Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Saints as Teachers: Teotitlán del Vallee

The 17th century church of Teotitlán del Valle, a small town about 20 miles outside of Oaxaca City, is known as Preciosa Sangre de Cristo (Precious Bloof of Christ).  As can be seen in the photos below, the church is built in the sturdy Oaxacan baroque style (see April 16, 2013 post of this blog) with flying buttresses.

Preciosa Sangre, Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca

Preciosa Sangre, Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca

This church has a long barrel-vaulted nave lined with gold altars dedicated to various saints; the church has 23 different saints. Here and throughout the Latin American world the saints, santos in Spanish,  are not only objects of religious devotion, but  were central in the religious history of the area. 

Interior, Preciosa Sangre, Teotitlán, Oaxaca

Think of these saints (and many others like them) as the real "teachers" of Christianity to the Indians in early colonial Mexico.  The cult of saints, the system of beliefs and rituals using saints and their images, was a core part of the evangelization of Mexico. The early friars, whose job it was to convert the indigenous to Christianity, felt that they would not understand the ideas of Christianity in the abstract. In their view, the new converts needed visual aids and festivals to become involved in the new religion and these were the saints and their feast days.

Saints lined up for procession, Preciosa Sangre, Teotitlán, Oaxaca 

In the photo above, taken during the Easter season, are some of the saints of the church seen in line for a procession. The first in the line is Santo Entierro, Christ in a coffin (see 3/28/13 post of this blog for an explanation of this figure) , followed by St. Peter, Our Lady of Sorrows (Soledad), and Mary Magadalene ( yellow cape with long hair).  Each of the saints most likely has its own confraternity, cofradia in Spanish, a European institution brought to the Americas by the friars that involves the care of the saints and their festivals. 

Saints ready for procession, Preciosa Sangre, Oaxaca
Saint Peter
Our Lady of Sorrows (Soledad),

The friars viewed the confraternity as the best way of reinforcing the Christianity of the newly converted:  a way to acquaint them with the sacraments, devotions, rituals and obligations of Roman Catholicism and make sure that they followed this path.  The confraternity was responsible for maintaining the saint's image, celebrating its feast day  and offering masses in its honor. Additionally, it distributed charity and participated in the rituals of death and dying of its members, offering masses for them that cared for their souls in the afterlife.  

The activities of the confraternity were paid for by its members, with the wealthiest among them contributing the most and having the highest rank, that of mayordomo.  This occupier of this position changes from year to year and being a mayordomo is a position of respect and leadership in the community.  Confraternities are still a major part of life in Mexico and the rest of the Latin American world and it is in religious processions that they can be seen in action.  Those with the highest positions, the mayordomos and other officials lead the procession with the general membership following.  

 To view videos about Colonial Mexico, please refer to my Youtube channel  Among the videos,  
you will find one about the beautiful church in Tlacochahuaya, Oaxaca which is located close to Teotitlán del Valle:



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