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
Virgin and Child (1)
Virgin and Child (2)

Other santos not photographed

Our Lady of Sorrows

Our Lady of Sorrows:
The fingers of the hands interlock in front of the right breast; the upper torso is aimed to the left and the gaze is upward in the tradition of Mary at the foot of the Cross. The eyes are realistically sculpted and painted, not glass. The face is very young, the expression sad. The fingers are polished apparently from repeated touching, as if by petitioners.

This is a beautiful and unusual piece. The pattern of the polychrome is in a tradition other than that usually seen in the churches of Oaxaca. Both mantle and robe are in the same design of very large squared flowers (perhaps a sunflower?) and heavy tracery of stems on a blue-green background. The heart of each flower is a solid, large surface of gold. The border is heavy gold and the mantle is lined in a powdery red. A couple of areas in the folds of the mantle suggest that more than one hand worked on the polychrome and here the petals of the sunflower are more evident. The folds and drape of the clothing suggest that it is sculpted rather than shaped cloth and gesso. There are sharp angles where one expects folds and curves.

The polychrome seems old but in places has a texture different from that of the whole. There is some deterioration at the edges of the mantle as it falls from the head. The polychrome has flaked away from the right shoulder and from the mantle beneath the right arm. At the right shoulder, wood can be seen.

Local Name: La Madre de los Dolores

Basis for Identification: Praying saint; veil with wimple; eyes cast upwards and to the left

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Díaz Ordaz

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

Media and construction: Polychrome. Eyes: painted.

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 (?), Zimatlán.

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

Next: Some other statues that were not photographed for this study

Previous santo

Introduction to San Juan Guelavia

Santos Home Page

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.

The photo shown here is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. You are free to share or remix it on two conditions: first, that you attribute it to the photographers, Claire and Richard Stracke, without implying any approval of your work on their part; second, that if you alter, transform, or build upon this photo, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.