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.

In Santo Domingo Díaz Ordaz:

Our Lady of Sorrows
Palm Sunday Christ
St. Joseph
St. Peter of Verona (Peter Martyr)
St. Peter the Apostle
Trinity
Virgin and Child (1)
Virgin and Child (2)

Other Santos at Santo Domingo Díaz Ordaz

Saint Nicholas Factor

The kneeling statue represents a tonsured saint who has allowed his robe to fall to the hips so that he can whip himself. Sr. Morales Senior told us that the statue is of San Nicolás, whose saint's day, he said, is the 14th of July. Before the Vatican II reforms the feast of St. Nicholas Factor, the 16th-century mystic and flagellant who is most likely the one represented here, was on December 14, according to Butler's Lives of the Saints. Sr. Morales called the saint el Patrón de los guajalotes or the Patron Saint of Turkeys. Small, plastic turkeys had been placed on the altar near the saint, just as model oxen are placed around San Isidro Labrador in other churches. Sr. Morales told us that traditionally the people brought their birds to the church to be blessed on the Saint's day, but that now the priest goes to the farms where he can bless all the animals (turkeys, oxen, donkeys) at once.

The statue's under-robe is decorated in painted gold stars. The face and torso are highly detailed and blood can be seen at the whip marks on the back. The eyes are painted. The halo is of tin. The thick brush strokes tell us that the statue has been repainted.

Location: Between Saint Peter the Apostle and the Trinity on the north wall of nave (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint.


Our Lady of the Rosary?

Basis for Identification: No crown or halo on the Virgin, who wears a blue and gold cape. A diadem on the child.

Media and construction: Polychrome. Eyes: glass, no lashes. Hair: wig.

Size: about 4 feet (120 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Coixtlahuaca, Cuilapan, Teitipac1, Teitipac2 (2 exemplars on this page), Teotitlán, Teposcolula.

External links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Our Lady of the Rosary in Mexico
Wikipedia: Our Lady of the Rosary
Christian Iconography: Our Lady of the Rosary


Female Saint

The statue has carved hair and wears a polychromed dress with a square neck-line. Gold paint is visible. Long hair, simple robe.

Location: On an altar in the northeast corner of the nave, next to Saint Joseph (see note).

Size: About 2½ feet (75 cm.)


Saint John the Baptist

The statue is of folk manufacture. It is dressed in a robe and in a mantle sculpted and painted to suggest an animal skin. In the right hand is a lily stalk, though this is usually the symbol of St. Joseph. Two large nails have been driven into either side of the robe, about 3 inches (8 cm.) from the hem and may be used to tie the statue onto the andas on the saint's feast day.

Basis for Identification: Animal skin, halo.

Media and construction: Painted wood, metal halo.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Coixtlahuaca, Huitzo, Mitla, TeitipacTeitipac ("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


Resurrected Christ

The garment covers most of the body but exposes the right breast. There is no blood, no stigmata. On the feet are cloth bandages. Since it is not usual to wrap the feet of the Cristo de la Resurrección, it is assumed that these hide damage to the statue.

Basis for Identification: Floor-length cross in left hand, right hand poised in blessing, cruciform halo; red garment fringed in gold.

Location: At right on the altar between the second pillar and the east end of the south wall of nave (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint. Eyes: glass, no lashes. Hair: sculpted.

Size: about 3 feet (90 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca:
Achiutla, Santa Ana del Valle, Cuilapan, Mitla, Teitipac, Teotitlán, TeposcolulaYanhuitlán, Zaachila.

External links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Resurrection of Christ in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Wikipedia: Resurrection of Jesus
Christian Iconography: The Resurrection


Saint Dominic

Stones are set in the star, which has seven points. The habit consists of a robe, bib, and cowl. It is not in Dominican black and white, but is all white. The dog is a rudimentary wooden sculpture.

Basis of Identification: Dog at the feet, star in forehead between the eyes, an ensign in the right hand, a lily stalk in left.

Location: At the left on the altar between the second pillar and the east end of the south wall of the nave (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, stiffened cloth habit. Eyes: glass, no lashes.

Size: about 3½ feet (105 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca:
Teposcolula (Our Lady of the Rosary case), Yanhuitlán (Church) 1, Yanhuitlan (Church) 2, Yanhuitlán (Museum)

External links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of St. Dominic in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Dominic
Wikipedia: Saint Dominic
Christian Iconography:
Saint Dominic


Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The figure of the Virgin stands on a cloud with angels. The child does not have a scapular.

Basis of Identification: Holding the Christ Child, brown robe and bib, scapular, full crowns on both figures.

Location: In a glass case on a table to the left of the doorway in the south wall of the nave (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, stiffened cloth garments on Virgin, fabric on child. Eyes: glass, with eyelashes on Virgin only. Hair: sculpted (both figures).

Size: about 5 feet (150 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca:
Coixtlahuaca main altar, Cuilapan, Ejutla, Etla, Guelavia, Huitzo, Teitipac, Teposcolula, Tlaxiaco, Xoxocotlán, Zaachila, Zimatlán.

External links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Nuestra Señora del Carmen in Mexico
Wikipedia: Our Lady of Mount Carmel,
Virgen del Carmen (in Spanish).
Christian Iconography: Our Lady of Mount Carmel


Our Lady of Sorrows (Soledad)

This Soledad is not in the tradition of the aquiline-nosed, long-faced beauty of the statue in Oaxaca. This Virgin suggests rather a lady from an 18th-century court, haughty, reserved, and pretty in an ordinary way.

The statue is dressed in the usual black velvet with silver trim. She wears a lace wimple and lace cuffs. The pyramidal shape of the clothing is consistent with cloth over a frame structure. The crown is made of metal leaves rising from a circle and is topped with a ball and cross. Glass jewels decorate the crown.

Basis of Identification: Purple veil, vertical silver halo.

Location: In a carved, gilded glass case in the south wall of nave, between the first column and the side door (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint. Eyes: glass, no lashes.

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, Yanhuitlán, Zimatlán.

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


Our Lady of Sorrows (Soledad)

The figure is bald under the veil. Gesso shows where the left middle finger has been scraped.

Location: South wall of the nave, between the first column and the side door, beside the other Soledad (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint.

Size: about 2 feet (90 cm.)

Comparable santos, External link: see above.


Virgin

Basis of Identification: Blue veil.

Location: South wall of the nave, just past the narthex (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric garments. Eyes: glass.

Size: about 3 feet 3 inches (99 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca:
Etla1 (in the Soledad group) Etla2, Guelavia1, Guelavia2, Nochixtlán, Ocotlán, Teotitlán, Tilantongo1, Tilantongo2, Yanhuitlán1, Yanhuitlán2, Zimatlán.

External link:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Virgin Mary in Mexico.


Christ in a Coffin ("El Señor de la Muerte")

The coffin has feet, and handles for carrying. A blanket covers all of the figure except the face.

Location: On a tiled table along the south wall extending from the nave into the narthex (see note).

Media and construction: Eyes: glass, with painted lashes. Hair: wig. Open mouth, sculpted tongue and teeth.

Size: Life size.

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

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


Ecce Homo

The crown of thorns is in the basketweave pattern. The hands are very realistic, showing tendons and veins.

Basis of Identification: Crown of thorns, purple cloak.

Location: On a tiled table along the south wall extending from the nave into the narthex (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric garment. Eyes: glass, no lashes.

Size: about 5 feet (150 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca:
Ejutla, Etla Soldedad Group, Etla2, Mitla, Santa Ana del Valle, Tamazulapan, Teitipac1, Teitipac2, Teitipac3, Teotitlán, Teposcolula, Tilantongo, Tlacolula, Xoxocotlán.

External links: The episode of Pilate's showing the scourged Jesus to the crowd is in John 19:1-5.
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Ecce Homo.


Dominican Saint

The arms are unfinished starting 3 inches (8 cm.) up from the wrists.

Basis of Identification: Flower-shaped halo, Dominican habit, hands clasped, eyes up.

Location: On a tiled table along the south wall extending from the nave into the narthex (see note).

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

Size: about 3 feet (90 cm.) 


St. Dominic

The figure has a very fresh-looking habit that is mostly gold. The polychrome of the cape's inner lining is quite elaborate in design.

Basis of Identification: Identified by Marco Santiago Morales. Dominican habit, tonsure, beard, halo, floor-length cross and lily in right hand. Left hand holds a church on a book as well as a rosary and a pendant.

Media and construction: Polychrome, metal halo.

Size: 43 inches (109 cm.)

Location: In a glass case centered in the retablo of the main altar (see note).

Comparable santos in Oaxaca:
Teposcolula (Our Lady of the Rosary case), Yanhuitlán (Church) 1, Yanhuitlan (Church) 2, Yanhuitlán (Museum)

External links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of St. Dominic in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Dominic
Wikipedia: Saint Dominic
Christian Iconography:
Saint Dominic


Previous santo

Introduction to Santo Domingo Díaz Ordaz

Note: On this site, references to the cardinal directions always assume that the main altar is at the east end of the church, the narthex or entry area at the west end, and the two walls of the nave on the north and south. (The nave is the long central section.) Actual orientations may differ.