Santos in Oaxaca's Ancient Churches
A study of santos in 16th-century and other churches in Oaxaca, Mexico
By Claire and Richard Stracke.
We had the opportunity to observe the interdependence of the public and religious institutions in the towns of the Central Valley, and in those of the Mixteca Alta. We began our study of the polychrome art of 16th century Oaxaca with a visit to the restored Santo Domingo, in the state capital. There we had the great fortune of encountering Padre Paco, the Dominican Superior, and at that time in charge of the parish. It is in great part thanks to Padre Paco that our research went as smoothly as it did.
Padre Paco introduced us to Licenciado Ruben Vasconselos-Beltrán, Director de Educación, Cultura, y Bienestar Social del Gobierno del Estado de Oaxaca, a scholar of the art of Colonial Oaxaca, and a gifted photographer. Licenciado Vasconselos-Beltrán spent more than an hour explaining the administrative structure in the towns of Oaxaca and the town officials' growing distrust of strangers. He told us of thefts in almost every church in the state, of promises not kept by visiting scholars, and he gave us names and addresses of people who would be able to smooth our path. His most valuable work as a teacher was to list for us churches where we would find some outstanding examples of the art of polychrome, which were to become our guide in making deductions about the construction of individual work. Since our visit, Licenciado Vasconselos-Beltran has written a book which most thoroughly outlines the lives of the saints whose statues we here catalog.
Another person who was of invaluable assistance is Sra. María de los Angeles Romero Frizzi, Director of the Oaxaca office of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. Sra. de los Angeles kindly enlarged on the overview that Sr. Vasconselos Beltrán had presented and she familiarized us with the titles of the people on whom we would be dependent as we traveled through the state. She provided us with an official letter of introduction, without which our work could not have continued.
We went to Oaxaca with the expectation of being able to visit at least 39 of the major sites listed in Dominican Architecture in Oaxaca, by James R. Mullen. This would have made possiblea careful study of churches in all parts of the state and have involved many overnight stays in the far mountains of the east and in Tehuantepec. Most towns not directly on Route 190, the Pan-American highway, proved to have limited public access and at that time had no facilities for overnight guests, though today many of these centers have built tourist yu'us or simple inns. As a result, we established a base in Oaxaca City and left early each morning to visit outlying sites. In this way, we were able to study carefully all of the churches in the Central Valley that had been mentioned by Mullen or suggested by Señor Vasconcelos-Bertrán, as well as all but one of the Dominican conventos in the Mixteca Alta.
Our greatest disappointment is that we were not able to study the written records of the parishes. It took time to gain the confidence of the Presidente in each town, and we were not invariably successful. Then, though we might photograph the santos, he was wary of letting us see the records.
From the 14th century on, the history of the modern state of Oaxaca is, like that of Mexico itself, a story of confrontation, assimilation, labor, and creativity. In the narrow lands that lie between the Sierra Madre del Sur and the Sierra Oaxaqueña, and in the highlands of the Mixteca, the civilizations of the Mixtec, the Zapotec, the Aztec, and the Spanish clashed and compromised, bartered and built. The modern residents of Oaxaca are a people confident of their place in history, and of the value of the traditions they honor.
The faces of tradition have changed through revolution and the advent of the 20th century, but the structures of municipal governance are much the same. The 16th century Dominicans were aware of the Zapotec and Mixtec demand for regularized participation in the social order of the Marquisate. The indigenous peoples had survived the attacks of the Olmec and the rule of the Aztec. They had created perhaps the longest enduring society in Mesoamerica. When the new conquerors arrived, the nobles and priests of Zaachila and Mitla demanded participation in the development of the colonial society. In order to ensure their cooperation in the creation of the new civilization, a system of cargos parallel to the ancient positions filled by priests, scribes, curanderos, and others was gradually granted to the men. Imported from Spain, where they were aimed at cementing relationship through service to the Church, full-blown Mayordomías or cofradías were in place in the Oaxacan communities by the second half of the 17th century. These Spanish brotherhoods replaced or re-formed pre-Conquest indigenous patterns of social obligation.
Today, the mayordomías are likely to be known as asociaciones and their leaders most often are not mayordomo but Presidente. The change has occurred because of the constitutional need for the separation of church and state and because of the national distrust of the pervasive influence of the Catholic church throughout most of Mexican history. It is clear that today the distrust is on an official rather than village level. In the Valley of Oaxaca, the Presidente of the municipality is likely to be a member of the church's asociacion, perhaps even its presidente. This close relationship is a natural result of the fact that churches and their dependencies are the property of the state, and the church buildings and their contents have been the trust of the local governments.
The best preserved of the churches are kept, not surprisingly, by the asociaciones whose structure most closely resemble mayordomías as established by the Friars. We found these in the small towns of the Central Valley, west of the City of Oaxaca. In each of these towns, the church shares the zocalo, or central square, with the municipal building, and the secular authorities have responsibility for the safety and upkeep of the church. In order to enter the churches, if there were no service being celebrated, we had to seek out the Presidente or the Encargado, the keeper of the church keys. Often, our research had to be approved by both of these individuals, and, on more than one occasion, we had to make appointments to meet with the responsible parties and so return on another day.
In all cases in this area, the persons responsible were men, elected by members of the all-male asociaciones for terms of two or three years. During that time, they saw to the repair of the church, either by getting government support for restoration or by organizing volunteer teams. In San Juan Teitipac, the asociación was digging a new well in the posada, or enclosed church yard. In Santa Ana del Valle, the men were teaching religion classes, planting an avenue of bougainvillea, and repairing the buses that the municipal government and the asociaciones had bought some months before.
In every church that we visited, the principal responsibility of the asociación was the organization of the town's celebration of feast days. The feast days are determined by the Church calendar and are celebrated at set times each year. They represent the commemoration and celebration of important events in the history of the Catholic Church, most usually, in the lives of Christ and of the saints. In Oaxaca, the services usually involve the use of portable altars, or andas, on which the statue of the saint (called a santo) being revered is processed through the church, the churchyard, or, on great feast days, through the town. Therefore, each asociación is dedicated to a particular saint or saints and to the care of the appropriate santo. Such care had of course begun with the procurement of a suitable effigy of the saint. We noted again and again that in the ancient churches of Oaxaca, a santo might have been obtained at any time in the last 450 years, and might have undergone major changes since it had first been purchased or made for the mayordomía.
Once the Presidente had agreed to permit
our research, we found all members of the organizations
very helpful and eager to facilitate the study. They are
very proud of the beauty and history of the churches and
of the role that they continue to play in preserving the
treasures of their communities. The encargados
were particularly knowledgeable about the contemporary
uses of the contents of the buildings, but almost no one
in any of the towns was thoroughly cognizant of the
history of the churches. We were always most cordially
and most carefully guided through the church, both
because of the need for security and because the
encargado was eager to be sure that we got the story
Through the celebration of the feast days, the asociaciones continue the tradition of repartition of wealth as practiced by the mayordomías. With the proceeds of offerings to the saints and by collecting a hefty sum monthly from each member of the group, they buy offerings of candles and flowers so that anyone who comes to the church may light a votive candle, carry it to the santo, pray, then take the candle to be lit at their home altar. Banks of gladiola are in every active church. The people break off the stems and rub the blossoms on the santos while praying, then carry the rest of the stalk home. In some churches, usually in the bigger centers where the Indigenous worshipers feel freer, there might be offerings of tamales, embroidered cloth, marigolds or tortillas, but these are brought by individuals, and are meant to remain on the altars. Pinned to the clothing of the santos, we saw hundreds of silver/tin amulets, photos of lost relatives, and some $2.00 U.S. bills. These also are offerings to the saint and become the property of the mayordomía or asociación.
We found six distinct styles of santos in the Central Valley and in the Mixteca Alta.
In iconography an attribute is a
visible element in an image that identifies the
subject. For example, St. Paul is almost always
represented holding a long sword pointed to the
ground. An iconographic
type is any traditional set of attributes.
For example, the iconographic type that identifies
St. Paul includes not only the sword but also his
baldness (balding from the front), his beard (more
pointy than square), and his holding a book. Some
attributes are invariable in a given iconographic
type; others are more optional (such as St. Paul's
book). Sometimes in Oaxaca an otherwise invariable
attribute is missing because of the accidents of
time. For some saints there may be more than one
iconographic type; for Jesus and Mary there are
The following, in alphabetical order
by saint, is a list of the saints / iconographic
types included in our study. With a few exceptions,
we do not include santos that were not photographed.
The attributes listed refer only to the santos in
this study; images from other parts of the world may
See the "Figure in Flames" section of the Ejutla Other Santos page for a discussion of the iconography.
attributes: Halo of twelve stars, horned moon, praying
attribute: Blue mantle.
Invariable attributes: A red heart
in a metal sunburst background pinned to the chest of
the Virgin, who wears a white veil and some sort of
headpiece (tiara, halo, etc.).
Optional attributes: Robe is white
(5 of 6), mantle is blue (3 of 6). Cincture is tasseled
and in gold or white.
Also see the Zimatlán Lady of Sorrows.
Boy between 1 and 6 years old, wearing a fancy robe or
dress (usually white) and a cape.
Right hand raised in blessing, globe in left hand.
Jesus Christ as the
Niño de Atocha
Attributes shared with
exemplars outside of Oaxaca: Child of perhaps 3 years,
holding a basket and wearing a dress and a flat-top hat,
seated on a chair.
Invariable attributes: Cross finished in green with brass caps at the four ends. Short, pointed beard, slightly forked. Streams of blood on face. Long robe with tasseled cincture of gold cord.
Cross made of wood
dowels with brass floral motifs, crown of thorns in
Santos studied: Achiutla,
Santa Ana del
Ana del Valle2, Santa Ana del Valle3,
Cuilapan, Etla, Guelavia, Mitla, Nochixtlán,
Lady of the Rosary, Teotitlán1, Teotitlán2, Teposcolula1,
(in Rosary case), Teposcolula
Xoxocotlán1, Xoxocotlán2, Xoxocotlán3, Xoxocotlán4, Yanhuitlán1, Yanhuitlán2, Yanhuitlán Convento1, Yanhuitlán Convento2, Yanhuitlán Convento3, Yanhuitlán Convento4, Yanhuitlán Convento5, Yanhuitlán Ayuxi Chapel, Zimatlán.
Cross, corpus nailed to cross at hands and feet, wound
in the right side of the torso.
Optional attributes: The
cross is usually green (19 exemplars) and made of round
dowels (21 exemplars), sometimes natural wood color (9
exemplars) and flat (13 examplars). Usually the three
upper termini of the cross pieces are either capped in bronze (10
exemplars) or painted in imitation of brass (11
examplars). Round crosspieces sometimes have spiral
fluting (10 exemplars) or a bronze-colored leaf-and-vine
pattern applied to the crosspieces (5 exemplars). An
INRI plaque is at the top of the vertical crosspiece in
We do not have complete
records regarding the body wounds but did observe bloody
wounds or lesions to the shoulders (10 exemplars),
forehead (19 exemplars), or knees (26 exemplars). The
most common garment worn by the corpus is not the perizoma
traditional in Europe and the U.S. (only 3 exemplars)
but a wrap-around skirt with a round cloth shield (19
exemplars plus 2 where the shield is rectangular) or
without a shield (11 exemplars). Ten exemplars had metal
halos: 3 in the cruciform pattern, 6 in the sunburst
pattern, and 2 combining both patterns. Thirteen
exemplars had a crown of thorns, always in the
basket-weave pattern; 12 of these were of metal, 7 of
which were attached to a halo.
Standing figure in purple or red robe (white in Etla2)
with gold trim (none in Etla2). Blood streams from the
forehead and skinned left cheek. Skinned fingers or
hands (except Tamazulapan). Tasseled cincture (except
Teotitlán). Short, pointy beard, slightly forked.
Crown of thorns in basket-weave pattern (9 of 14) or
with naturalistic thorns (3 of 14), and/or cruciform
halo (3 of 14). Right cheek also skinned (Mitla,
Teitipac3). Color of cincture can be gold (10 of 13),
white (2) or purple (1). Tasseled lasso hanging on the
chest from around the neck (4 of 14), or rosary hanging
likewise (Teitipac 1). Hands tied together (4 of 14).
Additional garments: cape in Etla1 and Tlacolula, white
under-robe in Tamazulapan.
attributes: Christ in a short, pointy, slightly
forked beard, riding an ass.
attributes: Barefoot (7 of 11), right arm raised
(8 of 11). Statue is accompanied by palm leaves or
weavings made of palm leaf (6 of 11). Where fabric
is used (7 of 11) the figure always wears a purple
mantle. Five of the santos have a cruciform halo;
the others have no halo.
Invariable attributes: Purple
robe edged in gold or lace, tied with a tasseled rope
cincture in white or gold, cross of two green dowels with
brass end-caps, blood flowing on face and hands,
Bloody scrapes on the cheek and (when visible) the knee,
floral patterns in brass applied to the cross. Rope yoke
hanging loosely from the neck, fastened with a brooch
(Teposcolula) or with a knot similar to those used in
Mexican weddings. Crown of thorns in basket-weave
pattern (except Coixtlahuaca). Cruciform halo (Etla).
Glass-sided coffin with life-size Christ statue
recumbent. Short, pointy, slightly forked beard.
Optional attributes: Fabric
coverlet covering all but face and hands (all but
Teitipac). Bare-headed (all but Tamazulapan, which has
a sunburst halo). Blood flowing from forehead, bruised
or skinned left cheek (all but Teitipac). Offering
placed on coverlet at the chest (a bread roll at
Mitla, flowers at Teotitlan, stylized crown of thorns
attributes: Christ in a white garment, barefoot and
holding a tall pole with a banner. (No banner at
Yanhuitlán, hand curled as if to hold a pole
with banner at Teitipac and Teposcolula.) Short,
pointy, slightly forked beard.
attributes: One hand raised as if in blessing (7 of
9). Red mantle over the white garment (3 of 9),
which is most often a full robe (6 of 9).
Christ in a short, pointy, slightly forked beard wearing
a white robe and red mantle (except Achiutla, red robe
and white mantle). A heart is pinned to the robe at the
Tasseled gold-colored cincture (5 of 7), cruciform halo
(5 of 7), sunburst behind heart (2 of 7).
Invariable attributes: A short classical pillar
about breastbone-high, with a distinct base and capital.
Cords tie the figure's hands to the top of the capital.
The figure is naked but for a short skirt or loincloth
and has a short,
pointed beard, slightly
flows along the body. Scuffed knees and elbows.
Optional attributes: The figure is standing. (In
Coixtlahuaca, fallen to the floor.) Crown of thorns (2
of the 4 exemplars: in one other blood flows from the
forehead as if the crown were there; in Achiutla the
head and face are intact and unbloodied).
Seated with head on hand (except Ejutla), wearing
trousers (except Ejutla: loincloth) and a red cape (dun
cape in Teitipac). Blood streams from forehead and from
skinned left cheek. Short, pointy, slightly forked
beard. Bloodied hands (except Teitipac). When visible,
one or both knees appear scuffed and bloodied.
Optional attributes: A
long scepter (4 of 10) or a hand curved as if to hold a
scepter (3 of 10). A crown of thorns (7 of 10) in the
basket-weave pattern (6 of 7), to which a cruciform halo
may be attached (2 of 7). A cincture of gold rope (3 of
10) or a cloth band (1). A rope lasso hanging from
around the neck (4 of 10). Scrapes on hands (4 of 10).
Upper torso naked (6 of 10).
Santo studied: Zaachila.
Invariable attributes: The Virgin and Child holding candlesticks, the Virgin wearing a crown whose upper section comprises three intersecting hoops. The candlesticks have been lost in the Santa Ana exemplar and in the hand of the Child in Teitipac, but in both exemplars the figures' hands are curled as if holding such an item.External links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of La Virgen de la Candelaria in Mexico
Wikipedia: Virgin of Candelaria
Christian Iconography: La Candelaria
Invariable attributes: The
Virgin standing on a horned moon that is supported by an
angel, wearing a crown above a blue mantle that covers the
back of the head and is adorned with stars. Praying hands.
Background: a sunburst mandorla.
Optional attributes: The
Yanhuitlan lacks the crown and the mandorla but adds a
small figure of St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, to
whom the Virgin was said to have appeared.
Invariable attributes: Virgin wearing a white
veil and a brown Carmelite habit and holding the Child
in a white baptismal gown (Zimatlán: a white
cape), with scapular(s) hanging from the wrists of one
or both figures. The Carmelite habit includes a
rectangluar ankle-length bib.
Optional attributes: Crowns on the Virgin (10 of
12 exemplars) and the Child (8 of 12). All but 2 of
these 20 crowns are shaped with three intersecting hoops
atop a circular headband (like the crown of English
monarchs). Seven of the Virgin figures also have
sunburst halos with stars. One of the Child figures has
a cruciform halo.
Santos studied: 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.
attributes: Virgin standing in robe and mantle with
sorrowful upturned gaze.
attributes: Praying hands (15 of 18), blue mantle
(15 of 18), face enclosed by mantle, veil, or wimple
(12 of 18), sunburst halo (13 of 18, 7 of them with
stars), metal heart pinned to chest (3 of 18, 2 of them
pierced by swords).
Invariable attributes: A black
robe; a black mantle edged in white or gold and
reaching from the top of the head to the feet,
arranged to give the whole a triangular shape
(exception: Zimatlán, off white with dark
green brocade and no edging). The garments leave
visible only the face (or in Achiutla and
Teposcolula2 the face and neck). Praying hands.
Downcast eyes (except Teposcolula1).
Optional attributes: A crown (9
of 15) or sunburst halo (5 of 15), a wimple (13
Other notable features: Brocaded
patterns on the mantle (7 of 15). In the hands a
piece of lace (3 of 15) or flowers (3 of 15).
Invariable attributes: Standing on a horned
moon (7 of 8). Bareheaded (when the figure is
crowned [3 of 8] the crown nevertheless sits on bare
hair). Hands in orant (2 of 8) or praying-hands
position (6 of 8). For non-polychrome statues, the
mantle is always blue.
Optional attributes: Eyes looking down (4 of
8). Faces of angels are provided with the moon or
around the head (4 of 8).
studied: Ejutla2. We
identify this as Our Lady of the Assumtion: a similar
Virgin was so identified in Paterna, Valencia, Spain.
Attributes: Recumbent in a glass case, blue
mantle under a white lace veil.
Invariable attributes: Virgin
wearing a blue (7 of 8) mantle and holding the
Christ Child in her left arm, one or two rosaries
hanging from the hands of one or both.
Optional attributes: Crown worn by
both figures (6 of 8).
Outliers: Two Virgin
santos at Xoxocotlán that we have identified as
Our Lady of the Rosary simply on the basis of their
rosaries seem nevertheless to be outside this
iconographic type. Neither has a Christ Child, nor a
blue mantle. Neither is crowned.
Santos studied: Santa Ana 2
The Anna Selbdritt
iconographic type has St. Anne holding a young Virgin
Mary, who in turn holds the Christ Child. In our Oaxaca
study we found just one St. Anne of this type.
A mantle that covers the head and reaches past
mid-calf, the face framed by a wimple or other
Invariable attributes: Brown Franciscan
habit with a rope cincture (except Mitla), tonsure,
the Christ Child seated on the left arm.
Optional attributes: The child is seated on
a book that rests on the left arm/hand (5 of 8).
Halo (2 of 8).
Only one examplar studied, in Teitipac.
Only one santo, doubtfully identified
Santo studied: Only one, in the church
where the attributes are explained in detail.
External link: Christian Iconography, Saint
attributes: Dominican habit, tonsure, rosary, star
in forehead (except Teposcolula).
attributes: Halo (2 of 4).
other santo, of St. Peter at Teotitlán,
seems to have been a St. Dominic
Attributes: Both are
tonsured and have the brown Franciscan habit with rope
cincture. The stigmata
are visible in Ejutla; as for Teotitlán, we
cannot be sure about the stigmata from our notes and
Santos studied: Only
one, at Tule.
Santos studied: Only one,
Attributes: As in European
images of this saint, the figure wears a crown and
stands holding a large cross.
habit, tonsure, monstrance or ciborium (Teitipac: right hand curled
as if to hold something like a ciborium), in the left
hand statue of the Virgin and Child (Huitzo: just a base
and vertical support for such a statue).
Trousers (6 of 6), yoked oxen (6 of 6), boots.
Optional attributes: Goad (5 of 6), long jacket
with broad collar (4 of 6), wheat sheaves or corn cobs
(3 of 6), satchel (3 of 6), straw hat (2 of 6), gourd (2
Outlier: Tilantongo1 has a child in a cape and helmet (no feathers) with right hand upraised and hand curled as if to hold a sword. But the figure is not on horseback. We take this to be a variation, perhaps unique to this church, of the Moorslayer iconographic type.
Attributes: The figure
beats his breast while contemplating a crucifix. The
work in the façade includes a skull, a common
attribute of contemplatives.
Santo studied: Only one doubtbul
identification, at El Tule.
Camel-skin inner garment, cape (Huitzo: wraparound),
short beard with slight indent, full head of hair,
barefoot. Tall cross held as a standard in the right hand
(Coixtlahuaca: left hand).
Lamb on book poised on left hand (5 of 8), left hand
posed as if to hold the book and lamb (2 of 8).
Santo studied: Tamazulapan
child holds a tall cross as a standard in the right
hand, a book in the left. A lamb stands by the side of
Santo studied: Teitipac
Attributes: Severed head
and bloody neck sitting in a bowl. The hair and beard
are as in the portrait type. Pressed tin halo of
Beardless man in a mustache looking up as at the Cross.
Instead of a beard a mustache (6 of 7) and goatee (4 of
6). Right hand on breast while left hand is extended and
held palm-up (2 of 7). Wherever the feet are visible (3
of 7) they are unshod. Halo (4 of 7).
Lily stalk in the right hand (7 of 9: in the other two
the fingers are clearly curled as for holding such a
stalk). Left hand either holds the Christ Child (5 of 9)
or is held palm-up as if to hold him (4 of 9). Beard
like that of the adult Jesus: short, pointy, slightly
Green color somewhere in the garments (7 of 9): cape or
robe or (for polychrome) underlying the gold adornment.
Crowns on the saint (4 of 9) and the child (3 of 4).
Also note that Achiutla's santo has a flat hat of the
kind worn by the person playing St. Joseph in the posadas.
Santo studied: Yanhuitlán
Santo studied: Only one, in
Uncovered flowing blond or brown hair, upturned gaze
(except Ocotlán), halo.
Optional attributes: Robe and cape in various colors (6 of 6), hands in various poses suited to the Calvary context: orant, praying hands, crossed on breast, etc.
Invariable attributes: Uncovered brown hair, chalice-like oil jar in one hand, halo.
Optional attributes: Eyes
looking forward, cape and white robe.
External links: (see above)
Santos studied: Achiutla1 (not included in statistics below), Achiutla2, Achiutla3, Achiutla4, Cuilapan, Huitzo, Ocotlán, Tamazulapan, Teotitlán, Teposcolula1, Teposcolula2, Teposcolula3, Yanhuitlán, Yanhuitlán Crucifix Group.
Invariable attributes: Right hand holds or is
positioned to hold a sword (13 of 13).
Optional attributes: A short tunic (10 of 13)
with a square opening at the neck (7 of 10), bare knees
(8 of 13), military boots (10 of 13), helmet (5 of 13),
a weapon or banner in the left hand (4 of 13),
breastplate (3 of 13), skirt (4 of 13), the motto Quien como Dios
("Who is like God" – the Hebrew meaning of "Michael"), 2
figure with tonsure, the habit folded down at the hips,
exposing the torso. Whipping himself. (The
Yanhuitlán composition includes a whip; at Díaz Ordaz the hand is posed as for
whipping and there are whip marks on the back.)
External links: See
Invariable attributes: A
sword in the left or right hand, held point-down. A
beard (short and pointy at Etla, long elsewhere).
Holding a book or scroll (4 of 6). Halo (4 of 6)..
In the head and/or the chest: an axe, machete, sword, or
Dominican habit (7 of 9), Palm branch (7 of 9), tonsure
(7 of 9), beard (7 of 9), book in hand (6 of 9)
Beard, balding, holding key(s) in right or left hand (10
of 12 seen, 2 of 12 hands obscured)
Holding a papal triple cross (6 of 12), halo or peg for
halo (7 of 12), holding a book (2 of 12).
Outlier: Teitipac2 was
identified as St. Peter by a parishioner whom we have no reason to doubt, but it has none of the
Saint Philip of Jesus
Attribute: A cross.
Santo studied: Only one,
Attribute: A fish.
Santo studied: Only one,
habit, holding the Christ Child.
Youthful man standing before a stylized tree, arrows
or arrow wounds in the body, wearing only a loincloth,
mustache, right arm held high.
Optional attributes: Small
goatee (4 of 7).
Santo studied: Only one,
habit, left arm holding a Christ Child also in a
Franciscan habit and holding a scapular.
Santo studied: Only one,
Attributes: Tonsure, dalmatic, three rocks arranged on a book in the left hand.
Santo studied: Only one,
habit, open book, quill pen.
studied: Only one, in Xoxocotlán.
Brown and cream Carmelite habit, roses, crucifix, halo.
Shining sun on breast, open book in hand, pen, rosary,
halo, Dominican habit.
studied: Only one, in Teposcolula
Attribute: Displaying the veil with Christ's face.
attributes: Crucifix (green cross,
usually with gold-colored tips) on a mappa mundi
orb surmounted by a dove
and held up with both
hands by the Father,
who is seated and wearing a triple tiara and cope. In
Teotitlán the dove is missing.
attributes: A cross atop the tiara (4 of 6 – In
Tlacolula the top of the tiara is not visible.)
Outlier: See Yanhuitlán
1 for a
discussion of this santo.
studied: Only one, Yanhuitlán
Son and Father both seated, Son on the Father's right.
Details: see the
page for this santo.
links: see above.
Invariable attributes: Mother in a
blue mantle holds Child in the left arm.
Optional attributes: Crowns on Mother
and/or Child (5 of 7). Besides the blue mantle, the
Mother also has a veil (5 of 6: in Diaz Ordaz 2 the
top of the head is not visible).
A statue of the Virgin Mary recumbent in a coffin-like
case with one side open to view. The head rests on a
pillow, and the hands hold artificial flowers. The
mantle is blue at Ejutla and Teposcolula, white at Coixtlahuaca. Eyes are
as Mary: Achiutla
Outlier: We identify Teotitlán2 as the Virgin, but the figure
has none of the attributes listed above. The bare head
and brown hair might suggest St. Mary Magdalene, but the
figure's gesture and its being alone in a glass case
make it more likely that it represents the Virgin.
For further information, readers may wish to consult our article, "Popular Catholicism," in the Encyclopedia of Mexico (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997).
This study was undertaken in the summer of 1991 with the generous assistance of the Rockefeller Foundation. We also wish to thank the many kind church members who helped us to understand their santos and how they function in the life of their church.
We also wish to thank those who traveled with us and helped us collect data: our friend Bruce Hirst, our sons Christian and Thomas, and Bruce's children, Meg, Sarah, and Michael.