither of these church ruins has the antiquity of Tulum, Coba or the other Mayan ruins, but they both are Mayan ruins of a different sort.  The histories that led to them are fascinating and complex and no less a part of the formation of the contemporary Mayan people of Quintana Roo than the pre-Hispanic period.