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 not photographed

Calvary Group: Crucifix and St. John the Evangelist

Calvary Group:
This glass case is in the chapel of El Señor de la Sacristía, on the south side of the church. It contains a crucifix in the center, St. John on the right, and the Virgin Mary and St. Mary Magdalene on the left.


The figure is tied to the cross with a white sash at the breast. Blood is prominent and the open wounds at the knees show through to raw flesh, but there is something abstract about the flow lines of the blood, which are unrealistically straight and parallel to each other. Each ankle is encircled by two parallel purple bands which seem to suggest the marks of a whip.

Basis for Identification: Crucified Christ, crown combines crown of thorns with cruciform halo, loincloth with scutum.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: Calvary scene at the south end of the chapel of El Señor de la Sacristía (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric loincloth and scutum. Eyes: closed. Hair: Wig.

Size: Larger than the other figures.

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. John the Evangelist

This is a highly individualized rendition. The figure has a long neck and narrow head. The lower body is more monumental and less detailed than usual. The hips are wide. There is no sculptural detailing on the robe until the stylized ridge at the knee. The folds fall from this ridge. The polychrome feathers match the pattern in the Virgin's garments on the other side of the crucifix. The mantle is mostly in red, with black detailing; it is not cloth but carved wood and is from three to five inches thick along its length. The polychrome is thin over the left knee, and the wood can be seen beneath.

Local Name: San Juan Evangelista.

Basis for Identification: Halo, chalice, moustache and goatee.

Other characteristics: Right hand on chest and left extended holding chalice. Red cape.

Site: Church of Santo Domingo Ocotlán.

Location: The Calvary grouping is at the south end of the chapel of El Señor de la Sacristía (see note).

Media and construction: Polychrome, metal halo. Eyes: Glass. Hair: Sculpted. Closed mouth.

Size: Life size.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Ejutla, Huitzo, Mitla (Calvary grouping)Teotitlán, Teposcolula, Tlacolula.

External Links:
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. John the Evangelist
Wikipedia: John the Evangelist
Christian Iconography: Saint John the Evangelist

Next: The Our Lady of Sorrows on the left of the case

Previous santo

Introduction to Santo Domingo Ocotlán

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.