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 Ocotlán:

Calvary Group: Crucifix and St. John
Calvary Group: Our Lady of Sorrows
Calvary Group: St. Mary Magdalene
Calvary Group: God the Father
Palm Sunday Christ
Saint in fire
St. Joseph
St. Michael
St. Sebastian
Two Dominican saints
Unidentified Franciscan saint
Virgin Mary

Other Santos at Santo Domingo Ocotlan

Saint Isidore the Laborer

The boots and the lower part of the tunic are heavily encrusted with wax that has dripped from the candles used by parishioners to make the sign of the cross first over the saint and then over an afflicted companion. This devotional expression was observed during our visit.

Local Name: San Isidro Labrador

Basis for Identification: Team of oxen, belted knee-length tunic, trousers, boots, hat.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: West wall of the chapel in the north wall of the narthex (see note).

Media and construction: Repainted wood and gesso.

Size: About 3 feet (90 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


Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Local Name: An inscription is cut into the glass of the case: "Ntra Señora del Carmen Ocotlan Oax."

Basis for Identification: Brown robe, Christ child, scapulars, vertical halo.

Other characteristics: A 1½ foot (46 cm.) crucifix is at the feet of the statue.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: On an altar in the chapel off the north wall of the narthex (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, stiffened cloth.

Size: About 5¼ feet (160 cm.).

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Coixtlahuaca main altar, Cuilapan, Ejutla, Etla, Guelavia, Huitzo, Teitipac, Teposcolula, Tlaxiaco, Xoxocotlán, Zaachila, Zimatlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Nuestra Señora del Carmen in Mexico
Wikipedia: Our Lady of Mount Carmel,
Virgen del Carmen (in Spanish).
Christian Iconography: Our Lady of Mount Carmel


St. Thomas the Apostle?

The garments seem to have been repainted long ago, in dull purple and gold. The crude cedar pedestal is recent.

Basis for Identification: Carpenter's square. It is conventional in European iconography to show St. Thomas with a carpenter's square. But at Ejutla and elsewhere in Oaxaca one finds the carpenter's square with statues of St. Jude Thaddeus, normally in conjunction with a book and often with other tools.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: Left of the Carmen altar in the chapel off the north wall of the narthex (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, stiffened cloth. Eyes: glass, with lashes.

Size: About 4 feet (120 cm.)


Unidentified Female Saint

No emblems or symbols to identify this statue. The face has heavily shadowed lids, the shadowing ribbed as if to suggest lashes. The thumbs have been lost, and the fingers of the right hand are broken. The lower part of the robe is deteriorating. There is less detail to the face and hands than is the case with the St. Thomas at the other side of the altar.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, stiffened cloth. Eyes: glass.

Size: About 4 feet (120 cm.)


Unidentified Monk

A wooden staff with a knob at the top is fastened to the left hand by a white ribbon. The hands are realistically done, with wrist veins and fingernails, but the face is not well detailed. The right arm is simply a wooden cylinder, painted black, to which the hand and wrist have been affixed.

Basis for Identification: Black habit with broad gold collar, gold cincture, biretta, wooden crucifix in right hand.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: In a glass case left of the retablo of the major altar in the first bay of the north wall of the nave (see note).

Media and construction: Glass eyes, with lashes.

Size: About 3 feet (90 cm.)


Unidentified Female Saint

The garments have been repainted, but not the hands, feet, and face, which retain a fine sheen. The hands have deteriorated somewhat.

Basis for Identification: A flaming torch in the right hand, a closed book with a cross on the cover crooked in the left arm, a jug hanging from the left wrist. In European iconography St. Lucy is sometimes shown with a flaming torch, but if this statue were of her we would expect a martyr's palm, and her most common attribute is a plate holding two eyes.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: In a glass case on a cabinet to the left of the major altar in the first bay of the north wall of the nave (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, stiffened cloth. Eyes: glass, with lashes.


"San Lazaro"

Basis for Identification: Identified as "San Lazaro" by a parishioner, this statue looks just like representations of St. Roch in other parts of the world: A staff with a crook in the right hand, a ragged tunic, ulcers on the legs, and a black dog at the feet. One of Jesus' parables regards a poor man named Lazarus who was "full of sores" (Luke 16:20), but he was only a fictional character, not a saint. There is a "St. Lazarus," the man whom Jesus raised from the dead and who legend said went on mission to France after the Ascension. But he is never shown with ulcers or in rags.

Other characteristics: The sculpted tunic is "torn," revealing the ulcers in and above the knees; more ulcers appear on the calves. The sandal thongs are painted onto the legs. The dog has individually sculpted teeth set into an open mouth. Some paint has chipped away from the dog.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: Small altar to right of the major altar of the second bay in the north wall of the nave (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint. Eyes: glass, no lashes.

Size: About 3½ feet (105 cm.)

External Link:
Christian Iconography: Saint Roch


Virgin Mary in a Coffin

The hands are tied together by one of the ribbons of the nosegay the figure is holding. The hands and face lack detail, but the feet have realistic toes. The sandals are part of the carving.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: On the major altar of the second bay in the north wall of the nave (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric garments. Eyes: glass, with lashes.

Size: About 4½ feet (135 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Ejutla, Coixtlahuaca, Teposcolula.


Sacred Heart

The hands are fairly well detailed, with tendons, veins, and realistic fingernails. The robe, cloak, and cincture are white. The heart is of recent manufacture.

Basis for Identification: Flaming heart on the chest, cruciform halo.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: Above the coffin on the major altar of the second bay in the north wall of the nave (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric garments. Eyes: glass, with lashes. Hair: wig.

Size: About 6 feet (183 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Cuilapan, Huitzo, Tamazulapan, Teposcolula, Yanhuitlán, Zimatlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Wikipedia: Sacred Heart


Virgin Mary

The hands and face are realistically but reticently detailed. The crucifix is of recent manufacture. The bib hangs from the collarbone to mid-calf and is fringed with jet or black glass.

Basis for Identification: Black robe, black bib, black mantilla, sunburst halo.

Other characteristics: A flaming cross at the breast, a small crucifix standing at the feet.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: In a glass case along the north wall of the nave between the north chapel and the apse (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric garments, metal cross (brass?). Eyes: glass, with lashes. Hair: wig.

Size: About feet (165 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Etla1 (in the Soledad group) Etla2, Guelavia1, Guelavia2, Nochixtlán, Ocotlán, Teotitlán, Teotitlán2, Tilantongo1, Tilantongo2, Yanhuitlán1, Yanhuitlán2, Zimatlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Virgin Mary in Mexico.


Our Lady of the Rosary

Undistinguished. The expression of the face seems typical of more recent times.

Local Name: La Virgen del Rosario

Basis for Identification: Holding the Christ Child in the left arm, rosary draped between the two extended hands.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: In a glass case atop an altar in the north wall of the apse (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric garments.

Size: About 5½ feet (165 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Coixtlahuaca, Cuilapan, Teitipac1, Teitipac2,
Teotitlán, Teposcolula, Xoxocotlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Our Lady of the Rosary in Mexico
Wikipedia: Our Lady of the Rosary
Christian Iconography: Our Lady of the Rosary


Trinity: Throne of Mercy + Pietà

The Father has a triangular halo and does not wear the usual triple crown. All but two of the teeth set into the mouth have now been lost. The right hand is raised as in benediction and the open left hand supports the Son's left elbow. The Son is shown proportionately smaller than the Father; the eyeballs roll up under half-closed lids, and the head tilts toward the Father. The Son's body is not highly detailed.

The work has been repainted in flat, bold colors. The simple throne is carved wood.

Basis for Identification: Enthroned Father with dove on chest and Son draped between the knees as in death.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: In a glass-fronted niche in the stone of the south wall of the anteroom just north of the apse (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint. Eyes: glass. Hair: sculpted. Sculpted teeth for both Father and Son.

Size: The Father's height is about 4 feet (120 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: We did not see any other santos that combined the usual "Throne of Mercy" iconography with the "Pietà" arrangement of the dead Christ in the arms of (normally) his mother. For "Throne of Mercy" santos, see Diaz Ordaz, Mitla, 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


Crucifix

Long, narrow face with slanted eyes and sunken cheeks. The ribs are suggested rather than clearly outlined and the bruises are barely visible on the legs. Wood can be seen under the gesso at the toes.

Local Name: El Señor de la Misericordia.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: East wall of the anteroom just north of the apse (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, stiffened fabric loincloth under embroidered fabric apron. Hair: sculpted.

Size: Life size.

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


St. Rose of Lima

Basis for Identification: Dominican habit with rosary, crown of roses, halo.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: Left end of the main altar.

Media and construction: Frame and fabric. Face and hands are wood/gesso/paint. Silver halo.

Size: About 5 feet (150 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla.


St. Thomas Aquinas

Basis for Identification: Dominican habit with rosary, halo, quill pen in right hand, open book in left.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: Second from the left of the five santos on the main altar. 

Media and construction: Frame and fabric. Face and hands are wood/gesso/paint. Silver halo.

Size: About 5 feet (165 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Etla.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Thomas Aquinas
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Thomas Aquinas
Wikipedia: Thomas Aquinas
Christian Iconography: Saint Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church


St. Peter the Apostle

Local Name: San Pedro Apóstol.

Basis for Identification: Keys, staff topped by triple cross, triple crown.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Size: About 5½ feet (165 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Coixtlahuaca, Etla, Huitzo, Mitla, Díaz Ordaz, 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


Saint Anthony of Padua

The figure holds a lily. The hands are highly detailed. Under the repainting one can see the gesso and cloth.

Local Name: San Antonio de Padua.

Basis for Identification: Franciscan habit, child on book in left hand.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: South wall of the nave (see note).

Media and construction: Repainted polychrome.

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

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Saint Anthony of Padua in México
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Anthony of Padua
Wikipedia: Anthony of Padua
Christian Iconography: Saint Anthony of Padua


Our Lady of Sorrows (Soledad)

Location: South wall of the nave.


Saint Peter?

The hands and head are a different color from the feet, which look older.

Basis for Identification: Triple crown.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: South wall of the nave (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric garments, paper crown.

Size: Life size.

Comparable santos of St. Peter in Oaxaca: Coixtlahuaca, Etla, Huitzo, Mitla, Díaz Ordaz, Tamazulapan, Teitipac1, Teitipac2, Teotitlán1, Teotitlán2, Teposcolula1, Teposcolula2Yanhuitlán.

External Links (St. Peter):
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


Immaculate Heart of Mary

Local Name: Corazón de María.

Basis for Identification: A heart is pinned to the robe, which is white. The hands are extended forward with the palms open.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: South wall of the nave (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, metal heart. Eyes: glass, with lashes. Hair: wig.

Size: Life size.

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


Christ Seated in the Pretorium ("Pensive Christ")

The work is realistic especially in its detailing of the backs of the hands, the ribs, and the nipples. There is much streaming blood but there are no visible ulcers. Parishioners were observed rubbing the glass with chrysanthemums and then rubbing the chrysanthemums onto companions or taking them home.

Local Name: El Dios de la Peña.

Basis for Identification: Seated with naked to the waist, purple cape, crown combining crown of thorns and cruciform halo, palm in left hand, head leaning on the right hand.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: In a glass case on the small altar in the south wall of the narthex (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric cape, white cotton trousers, metal crown/halo. Eyes: glass, with lashes. Hair: wig

Size: Slightly less than life size.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Ejutla, Etla, Guelavia, Teposcolula, Tilantongo, Tlacolula, Yanhuitlán.

External Links:
The episode of the scourging and mockery of Jesus in the pretorium is in Mark 15:16-20.
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of the Man of Sorrows.


Previous santo

Introduction to Santo Domingo Ocotlán

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. Actual orientations may differ. (The nave is the long central section. The apse is the area covered by a half-dome at the east end of the nave, where the main altar is located.)