Sunday, April 15, 2018

Teotihuacan - outside Mexico City

Teotihuacan, in the State of Mexico, about 29 miles northeast of Mexico City, was established about 100 BCE, although the earliest buildings date to about 200 BCE. It continued to grow until about 250 CE. The largest pyramid, the Pyramid of the Sun, was completed about 100 CE. Teotihuacan was sacked and burned about 550 CE. There is some speculation that an eruption of a volcano in El Salvador in 535 devastated the agriculture and caused the collapse. At its height it had a population of 150,000 or more and was the sixth largest city in the world. It covers an area of about 32 square miles and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. 
The Pyramid of the Moon (back left), Pyramid of the Sun (center) and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent is to the right of where I was standing. 
Its early history and the origin of the founders is uncertain. it appears that it was a multi-ethnic culture. The name "Teotihuacan" was given by the Nahuatle speaking Aztecs many years after it was destroyed, and has been interpreted as the "place of those who have the road of the gods." The Aztecs believed that the gods created the universe at Teotihuacan and adopted aspects of its culture and claimed a common ancestry.
The gigantic Pyramid of the Sun. 

It is staggering to have this in the Americas, larger than the pyramids of Egypt. 
There is a main road known as the "Avenue of the Dead" which was about 44 yards wide and 2.4 miles long. At one end of the Avenue is the Pyramid of the Moon and toward the other end is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent Quetzalcoatl. The Pyramid of the Sun, the third largest pyramid in the world (after the Great Pyramid of Cholula and the Great Pyramid of Giza), is found along the Avenue as are many smaller platforms that the Aztecs thought were tombs, thus providing the name Avenue of the Dead. However, scholars have determined that they were not tombs, but platforms topped by temples.
This map shows the layout of Teotihuacan.
Looking down the Avenue of the Dead. The Pyramid of the Moon is back left, the Pyramid of the Sun is just to the right of it, and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent is back and off to the right. 
The Pyramid of the Moon. Unlike the Pyramid of the Sun, which was off by itself, the Pyramid of the Moon was flanked by stepped platforms along the Avenue of the Dead. 

The Temple of the Feathered Serpent Quetzalcoatl is in an area the Spanish named the Citadel. It was in a large plaza surrounded by temples and was the religious and political center of Teotihuacan.
This shows part of the plaza before the Temple of the Feathered Serpent which is at the back. The Temple of the Feathered Serpent is actually the rounded structure barely visible behind the second stepped structure. 
The Temple of the Feathered Serpent behind the stepped structure. The stepped structure was built later to cover up the Temple. 
My favorite part of Teotihuacan. The protruding heads out of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. 
From the top of the stepped structure, looking at the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. 
The figure to the left looks like an ancient variation of Sponge Bob Squarepants, or a modern gizmo with washers as eyes. To the right, of course, is the feathered serpent. 
A serpent.
Cement inlaid with rocks.
The main structures, including the pyramids, were painted a dark red. Small spots of the color still remain.
This reddish color on rocks is some of the original coloring on the Pyramid of the Sun. 
The builders constructed raised beds of ground above the surrounding swampy ground which were great for agriculture. Channels of water were formed between the raised beds and canoe traffic could transport food around the city. Thousands of people lived in areas on both sides of the Avenue in what are called large apartment buildings, presumably built of stone.
Pyramid of the Sun
No texts are known to exist from Teotihuacan. It was a home to many potters, jewelers and craftsmen and produced many obsidian artifacts. 
Pyramid of the Moon.
The people of Teotihuacan worshiped eight gods. The primary deity was the great goddess, but there was also the storm god, the feathered serpent, the old god, the war serpent, the netted jaguar, the pulque god and the fat god.
The feathered serpent.
They practiced human sacrifice. It is believed that human were sacrificed as dedication rites when buildings were constructed or expanded. The victims were probably enemy warriors. Some were decapitated, some had their hearts removed, some were hit over the head, others were buried alive. Some animals were also considered mythical and buried alive in cages, including cougars, a wolf, a falcon, an owl and venomous snakes.
Mural of a cougar from a pyramid along the Avenue of the Dead near the Pyramid of the Moon. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Church and Convent of San Gabriel - Cholula

Interestingly, with the focus on the early churches having an open chapel, or capilla abierta, the open chapel concept led to creative designs to get the same effect in a covered church. Just ten miles from Huejotzingo, the Royal Chapel of San Gabriel in Cholula used the arch concept to get the same effect indoors, patterning the interior after the Cathedral in Cordoba, Spain which had originally been an Islamic Mosque. The chapel has a square floor plan with seven naves with seven sections each, separated by octagonal pillars. It has 49 cupolas, 12 columns and 24 octagonal pilasters. The main altar is in the center toward the back and has great visibility from most everywhere in the chapel, except right behind it. 

The Franciscans, who built the church and convent, followed a familiar blueprint: they destroyed the Temple to Quetzalcoatl and built the church on top of it. Sacred space for the Nahuatl speaking Indians was transformed into sacred space for the Catholics. The initial structures were started in 1529, presumably an open chapel and large atrium with four corner chapels, capillas posas, with pinnacle roofs and simple arches (three survive today), surrounded by a perimeter wall, with pointed merlons, which separates the church from main plaza in Cholula. 
Part of the perimeter wall is visible to the far right. A capilla posa, or corner chapel, is straight ahead and attached to the wall. The main chapel is to the left. The front is yellow, but the sides are dark rock. You get a sense for how large the atrium is. 
The Capilla Real or Royal Chapel. Some of the many cupolas are visible on the roof. Also, more sense for how large the atrium is. 
In 1540 the Capilla Real was started. It is also known as the Capilla de Naturales (the Indigenous Chapel) and was behind a large atrium area. The current structure was built in the 17th century and I can't find whether the earlier structure had the arch concept incorporated in it, but I assume it might have because it is mentioned in a Wikipedia article on the capilla abierta. The interior was redone in 1947. The interior is not decorated. The interior has very little decoration, virtually none in the center. The side walls do have some paintings and very modern stained glass and a few side chapels. 
You get a sense for the large number of cupolas and arches from this picture.
A view into several cupolas.
The main altar is at the end of this walkway, toward the back of the chapel. 
A sample of some of the modern stained glass.
I enjoyed the stained glass, but I was more appreciative of the older elements of the chapel. 
There were several paintings showing Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe. The light was not great, so the pictures did not turn out real well. 
The font dates from the 16th century and was sculpted from one piece of stone. 
The atrium cross was sculpted in 1668. 
For older atrium crosses, the base was made to look like a native rock alter where sacrifices were performed. The cross on top was to show the superiority of Christianity. It is obvious that need had abated by the time this cross was built. 
The main church was started in 1549. When we visited it was very crowded around the opening and a mass was going on. We peaked inside and it was standing room only. Part of the bell tower and some of the merlons were knocked loose in the 2017 earthquake and pieces were still lying on the ground. 
The main church as viewed from the Capilla Real. One of the gates through the perimeter fence is visible at the right. 
This view is of the main chapel and the Capilla Real is visible and set-back to the left.  
This photo is taken through the gate giving an idea as to how tall the perimeter wall is. 
Merlons and part of the tower knocked loose by the earthquake. 
Broken stained glass, presumably from the earthquake. 
A Franciscan symbol on the front of the main chapel. 
Another chapel, the Capilla de la Tercera Orden, and a cloister, were added later, but we did not really see them or go near them. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Church of San Luis Obispo - Tlalmanalco

Tlalmanalco, now in the State of Mexico, was founded as a Spanish town in 1525 by one of the Twelve Apostles of Mexico, Franciscan Friar Juan de Ribas, also known as Juan de Rivas. At the same time, fellow Franciscan Friar Martin de Valencia, the leader of the Franciscans, began evangelizing the local Nahua population. Part of this process included early-on destroying the Nahua shrine in the area. 
This is 6 of the 12 Apostles of Mexico, part of a mural from San Miguel Arcangel  in Huejotzingo. Fray Martin de Valencia is on the far right and Fray Toribio de Benavente Motolinia (mentioned below) is third from the right. 
This is from the same mural showing the other 6 "Apostles." Fray Juan de Ribas is third from the left. 
In keeping with early patterns of evangelization, Juan de Ribas built a capilla abierta, or open chapel, with a large connected atrium in 1532, and the chapel of San Luis Obispo was started, but not completed. I'm assuming that, as in other places, the open air chapel was built on top of the local native shrine. 
This is as close as we could get to the outdoor chapel, outside the walls. 
Just down the street from the church I got this view of Izta, mostly covered in clouds. 
The current church was built between 1585 and 1591.  
The church has a distinctive reddish tower. The top of the open chapel is seen to the left. 


Fray Martin died on March 21, 1534 at the edge of Lake Texcoco, the lake around Mexico City, as he was getting ready to take a boat or canoe there. His body was brought to Tlamanalco where it was interred in or around one of the chapels (he is now interred inside the main chapel which was not built at that time). The bronze plaque noting his burial indicates he was born in Valencia, Spain, which I assume is why he was known as Martin de Valencia. 

An enlargement of Fray Martin. 
The 7.1 Central Mexico earthquake that hit this area (34 miles south of the City of Puebla) on September 19, 2017 did damage to this church, as it did to every other old church we visited on our trip to Mexico. When we visited the church was closed for repairs and an outdoor tent was set up to hold services, as we'd seen in other churches we visited. So our observations were all from outside the fence. 
This tent was set up for church and possibly also for school. It was behind the church in an area not locked off by a gate. 
Behind the church we were able to get a look at the construction. 
Note the porous volcanic stone that was used. 
I also thought it was fun to see wood and pottery mixed in with the mortar between the stones. 
Tlamanlco is the poster-child of open-air chapels, being one of the best examples still existing. The capilla abierta is considered "one of the most distinct Mexican construction forms." Another of the Franciscan Twelve Apostles of Mexico, Fry Toribio de Benavente Motolinia, stated that the open air chapel, along with the large connecting atrium, allowed the holding of mass in front of a single altar for an enormous number of people, particularly on Sundays and during festivals. During slow times, such as mid-week, the main church, if there was one, was used. Another benefit of the open-air chapel was that it was similar to the "teocallis" or sacred precinct of the pre-Hispanic temples, so the natives felt comfortable participating. 

The open chapel in Tlalmanalco has a trapezoidal layout (a quadrilateral with only one pair of parallel sides). There are five arches with capitals finished with reliefs and a frieze that follows the outline of the arches filled with human figures. The arch behind was probably reserved for the altar. There are indigenous elements created by native craftsmen depicting a battle between good and evil, with monkeys, lions, angels and cherubs and portraits of Friar Martin and St. Claire. 
If you look closely you can see the single arch behind the five front arches. That is where the altar probably was. My pictures are not close enough to reveal the details on the friezes. 
The open-air chapel as reviewed from the front outside the gate. 
The church.