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 Santa María de la Natividad Zaachila:

Christ in a coffin
Immaculate Heart of Mary
Nativity of Mary
Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Resurrected Christ
St. Nicholas Factor 1
St. Nicholas Factor 2

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Our Lady of Mount Carmel:
This Carmen is unusual. The bib is purple and the cape is gold lamé; elsewhere, the Carmen's bib and garments tend to be uniformly brown. The wigs are long, blond, and heavily crimped; they seem new. On the bib and the Virgin's scapular is a crowned M monogram, similar to those commonly found in lintels in Oaxacan religious buildings. The skin of the face and hands of both figures has an artificial, even rubbery, quality. Behind the full crown on the Virgin figure is a large sunburst diadem; the child figure has a cruciform halo.

Our informant relates that the figure is carried around the pasos and up the mountain every July 16 to her capillita, where it remains for a week to be visited by the faithful.

Local Name: La Virgen del Carmen.

Basis for Identification: Christ Child, scapulars, lily in Virgin's right hand, crowns, purple bib, gold lamé cape, white robe.

Site: Church of Santa María de la Natividad Zaachila.

Location: East end of the north wall of the nave (see note).

Media and construction: Wood, gesso, paint, fabric garments, metal crowns. Both figures have glass eyes, lashes, and wigs.

Size: About feet (135 cm.)

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

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

Next: Above the main altar, the Nativity of Mary

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Introduction to Santa María Zaachila

Santos Home Page

Note: On this site, references to the cardinal directions in a church 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.