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

Saint Joseph

Saint Joseph: 
The saint is shown standing on a carved rock that is one with the figure. The left hand is positioned so as to hold the child easily. The right hand is curved to hold a staff, though the lily stalk is not as old as the statue. The tips of all four fingers of the right hand are missing.

The narrow face is the portrait of an ascete with large eyes, long thin nose, protruding ears and prominent cheek bones. The heavy lids, protruding veins at the temples and spots of high color at the cheeks give him a feverish look.

The figure wears a robe of gessoed cloth over a long-sleeved tunic. The robe has short sleeves that end in a crenelated band of gold similar to the style of dress of Saint Hedwig in Tule. The polychrome is in a pattern of four-inch (10 cm.) gold flowers and leaf arabesques on a dark background. The gathering of the tunic can be seen at the neck. The tunic sleeves have a small pattern of white daisies touched with red. The mantle is gold lined in red with a delicate tracery of gold. The T-strapped sandals are polychrome. Over the long, carved hair is an even longer wig of corkscrew curls. The halo is of golden metal in the shape of a sun-flower within a circle.

The child has outstretched arms but is not looking at anything in particular. It is of wood, gesso and paint with carved hair and with a pointed nose and chin. It is a child's face, but not the cherubic face of most Infant Jesus statues. The child wears a white robe trimmed in gold and a red mantle edged in white lace. On the carved hair is a silver-colored three-pointed tiara known as diadema con palmas. The right hand is wrapped in a black ribbon which may tie the child to the body of the Saint Joseph.

Local Name: San José.

Basis for Identification: Child in left arm, lily stalk in right.

Other characteristics: Beard, sandals.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Díaz Ordaz.

Location: Northeast corner of the nave (see note).

Media and construction: Polychrome, metal halo. Dressed child.  Hair: wig.

Size: Joseph about 5 feet (150 cm.), child about 2½ feet (75 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Santa Ana del Valle, Cuilapan1, Cuilapan2, Mitla1, Mitla2, OcotlánTeitipac, 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

Next: Across the nave from this we see a statue of the Virgin and Child.

Previous santo

Introduction to Santo Domingo Díaz Ordaz

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.