Friday, October 11, 2013

Painted Churches of Oaxaca: Santa Ana Zegache

The town of Zegache is a short distance away from Ocotlán de Morelos, which itself is about a half-hour outside of Oaxaca City.  Along with the church of Santo Domingo in Ocotlán, discussed in my September 20 post, Santa Ana Zegache is a project of the Fundación Rodolfo Morales, which was begun by this internationally-known Oaxacan artist who dedicated himself to the renovation of Colonial era Oaxacan churches.

 Santa Ana was originally built in the 17th century by friars of the Dominican order, as was Santo Domingo, Ocotlan and the majority of churches in the area of Oaxaca.  Like most churches in Oaxaca it is built in the sturdy "earthquake baroque" style typical of the region (see April 16 post of this blog), as can be seen in the photo directly below. In this style of construction, the bell-towers are a part of the building, not a separate element, which adds structural stability.

Santa Ana Zegache, front façade

Santa Ana Zegache, bell-tower

The façade of Santa Ana is typical of the churches of Oaxaca in that it is divided into sections with decorative elements in each.  This style of construction is known as a retablo façade and was a Roman Catholic Counter Reformation element meant to mirror the retablo (altarpiece) within the church and remind viewers of the authority of the Church and its orthodox doctrine.

Santa Ana Zegache, façade

In the façade of Santa Ana Zegache there is only one statue, that of the church's patron saint, Santa Ana (Saint Anne) which is located in a niche toward the top.  Santa Ana was the mother of the Virgin Mary and is shown in her typical stance of reading a book and wearing her characteristic green cloak.

Santa Ana,  patron saint of Santa Ana Zegache

The vases of flowers seen on the façade below are typical Oaxacan decorative elements found in many churches.

Façade detail, Santa Ana Zegache


Santa Ana Zegache is chock full of both altars and saints.  There are nine gilded baroque altarpieces in addition to the main altar.  As is customary, the main altar is dedicated to the patron saint, here Santa Ana, shown in the center of the second layer.  God the Father can be seen at the very top in the center. (the photos should enlarge when clicked)

Main Altar: Santa Ana Zegache church

Altar dedicated to Jesus (shown both as an adult and the Divine Child),  Santa Ana Zegache Church

Altar dedicated to St. Mary and St. Elizabeth, Santa Ana Zegache church


As in all Mexican churches, there are many statues and images of saints in Santa Ana Zegache. Some of them have a special connection to the Dominican order whose church it had been, reinforcing  Dominican significance and identity in the eyes of the indigenous worshippers.   

Santa Ana  (St. Anne), the mother of the Virgin Mary, is shown in her standard iconography, in a green cape holding a book as she was depicted in the church façade.

Santa Ana, Santa Ana Zegache

Many of the saints in the church have some specific relationship to the Dominican order.
St. Peter of Verona (St. Peter Martyr), a 14th century Dominican martyr, was killed by an assassin hired by the Cathars, a heretical Christian group, through a blow to the head with a hatchet. If you look closely, you can see the hatchet lodged in the statue's head.

St. Peter of Verona, Santa Ana Zegache church

St. Catherine of Alexandria, an early Christian martyr (4th century C.E.) was a scholar who was tortured to death on a spiked breaking wheel.

St. Catherine of Alexandria, Santa Ana Zegache church

John the Baptist is shown both as a figure and as a severed head, as was his fate in
Biblical lore.

St. John the Baptist, Santa Ana Zegache
Head of St. John the Baptist, Santa Ana Zegache

The following photos are a few close-ups of figures seen on the altars shown above. This seated "reflective Jesus" was seen in front of the altar dedicated to Jesus and the Divine Child. This pose is one of the standard ways in which the Jesus of the Passion is depicted throughout Mexico. He is dressed in the purple robe placed on him in mockery by the Romans.

"Pensive Jesus", Santa Ana Zegache

Saints Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist and St. Mary, mother of Jesus, are shown standing side-by-side above in front of an altar. 

Saint Elizabeth holding infant John the Baptist, Santa Ana Zegache

 The young Virgin Mary (St. Mary) holds the infant Jesus, whose identity is indicated by the cross that he holds in his right hand.  Both of these figures are somewhat unusual representations of these saints.

St. Mary with infant Jesus, Santa Ana Zegache church

San Judas Tadeo is a beloved throughout Mexico. He is the patron saint of desperate causes and is usually shown carrying an image of Jesus close to his chest.

San Judas Tadeo, Santa Ana Zegache church 

San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers, is always shown with oxen to symbolize his work as a laborer.  He is popular in the rural agricultural areas of Oaxaca such as Zegache. 

San Isidro Labrador, Santa Ana Zegache church

The many saints in Santa Ana, Zegache are not there for ornamental purposes.  These figures played an important role in the early transmission of Christianity to the newly converted peoples of Colonial Mexico.  Over the years they became the center of the devotional and even economic lives of the people, sometimes in unexpected ways. This interesting piece of religious history will be discussed in-depth in my next post.

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