Monday, February 13, 2017

Metztitlan: The Church murals

This is the first of four posts on the murals of the great Augustinian priory at Metztitlan, in the state of Hidalgo.
Santos Reyes Metztitlan
Soon after his arrival here in 1538, the pioneering Augustinian missionary Fray Juan de Sevilla founded the first mission on low ground close to Lake Metztitlan, then much larger than it is today. 
   Part of this early mission still stands—an arcaded building known as La Comunidad. Frequent flooding, however, forced a change of location, and in the 1540s, construction of the new priory of Los Santos Reyes began on its present site above the town. The entire monastery is built on a leveled ridge—part of the rugged canyon wall—and faces south across the vast, raised terrace in front. 
    Although the convento was occupied by 1550, the huge fortress church, with its rugged black and tan stonework and battlemented parapets, rose more slowly and was not finished until the1560s or later. The only firm date is 1577, inscribed on one of the portería murals. 
In addition to its impressive architectural features, Metztitlan is host to a broad range of exceptional and varied early murals. We start our survey with the church murals.
©Eleanor Wake
© Diana Roberts
The Church
The first mural we encounter on entering the church adorns the ribbed ceiling of the under choir—an exotic painted garden alive with butterfly like angels above a riot of swirling red, yellow and blue foliage. 
Along the nave a broad, painted dado at eye level depicts the Augustinian insignia flanked by heraldic youths grasping giant acanthus fronds which sprout fantastic bird and animal heads, while long-tailed birds strut fastidiously along the foliated borders.
images © J B Artigas
The lofty barrel vault draws the eye towards the sanctuary capped by an elegant Gothic wheel vault.  Recent work in this area has revealed hitherto unknown murals on the flared walls of the apse: large scale, richly colored and detailed portraits of the Fathers of the Latin  Church.  Even more frescoes may await discovery here.

text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by the author except where noted

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