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

St. Peter the Apostle

St. Peter the Apostle:
The statue is the product of mixed talents. The head and hands are powerful, delicate and individualized, but the body has a folk roughness and lack of proportion. The face is believable as that of a fisherman become Pope, with weathered cheeks and piercing eyes. The hands are long, well-sculpted and the wrists are powerful. Though the dimensions of the upper body are proportional to the head and hands, the simplicity of their execution is in a very different style that suggests that the body was newly made for a set of older extremities. As in more sophisticated works, white paint over light gesso at neck and sleeve is probably intended to hide the joining of head and hands to the body.

In contrast to the skilled work of the head and hands, the body of the santo suggests a folk artist and the deeply carved blue robe and brown mantle reflect a humble vision. The lower body is squat and thick and gives the saint the appearance of a dwarf. The body and cape are carved of one block of wood. The brown "rope" belt is carved as one piece with the rest. The v-neck of the robe is edged in gold paint as are the edges of the sleeves, hem and mantle.

The golden halo is a flat, carved disk decorated with stylized fluting. A large, rough wooden key is tied to the right hand, and a carved book to the left. A large silver coin is tied to the left hand in a complicated ar-rangement of threads. The two middle fingers are missing from the right hand and the left hand lacks the pinky and index fingers.

Local Name: San Pedro Apóstol

Basis for Identification: Balding saint with book, keys.

Other characteristics: Gray beard, simple robe.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Díaz Ordaz.

Location: On the altar along the north wall of the nave, just past the narthex (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint. Glass eyes, carved halo.

Size: About 30 inches tall (76 cm.), on a two-inch (5 cm.) wooden slab that roughly outlines the saint's feet.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Coixtlahuaca, Etla, Huitzo, Mitla, Tamazulapan, Teitipac1, Teitipac2, Teotitlán1, Teotitlán2, Teposcolula1, Teposcolula2Yanhuitlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of St. Peter in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles
Wikipedia: Saint Peter
Christian Iconography: Saint Peter the Apostle

Next: A statue of the Trinity

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.