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
List of Santos in the Church of San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya

Our official government guide at Tlacochahuaya was Sr. Daniel Méndez García, whom we thank for his valuable information and assistance. We were unable to take photographs inside the church, but we did take notes on the following santos:

Christ in a Coffin
Christ resurrected
Christ seated in the pretorium
Crucifix 1
Crucifix 2
Crucifix 3
Crucifix 4
Franciscan Santo 1
Franciscan Santo 2
Our Lady of Sorrows
Our Lady of Sorrows (Soledad)
Our Lady of the Rosary
Palm Sunday Christ
Saint Jerome
Saint Jerome in Contemplation
Saint John the Baptist 1
Saint John the Baptist 2
Saint John the Baptist 3
Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary
Saint Mary Magdalene
Trinity
Virgin Mary

Saint John the Baptist 1

The figure is intended to form a part of the Holy Week procession and matches the figure of Mary Magdalene (see next entry below).

Local Name: San Juan Bautista.

Basis for Identification: Young man with a halo, identified by Sr. Méndez García.

Location: In the narthex, left of the chapel of the Dios de la Muerte.

Media and construction: Fabric clothing over triangular frame, head and hands of wood, gesso, and paint. Eyes: painted. Hair: wig.

Size: Life size.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Coixtlahuaca, Huitzo, Mitla, Tamazulapan, Tamazulapan (as child), Teitipac, Teitipac (Beheading), Teitipac (San Juanito), Teotitlán, Zimatlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of St. John the Baptist in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. John the Baptist
Wikipedia: John the Baptist
Christian Iconography: St. John the Baptist, Prophet and Martyr


Saint Mary Magdalene

Local Name: La Santa Magdalena.

Basis for Identification: A chalice in the left hand.

Other characteristics: A handkerchief in the right hand, a halo.

Location: In the narthex, left of the chapel of the Dios de la Muerte.

Media and construction: Fabric clothing over triangular frame, head and hands of wood, gesso, and paint. Eyes: glass, no lashes. Hair: wig.

Size: Life size.

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

Recumbent Christ in a Coffin

Only the face is visible under the coverlet. The jaw is held shut by a red ribbon, suggesting pre-modern mortuary practices. Carved in the ceiling above is the Zapotec god of death. Eye sockets are purple with blood.

Local Name: El Dios de la Muerte.

Location: In the narthex, in a chapel of its own.

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint. Eyes: glass. Hair: wig.

Size: Life size.

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

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

Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary

These statues stand on the floor on either side of the coffin in the chapel of the Dios de la Muerte. The Mary figure wears a red robe and a veil like a nun's. The hands are folded in prayer. The Joseph has lost four fingers of the left hand; the left arm is extended and the right hand held at the breast. The paint seems original and is of the same green color for both figures' cloaks.

Local Name: San José y Santa María.

Basis for Identification: Nativity figures identified by Sr. Méndez García.

Location: In the narthex, in the chapel of the Dios de la Muerte.

Media and construction: Painted wood, painted eyes.

Size: About 3 feet (90 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca (St. Joseph): Achiutla, Santa Ana del Valle, Cuilapan1, Cuilapan2, Mitla1, Mitla2, Ocotlán, Díaz Ordaz, Teitipac, Teotitlán, Zimatlán.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca (Virgin Mary): 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, Statues of Saint Joseph in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Joseph
Wikipedia: Saint Joseph
Christian Iconography: Saint Joseph, Father of Jesus


Our Lady of Sorrows (Soledad)

Local Name: Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, La Virgen de la Soledad.

Location: Midway along the north wall of the nave (see note).

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Santa Ana del Valle, Coixtlahuaca, Cuilapan, Ejutla, Etla, Huitzo, Mitla, Teotitlán, Teposcolula1, Teposcolula2, Tilantongo, Xoxocotlán, Zimatlán.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad

Crucifix 1

The figure wears a cruciform crown and a crown of thorns in the basketweave pattern. Blood streams from the crown, the five wounds, and the knees, which are skinned to the bone.

Local Name: El Señor de la Misericordia.

Location: Along the north wall of the nave, between the narthex and the north portal (see note).

Media and construction: Wooden cross. Figure: Wood, gesso, paint.

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, Teitipac Our Lady of the Rosary, 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


Crucifix 2

Sr. Méndez García reports that the figure has been X-rayed to reveal a hollow chest cavity in which is hidden a pre-Columbian Zapotec corn goddess with long braids. The Christ figure is a light yellow. Blood flows from realistic wounds, the knees are skinned, and the legs have lesions. The crucifix weighs only 8 kilos, including the cross, which is of wood.

Local Name: El Señor de la Misericordia.

Location: On an altar along the north wall of nave, between the north portal and the transept (see note).

Media and construction: Corn stalk, corn paste, and paint. Eyes: painted.

Size: Over 6 feet (180 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: See above.

External Links: See above

Christ Seated in the Pretorium

The statue has been placed in a shadow box which is signed and dated 1895. At its feet is a clay water bowl. Instead of a loincloth, the figure wears brief shorts. There are lesions at the knees and the left pelvis, and a great deal of blood. The crown is green, the cape red.

Local Name: El Dios de la Peña.

Basis for Identification: Seated with crown of thorns and cape.

Location: On an altar along the north wall of the nave, between the north portal and the transept (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint. Hair: wig.

Size: About 2 feet 4 inches (70 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Ejutla, Etla, Guelavia, Tamazulapan, Teitipac1, Teitipac2, 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.


Resurrected Christ

Local Name: Dios de la Candela, Jesús del Nazareño.

Basis for Identification: Raised hand, loincloth with scutum, white banner.

Location: Far left on the altar along the north wall of the nave, between the north portal and the transept (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric garments and banner. Eyes: painted, no lashes. Hair: carved.

Size: 4 feet 5 inches (135 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Achiutla, Santa Ana del Valle, Cuilapan, Mitla, Teitipac, Teotitlán, TeposcolulaYanhuitlán, Zaachila.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Resurrection of Christ in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Wikipedia: Resurrection of Jesus
Christian Iconography: The Resurrection

Saint John the Baptist 2

Local Name: San Juan Bautista.

Basis for Identification: Standard with a cross at the top.

Location: Far right on the altar along the north wall of nave, between the north portal and the transept (see note).

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

Size: About 3 feet 6 inches (105 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: See above.

External Links: See above.

Trinity

The robes are carved in the wood. The left arm of the Christ has come apart from the body and is now held by a nail or dowel. Modern screws hold the hands to the cross. According to Sr. Méndez García the dove is of massive silver and is being kept safe elsewhere. It was formerly atop the "INRI" inscription of the crucifix.

Basis for Identification: Seated Father holding a crucifix.

Location: Left of the altar in the north transept (see note).

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

Size: About 5 feet (150 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: 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

Our Lady of Sorrows

As is so frequent with representations of the Virgin, the face and hands are not highly detailed.

Local Name: La Madre de los Dolores.

Basis for Identification: Silver-colored starburst diadem, praying hands.

Location: In a glass case to the right of the altar in the north transept (see note).

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

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

Crucifix 3

There is less blood than usually seen in crucifixes of this type. A red cloth band at the chest holds the figure to the cross.

Local Name: El Señor de la Misericordia.

Basis for Identification: Purple loincloth with scutum.

Location: On an altar to left of the main altar.

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric loincloth. Eyes: painted.

Size: About 5 feet (150 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: See above

External Links: See above


Saint Jerome in Contemplation

According to Sr. Méndez García, St. Jerome used the stone to beat his breast after learning from his translations of the Bible what a sinner he was. The figure kneels in a loincloth and a red cape which hangs off the left shoulder. The loincloth represents his years as a hermit. Missing are the lion and the cardinal's hat usually associated with this saint.

Local Name: San Jerónimo.

Basis for Identification: Crucifix in the left hand, stone in the right.

Location: Center of the high altar.

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint.

Size: Life size.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: Above the entrance to this church.

External Links:
Wikimedia Commons: Statues of Saint Jerome in Mexico
Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Jerome
Wikipedia: Jerome
Christian Iconography: Saint Jerome, Doctor of the Church


Our Lady of the Rosary

Very plain execution of the face and hair.

Local Name: La Virgen del Rosario.

Basis for Identification: Christ Child upon the left hand, rosary hanging from the right hand.

Other characteristics: No halo.

Location: On an altar to the right of the main altar.

Media and construction: Polychrome, gessoed cloth. Eyes: painted. Hair: sculpted.

Size: About 4 feet (120 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


Crucifix 4

Only fragments of the diadem remain. The loincloth is gessoed and painted. A gold-colored band at the breast holds the figure to the cross. There are copious streams of blood. Sr. Méndez García says the crucifix weighs 20 kilos and is made of Caoba wood. The cross is green and made to look as if it had branches quickly chopped off.

Local Name: El Señor de la Misericordia.

Basis for Identification: Cruciform halo, loincloth.

Location: South transept (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint. Eyes: closed, no lashes. Hair: wig.

Size: The figure on the cross is about 5 feet (150 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: See above.

External Links: See above.


Virgin Mary

The figure wears a gold-colored starburst diadem. The face and hands are generally without detail, but the fingers do have nails.

Location: On an altar at the south end of the transept (see note).

Media and construction: Head and hands in wood, gesso, paint. Fabric garments. Eyes: glass.

Size: About feet (165 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: See above.

External Links: See above.


Saint John the Baptist 3

The robe and cloak are stiffened cloth. They represent neither the Baptist's usual animal skins nor any monastic habit, nor is there any lamb, standard, or other attribute that might identify him.

Local Name: San Juan Bautista.

Basis for Identification: Identified by Sr. Méndez García.

Location: On an altar at the south end of the transept, to the left of the Virgin Mary (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint. Eyes: painted.

Size: About feet (135 cm.) including 6 inch (15 cm.) base.

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: See above.

External Links: See above.


Franciscan Santo 1

The statue could be of St. Anthony of Padua, as there is room on the book for a Christ child. The gessoed cord of the Franciscan habit has the usual three knots. Stylized golden flowers adorn the habit.

Basis for Identification: Tonsure, habit, halo, book upon left hand.

Location: On an altar at the south end of the transept, to the right of the Virgin Mary (see note).

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

Size: About 4 feet (120 cm.), including a 5 inch (13 cm.)


Saint Jerome

The hands are well detailed, with veins and fingernails. The figure is dressed in a cotton-and-lace surplice and a red cassock. Except for the red of the cassock, the santo lacks St. Jerome's usual attributes. The halo, behind the head, is a flat circle with the center cut out.

Local Name: San Jerónimo

Basis for Identification: Identified by Sr. Méndez García.

Location: On the third altar along the south wall of the nave (see note).

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

Size: About feet (165 cm.)

Comparable santos in Oaxaca: See above.

External Links: See above.


Franciscan Santo 2

Basis for Identification: Brown habit with cord.

Other characteristics: The cord has no knots.

Location: On the third altar along the south wall of the nave, to the right of St. Jerome (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric clothing. Eyes: painted.

Size: About 3 feet (90 cm.)


Palm Sunday Christ

The figure is made to be clothed but the body is one piece. The figure has been coarsely repainted, but the original painted gesso can be seen on the right foot of the Christ. The left nostril of the ass is rotted and unrepaired.

Local Name: Jesús del Nazareño

Basis for Identification: So named by Sr. Méndez García. Christ riding an ass.

Location: Along the south wall, just past the baptistery (see note).

Media and construction: Sr. Méndez García identified the material as Caoba wood covered by stucco. Wood, gesso, paint; The ass has a real mane and tail. The Christ figure has real sandals, painted eyes.

Size: About 4 feet (120 cm.)

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


Introduction to Tlacochahuaya

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 "transept" is the part of the building that crosses the nave so that the whole building has the shape of a cross.