Monday, June 19, 2017

San Miguel Huejotzingo: the Sala murals

In the third and last of our posts on the Huejotzingo murals, we describe the most complete and best preserved sequence in the convento.
The Sala de Profundis 
This friars' chapel was at the heart of religious life in the convento. As such, it was the most profusely decorated, its walls filled with large, inspirational murals illustrating the history and luminaries of the Franciscan Order and its mission in the New World.
The Franciscan knotted cord frames the outer doorway to the chamber, flanked by ornate escutcheons of the Stigmata accented in red. St. Michael, the warrior patron saint of Huejotzingo, reappears above the entry, here shown with fearsome spiked wings and posed in a landscape with hills, trees and buildings. He is flanked by two barefoot archangels, St. Raphael on the left, who gestures to Tobias standing in the river holding a large fish, and on the right, the archangel Gabriel with a banderole of the Annunciation message wound around his staff.
Inside the room, an extraordinary series of 16th century murals flows around the walls and over the doorways, framed by complex, foliated friezes and grotesque panels. 
   Remarkably complete and in excellent condition following restoration, like the other convento murals they are painted entirely in warm gray tones with no added color.
The most celebrated fresco, stretched above the inner doorway, portrays the first Franciscans to arrive in New Spain, the Apostolic Twelve. The friars kneel humbly before the cross, with their names inscribed in Spanish above their heads. The details and date of their historic arrival are recounted overhead:
"Estos muy dichosos y bienaventurados doce religiosos fueron los primeros fundadores de la fe en esta Nueva Iglesia. Salieron de España año de 1524 día de la conversión de S. Pablo y llegaron a esta tierra viernes de vigilia vigiliæ de Pentecostés del mismo año 4."
Like the related Arrival frescoes at Ozumba, this impressive mural is a unique historical as well as artistic document. 
Along the west wall, prominent Franciscan saints are enshrined in painted, architectural niches. St. Francis is prominently portrayed along with four key events from his life: his Conversion; the Stigmatization; the Flaming Chariot and Preaching to the birds and fishes.
St. Bonaventure;                             St Anthony of Padua
Francis is accompanied by two eminent, richly robed Franciscans, St. Bonaventure and St. Anthony of Padua.
St Clare;   St. Helen
Also present on the side walls are full length portraits of female saints: St. Clare and St. Helen, and the martyrs St. Barbara with St. Catherine of Alexandria, all prominently shown with their classic attributes.
St. Catherine of Alexandria;                              St. Barbara

In another pairing, St. Peter (partly obliterated) and St. Paul uphold the Church, of which they are traditional founders.
Above a canopied water stoup on the east wall, Christ washes the feet of the Apostles, one of the few depictions of this pre Passion event in mural art (other partial murals of this scene are found at Cuilapan and Malinalco)
This concludes our series on the murals of Huejotzingo. Enjoy!
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
photography by the author and courtesy of Robert Jackson.

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