Santos in Oaxaca's Ancient Churches

A study of santos in 16th-century and other churches in Oaxaca, Mexico

 

By Claire and Richard Stracke
Funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation
Santa Cruz Mixtepec

Santa Cruz Mixtepec is a town of about 3,000 people in the Central Valley region of Oaxaca State. We have no pictures from our visit to their church. However, we did take the following notes.

The Holy Cross

Local Name: La Santa Cruz

Location: Left of the Soledad, along the north wall of the nave.

Media and construction: Wood. Covered in bay leaves.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca:


Palm Sunday Christ

Location: Left of the Santa Cruz with bay leaves, along north wall of the nave.

Size: About four feet tall.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Santa Ana del Valle, Cuilapan, Mitla, Ocotlán, Díaz Ordaz, Tamazulapan, Teitipac, Teotitlán, Teposcolula, Tlacolula, Yanhuitlán.

External Link:
Metropolitan Museum Art: Palmesel


Christ Fallen with the Cross

Location: Left of the San Isidro, along the north wall of the nave.

Size: About 5½ feet (165 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Coixtlahuaca, Etla, Guelavia, Huitzo, Teposcolula, Zimatlán.

External Links:

Wikimedia Commons: Jesus Fallen Beneath the Cross
Catholic Encyclopedia: Way of the Cross
Wikipedia: Stations of the Cross


Christ Carrying the Cross

Location: Left of the Christ Fallen, along the north wall of the nave.

Size: About 5½ feet (165 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Cuilapan, Tlaxiaco, Yanhuitlán, Zimatlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Jesus Carrying the Cross
Catholic Encyclopedia: Way of the Cross
Wikipedia: Stations of the Cross


Crucifix

Local Name: El Señor de la Misericordia

Location: On the same altar with the San Sebastian, described below.

Media and construction: Carved teeth.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Santa Ana del Valle1, Santa Ana del Valle2, Santa Ana del Valle3, Cuilapan, Etla, Guelavia, Mitla, Nochixtlán, Tamazulapan1, Tamazulapan2, Teitipac1, Teitipac2, Teitipac3, Teotitlán1, Teotitlán2, Teposcolula1, Teposcolula2, Teposcolula3 (in Rosary case),  Teposcolula Convento1, Teposcolula Convento2, Tilantongo1, Tilantongo2, Tlacolula, Xoxocotlán1, Xoxocotlán2, Xoxocotlán3, Xoxocotlán4, Yanhuitlán1, Yanhuitlán2, Yanhuitlán Convento1, Yanhuitlán Convento2, Yanhuitlán Convento3, Yanhuitlán Convento4, Yanhuitlán Convento5, Yanhuitlán Ayuxi Chapel, Zimatlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Crucifixes in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: Archaeology of the Cross and Crucifix
Wikipedia: Crucifix
Christian Iconography: The Crucifixion


Our Lady of Sorrows (Soledad)

The full crown is disproportionately large. The figure has fine features and long hands. The mantle is of lamé brocade. 

Location: This is the first statue along the north wall of the nave.

Media and construction: Fabric garments.

Size: About 5 feet (150 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Santa Ana del Valle, Coixtlahuaca, Cuilapan, Ejutla, Etla, Huitzo, Mitla, Teotitlán, Teposcolula1, Teposcolula2, Tilantongo, Xoxocotlán, Zimatlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad


Saint Isidore the Laborer

Dated 1981, rough folk art. There is a snarling dog between the bullocks.

Local Name: San Isidro Labrador

Location: Left of the Palm Sunday Christ, along the north wall of the nave.

Size: About 2 feet (60 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Coixtlahuaca, Huitzo, Tamazulapan, Teitipac, Teposcolula.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Saint Isidore the Laborer in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Isidore the Labourer
Wikipedia: Isidore the Laborer
Christian Iconography: Saint Isidore the Laborer


Sacred Heart of Jesus

Location: In a glass case left of the main altar.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Cuilapan, Huitzo, Tamazulapan, Teposcolula, Yanhuitlán, Zimatlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Wikipedia: Sacred Heart


Saint Hyacinth

Local Name: San Jacinto

Basis for Identification: Baby on left hand.

Location: Upper center of retablo of main altar.

Media and construction: Polychrome.

Size: About 3 feet (90 cm.)

This is the only polychrome we saw in the church.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Huitzo, Teitipac, Teotitlán del Valle.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons:
Statues of Saint Hyacinth in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Hyacinth
Wikipedia: Saint Hyacinth


La Santa Cruz

This particular cross figures in a local story. In the time when the first people of the area were converting to Christianity, this cross was stolen from them by los Gentiles (our informant's word for pagans). The Gentiles took the cross to a cave to set it afire, but a great stream began to gush forth from the floor of the cave, extinguishing the flames.

Location: Center of retablo of main altar.

Media and construction: Wood.


Immaculate Heart of Mary

The case corresponds in size and design to that containing the Sacred Heart on the other side of the apse.

Local Name: Corazón de María

Location: In a glass case right of main altar.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Cuilapan, Huitzo, Mitla Teitipac, Teposcolula, Zaachila, Zimatlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Immaculate Heart of Mary
Catholic Encyclopedia: Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Wikipedia: Immaculate Heart of Mary


Saint Joseph

The figure looks upward, in the manner of St. John in Calvary scenes. The left hand is in fairly good condition, but the right is worm-eaten and its gesso is peeling. The face may have been repainted.

Local Name: San José

Basis for Identification: Sheaf of lilies in left hand.

Other characteristics: No baby.

Location: On an altar along the south wall of the nave.

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint. Eyes: glass. Hair: carved.

Size: About 6 feet (180 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Santa Ana del Valle, Cuilapan1, Cuilapan2, Mitla1, Mitla2, Ocotlán, Díaz Ordaz, Teitipac, Teotitlán, Zimatlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Saint Joseph in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Joseph
Wikipedia: Saint Joseph
Christian Iconography: Saint Joseph, Father of Jesus


Our Lady of Sorrows

The figure is bald. There are no carved tears on the face, no heart, no trinkets. The skin is gray-green. The statue seems old.

Local Name: La Madre de los Dolores.

Basis for Identification: Head tilted back, hands together in prayer, blue garment.

Media and construction: Fabric garments over frame. Hair: wig

Size: About 6 feet (180 cm.)

Location: On the same altar along south wall of the nave as the Saint Joseph described above.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Santa Ana del Valle, Coixtlahuaca, Cuilapan1, Cuilapan2, Ejutla, Mitla, Nochixtlán, Ocotlán, Díaz Ordaz, Tamazulapan, Teitipac, Teotitlán, Teposcolula (in Calvary group), Tlacolula, Xoxocotlán, Yanhuitlán (?).

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Mater dolorosa
Wikipedia: Our Lady of Sorrows
Christian Iconography: Mater Dolorosa, The Sorrowful Mother


Saint Sebastian

The left arm may have been added later; it is less detailed than the rest of the statue. The detailing is especially good in the stomach muscles, the knees, and the lower leg. The feet may have been rebuilt.

Local Name: San Sebastián.

Basis for Identification: Arrows in body.

Location: Another altar along south wall of the nave.

Media and construction: Glass eyes, parted lips

Size: 4 feet (120 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Ocotlán, Teotitlán, Tilantongo, Xoxocotlán, Yanhuitlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Saint Sebastian in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Sebastian
Wikipedia: Saint Sebastian
Christian Iconography: Saint Sebastian, Martyr


Saint John the Baptist

Local Name: San Juan Bautista.

Basis for Identification: Severed head only.

Location: On a third altar along south wall of the nave, on plate, in a glass case.

Media and construction: Glass eyes, painted hair.

Size: Life size.

There is a painting of the paschal lamb at the back of the case.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Coixtlahuaca, Huitzo, Mitla, Tamazulapan, Tamazulapan (as child), Teitipac, Teitipac (Beheading), Teitipac (San Juanito), Teotitlán, Zimatlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of St. John the Baptist in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. John the Baptist
Wikipedia: John the Baptist
Christian Iconography: St. John the Baptist, Prophet and Martyr


Saint Francis of Assisi

The statue was repainted at one time, but wood is visible through the gesso. The garments do not have the elaborate folds common in polychromes.

Local Name: San Francisco de Asís

Basis for Identification: Franciscan habit. Two white birds on book in left hand.

Location: On the same altar as the St. John described above.

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint.

Size: 4 feet (120 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Ejutla, Teotitlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Francis of Assisi in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Francis of Assisi
Wikipedia: Francis of Assisi
Christian Iconography:
St. Francis of Assisi


Trinity (Throne of Mercy)

The statue is roughly carved and has been repainted. The dove is missing.

Location: On the same altar as the San Juan and San Francisco described above.

Media and construction: Wood, gesso (?), paint.

Size: 2½ feet (45 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Diaz Ordaz, Mitla, Tamazulapan, Teitipac, Teotitlán, Tlacolula, Xoxocotlán, Yanhuitlán.

Wikimedia Commons: Throne of Mercy in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: The Blessed Trinity
Wikipedia: Trinity
Christian Iconography:
The Trinity


Christ in a Coffin

The coffin lacks glass but is covered with a plastic sheet. The face is well done.

Local Name: El Dios de la Muerte

Location: Midway along the south wall of the nave.

Media and construction: Eyes: closed. Hair: wig. Closed mouth.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Huitzo, Mitla, Tamazulapan, Teitipac, Teotitlán, Teposcolula, Tlacolula, Xoxocotlán (in Soledad group), Zaachila.

External Link:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of suffering Christ in a coffin.


We also visited the church at Puerto Escondido, which had been founded by the Dominicans in the early period, but upon arrival we were told that the church had no santos.


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