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 Mitla:

Calvary group
Christ: Ecce Homo
Christ in a coffin

Christ resurrected
Immaculate Heart of Mary
Our Lady of Sorrows
Our Lady of Sorrows (Soledad)
Our Lady of the Assumption (1)
Our Lady of the Assumption (2)
Palm Sunday Christ
St. Anthony of Padua
St. John the Baptist
St. Joseph (1)
St. Joseph (2)
St. Paul (1)
St. Paul (2)
St. Peter
Unidentified saint

Other santos not photographed

Calvary Grouping

Calvary Grouping
A doll-sized calvary group that includes Our Lady of Sorrows, St. Mary Magadelene, and St. John the Evangelist.

Site: Church of San Pablo Huitzo.

Location: Shelf on the west wall of the narthex, south of the portal (see note).

The wood is very dark and does not have much sheen. The wig obscures the face. The diadem is very large and fan-shaped. The body under the gold lamé loincloth is thick, which suggests that the white loincloth beneath is carved or of polychrome.

The cross is made of thick dowels painted green and capped in gold paint. The INRI sign is above the vertical dowel. A doubled rope hangs in a loose noose from Christ's neck and the ends are draped over the hands of the crucifix. A string of tassles hangs from the figure's left hand.

Local Name: El Señor de la Misericordia.

Basis for Identification: White and gold loincloth, gold-colored sun-burst diadem.

Media and construction: Wood, metal diadem, fabric loincloth. Hair: wig.

Size: About 10 inches (25 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Santa Ana del Valle1, Santa Ana del Valle2, Santa Ana del Valle3, Cuilapan, Etla, GuelaviaNochixtlán, 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 statue looks at Christ crucified; her knees are buckling, her hands are joined in prayer. What seems to be a red heart has been painted on her chest.

Local Name: La Madre de los Dolores.

Basis for Identification: Wimple, veil, blue and gold robe.

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint.

Size: About 8 inches (20 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. John the Evangelist:
The style of the statue matches that of the Mary Magadalene. The young man stands straight, looking up at the cross. The right hand is held at waist level, palm inward and fingers splayed. The left hand is held palm upward at hip level.

Local Name: San Juan Evangelista

Basis for Identification: Long, thin figure of a young man. Brown hair in "Biblical" style, moustache. Long green robe; red mantle.

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint.

Size: About 10 inches (25 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Ejutla, Huitzo, Ocotlán, Teotitlán, Teposcolula, Tlacolula.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Saint John the Evangelist in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. John the Evangelist
Wikipedia: John the Evangelist
Christian Iconography: Saint John the Evangelist

St. Mary Magdalene:
The figure has long, smooth waves of hair that fall down her back. She wears a simple robe with elbow-length sleeves and full drapery. The robe is edged and belted in gold. the mantle is caught at the right shoulder and curves down her back to the left hip.

With knees bent, she leans against the cross. The right hand is raised as thought to hold onto the cross. The left hand is held palm upward at hip level. The pose is graceful and stylized.

Local Name: La Santa Magdalena.

Basis for Identification: Unveiled young woman with long blond hair.

Other characteristics: Gold-colored robe, red stole.

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint; 7"

Size: About 7 inches (18 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Coixtlahuaca, Ejutla, Huitzo, Mitla (Calvary grouping), 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

Next: Going in from the narthex, on the left we find a statue of the Trinity as "Throne of Mercy."

Introduction to San Pablo Mitla

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.