Saturday, April 1, 2017

Tlaquiltenango: Confession and Absolution

Floating like a black battleship in a sea of green cane fields, the formidable monastery of Tlaquiltenango in southern Morelos is visible for miles around—a landmark rivaled only by the towering smokestack of the local sugar mill. 
   Although the basic fabric of the monastery is Franciscan, as evidence its fortress like appearance and the distinctive south doorway, modeled after the north porch at Cuernavaca, in 1573, after contentious negotiations, the Dominicans wrested control of the monastery from the Friars Minor. After ten years, the Franciscans briefly regained control, only to lose it again to the Dominicans in 1590. 
This ongoing conflict, with intervals of occupation by both Orders, is reflected in the sometimes aggressive repainting of the mural decoration within the monastery, most forcefully in the grand polychrome fresco over the inner doorway to the convento (anteporterĂ­a) portraying St. Dominic in the center of an illustrious company of Dominican saints and notables.
   In this post we look at two other prominent, complementary frescoes covering earlier friezes. This time painted in sepia tinged monochrome, they also depict other Dominicans in action.
The Confession mural
In the first and best preserved of the two, a friar confesses a noble Indian convert, from whose mouth sins dramatically stream forth in the form of distasteful black creepy crawlies. 
An angel and a winged demon hover in competition above the head of the penitent.  
The Absolution mural
In the same area, an almost identical but so far unrestored mural portrays the sacrament of Absolution. As before, a fluttering angel gestures in benediction above the kneeling convert, although the devil has been vanquished.
   The sacraments of Confession and Absolution were especially dear to the hearts of the Dominicans, who played a leading role in the notorious Inquisition.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry. photography by Niccolò Brooker

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