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 San Pablo Huitzo:

Christ at the Pillar
Christ Child
Christ Fallen with the Cross
Christ in a Coffin
Immaculate Heart of Mary
Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Our Lady of Sorrows (Soledad)
Sacred Heart of Jesus
St. Anthony of Padua
St. Hyacinth
St. Isidore the Laborer
St. John the Baptist
St. John the Evangelist

St. Mary Magdalene
St. Michael the Archangel
St. Paul
St. Peter of Verona
St. Peter the Apostle
Unidentified female saint
Unidentified saint
Virgin and Child

Other Santos in the Church

Unidentified Saint

Youthful, bearded male in a collared robe and draped mantle caught at waist.

The right hand is held at chest level, palm inward. The robe is green; the mantle is gold and has a geometrical design. The strongly linear folds suggest the polychrome is on wood rather than stiffened cloth.

Media and construction: Polychrome, 2½ feet tall (75 cm.)

Location: In a glass case at the center of the entablature of the third altar along the north wall of the nave.

Saint Sebastian

Across the statue's chest is a polychrome rope that may originally have tied the figure to the tree. An arrow is still in the right thigh, but only wounds are left in the lower left thigh and the chest. This San Sebastian is naturalistically rendered, without the exaggerated shoulders seen in most Oaxaca Sebastians. The right hand is delicately sculpted and has an incongruously relaxed look. The polychrome loincloth is mostly gold with some touches of red.

Local Name: San Sebastián

Basis for Identification: Long hair, wearing only a loincloth, right hand to ear level and left hand palm down at hip level, arrows in body, halo.

Other characteristics: No tree.

Media and construction: Polychrome, about 2½ feet tall (75 cm.)

Location: On the right side of the entablature of the fourth altar along the north wall of the nave.

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

Black Saint

The statue has been repainted and some of the paint is chipping on the right side of the bib. Two long pieces of fabric hang to the ground from the left hand, which is held palm-up. The size, the pleasing line of the figure, and the carefully executed profile suggest that this is a polychrome statue.

Basis for Identification: Painted entirely black. Friar's habit with bib, mantle, cord with four knots, stole. Tonsure.

Location: On the right side of the entablature of the fourth altar along the north wall of the nave.

Media and construction: Wood? about 2½ feet tall (75 cm.)

Virgin Mary

This virgin is smiling, with wide open eyes. The head tilts down and the hands are folded in prayer. The head is bald under a wig.

Location: In a glass case, below the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in the center of the second altar along the north wall of the nave.

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric garments. Hair: bald under a wig. About 18" (45 cm.)

Previous santo

Introduction to Huitzo