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

Santa Magdalena Jaltepec

Jaltepec is a town of about 3,500 people in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca state. In our 1991 visit the authorities asked that we not take photos or notes during our visit to this church, and the following comments are drawn simply from memory.

All four of the santos on the main retablo (two on the left, arranged vertically, and two on the right, also arranged vertically) wear flowing, delicately done polychrome garments with a fine "windblown" look. The faces are well executed, but there is a heavy amount of dust on all four. We identified only one of them, St. Michael. Behind the retablo is a curtain. According to the sacristan and the little we could glimpse, there are behind the curtain several old polychrome statues. Another santo that we did not inspect was in a glass case in the second bay of the south wall of the nave.

Virgin and Child

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint fabric garments. Eyes: Glass eyes. Hair: Wig. Size: 4½ feet (137 cm.)

Location: 1st chapel in the north wall of nave.


Saint Sebastian

The surface has the look of modern commercial "flat" paints.

Local Name: San Sebastián.

Basis for Identification: Tree.

Location: Left front area of table in 2nd chapel in the north wall of nave.

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint.

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


Saint Isidore the Laborer

The face looks old.

Local Name: San Isidro Labrador.

Basis for Identification: Flat-top hat.

Location: Glass case, center rear area of table in 2nd chapel in the north wall of the nave.

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric garments. Size: 4½ feet (137 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Coixtlahuaca, Huitzo, Tamazulapan, Teitipac, Teposcolula.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Saint Isidore the Laborer in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Isidore the Labourer
Wikipedia: Isidore the Laborer
Christian Iconography: Saint Isidore the Laborer


Palm Sunday Christ

Location: 2nd chapel in the north wall of the nave.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Santa Ana del Valle, Cuilapan, Mitla, Ocotlán, Díaz Ordaz, Tamazulapan, Teitipac, Teotitlán, Teposcolula, Tlacolula, Yanhuitlán.

External Link:
Metropolitan Museum Art: Palmesel


Christ

Wood, gesso, paint. Eyes: Glass. Hair: Wig. Size: About 5 feet (150 cm.)

Location: In front of a coffin, the east of 2nd chapel in the the north wall of the nave.


Christ in the Purple Robe

Basis for Identification: Purple robe.

Location: Glass case to the right of the Christ described above.

Media and construction: Eyes: Painted. Hair: Bald. Size: About 4 feet tall (120 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Ejutla, Etla (in the Soldedad Group), Etla2, Mitla, Tamazulapan, Teitipac1, Teitipac2, Teitipac3, Teotitlán, Teposcolula, Tilantongo, Tlacolula, Xoxocotlán.

External Links:
The episode of the purple robe is in John 19:1-5.
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Ecce Homo.


Crucifix

The skin is very finely done.

Local Name: El Señor de la Misericordia.

Location: The northeast corner of the nave.

Wood, gesso, paint. Hair: Wig (?). Size: 1½ feet (45 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Santa Ana del Valle1, Santa Ana del Valle2, Santa Ana del Valle3, Cuilapan, Etla, Guelavia, Mitla, Nochixtlán, Tamazulapan1, Tamazulapan2, Teitipac1, Teitipac2, Teitipac3, Teotitlán1, Teotitlán2, Teposcolula1, Teposcolula2, Teposcolula3 (in Rosary case),  Teposcolula Convento1, Teposcolula Convento2, Tilantongo1, Tilantongo2, Tlacolula, Xoxocotlán1, Xoxocotlán2, Xoxocotlán3, Xoxocotlán4, Yanhuitlán1, Yanhuitlán2, Yanhuitlán Convento1, Yanhuitlán Convento2, Yanhuitlán Convento3, Yanhuitlán Convento4, Yanhuitlán Convento5, Yanhuitlán Ayuxi Chapel, Zimatlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Crucifixes in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: Archaeology of the Cross and Crucifix
Wikipedia: Crucifix
Christian Iconography: The Crucifixion


Saint Mary Magdalene

Local Name: La Santa Magdalena.

Location: Front left area of apse.

Media and construction: Polychrome. Size: About 4 feet (120 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Coixtlahuaca, Ejutla, Huitzo, Ocotlán, Tamazulapan, Teotitlán, Teposcolula.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Mary Magdalene in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Mary Magdalene
Wikipedia: Mary Magdalene
Christian Iconography: St. Mary Magdalene, Follower of Christ


Santo.

Media and construction: Polychrome. Under 3 feet (90 cm.)


Saint Mary Magdalene

Basis for Identification: So identified by the caretaker.

Other characteristics: The hair is dark in color.

Media and construction: Fabric garments. Hair: Wig. Size: About 4½ feet (135 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Coixtlahuaca, Ejutla, Huitzo, Ocotlán, Tamazulapan, Teotitlán, Teposcolula.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Mary Magdalene in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Mary Magdalene
Wikipedia: Mary Magdalene
Christian Iconography: St. Mary Magdalene, Follower of Christ


Crucifix

Local Name: El Señor de la Misericordia.

Location: Behind the Dios de la Muerte in the chapel off the the east end of the south wall of the nave.


Christ

Standing figure. The statue seems old.

Location: chapel off the the east end of the south wall of nave.

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric garments. Eyes: Glass. Hair: Wig. Size: 4½ feet (137 cm.)


Trinity (Throne of Mercy)

Old, dusty, and worn looking, but it seems to be polychrome. Both the Son and the Holy Spirit are missing.

Media and construction: Polychrome (?) Size: About 3½ feet (105 cm.) from top to toe.

Location: Left rear area of table in second chapel in the north wall of the nave.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Diaz Ordaz, Tamazulapan, Teitipac, Teotitlán, Tlacolula, Xoxocotlán, Yanhuitlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Throne of Mercy in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: The Blessed Trinity
Wikipedia: Trinity
Christian Iconography:
The Trinity


Saint Michael

Flowing, delicately done polychrome garments with a fine "windblown" look. The face is well executed, but there is a heavy amount of dust.

Basis for Identification: Cutaway tunic.

Location: Upper right section of the retablo of the main altar.

Media and construction: Polychrome. Size: Under 3 feet (90 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla1, Achiutla2, Achiutla3, Achiutla4, Cuilapan, Huitzo, Ocotlán, Tamazulapan, Teotitlán, Teposcolula1, Teposcolula2, Teposcolula3, Yanhuitlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of St. Michael in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Michael the Archangel
Wikipedia: Michael (archangel)
Christian Iconography: Saint Michael the Archangel


Calvary

Flanking the Misericordia are the Virgin Mary and St. Mary Magdalene, described below.

Location: Before the retablo of the main altar.

Crucifix
The figure on the cross has an old-looking high sheen. There is not much blood, just enough to remind the viewer of the story, at the five wounds and the scuffed knees. There is little or no blood flowing from the crown of thorns.

Local Name: El Señor de la Misericordia.

Media and construction: Eyes: Closed. Hair: Wig. Size: about 6½ feet (198 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Santa Ana del Valle1, Santa Ana del Valle2, Santa Ana del Valle3, Cuilapan, Etla, Guelavia, Mitla, Nochixtlán, Tamazulapan1, Tamazulapan2, Teitipac1, Teitipac2, Teitipac3, Teotitlán1, Teotitlán2, Teposcolula1, Teposcolula2, Teposcolula3 (in Rosary case),  Teposcolula Convento1, Teposcolula Convento2, Tilantongo1, Tilantongo2, Tlacolula, Xoxocotlán1, Xoxocotlán2, Xoxocotlán3, Xoxocotlán4, Yanhuitlán1, Yanhuitlán2, Yanhuitlán Convento1, Yanhuitlán Convento2, Yanhuitlán Convento3, Yanhuitlán Convento4, Yanhuitlán Convento5, Yanhuitlán Ayuxi Chapel, Zimatlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Crucifixes in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: Archaeology of the Cross and Crucifix
Wikipedia: Crucifix
Christian Iconography: The Crucifixion

Our Lady of Sorrows
The lips are slightly parted. The hair is almost blond, causing us to wonder if this might in fact be the Magdalene while the other is the Mary.

Local Name: Identified as "La Santa María" by the caretaker.

Media and construction: Hair: Wig. Fabric garments. Size: about 5 feet (150 cm.)

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 (?).

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

St. Mary Magdalene
The polychrome is unusually beautiful. The cape seems to have been made from stiffened cloth, with many fanciful folds. The robe is also exuberant in execution but seems to have been repainted, because the patterns of the gold are the width of a painter's brush and the gold looks thick in places. The statue is of approximately the same size as those in the retablo, and it is possible that it may have been at the retablo's center, which is now obscured by the hanging which serves as a backdrop for the crucifixion scene.

Local Name: La Santa Magdalena.

Media and construction: Polychrome. Eyes: Glass, with lashes. Hair: Wig. Parted lips. Size: About 3½ (105 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Coixtlahuaca, Ejutla, Huitzo, Ocotlán, Tamazulapan, Teotitlán, Teposcolula.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Mary Magdalene in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Mary Magdalene
Wikipedia: Mary Magdalene
Christian Iconography: St. Mary Magdalene, Follower of Christ


Christ in a Coffin
There is a heavy layer of dust on the face. The statue seems quite old. Two other santos are in this same chapel. 

Local Name: El Dios de la Muerte.

Location: Chapel off the east end of the south wall of nave.

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint. Eyes: glass. Hair: wig. Lips parted. Life size.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Huitzo, Mitla, Tamazulapan, Teitipac, Teotitlán, Teposcolula, Tlacolula, Xoxocotlán (in Soledad group), Zaachila.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of suffering Christ in a coffin.


Immaculate Heart of Mary

Basis for Identification: Hands down, palms out, with flaming heart. No halo.

Location: Glass case in the first bay in the south wall of the nave.

Wood, gesso, paint, fabric garments. Eyes: glass, with lashes. Hair: wig. Size: 4½ feet (135 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Cuilapan, Huitzo, Mitla, Teitipac, Teposcolula, Zaachila, Zimatlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Immaculate Heart of Mary
Catholic Encyclopedia: Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Wikipedia: Immaculate Heart of Mary


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