Saturday, August 13, 2011

tale of two towns

Yesterday I took you on a tour of the grand city that was once Tzintzuntzan.  A city that is no more.

The town that is now Tzintzuntzan is hardly a shadow of its brother on the bluff.  But it still bears the family name.

When Cristóbal de Olid accepted the humiliation of the Purépecha emperor, Tanganxoán II, in 1522, the Spanish allowed the emperor to retained what appeared to be control over his people.

Six years later, one of history’s villains (lacking his own partisan historians), Nuño de Guzmán, showed up in the Pátzcuaro valley searching for gold -- a substance the Purépecha did not particularly value.

In an attempt to torture the emperor into disclosing the hiding place of the nonexistent gold, Guzmán burned him at the stake.  A heretic’s death even though the emperor had converted to Christianity.

It was amongst this chaos that the beloved Don Vasco arrived on the scene as the new bishop in 1533  The Spanish had moved the political capital of the area to Pátzcuaro.  But Tzintzuntzan remained the religious center.

That helps to account for the fact that the only historical tourist attractions from that period is the former monastery complex of San Francisco.

The Spanish took little time in setting up their religious community.  Construction on the monastery and its associated churches began in 1530 -- even before Don Vasco arrived.  The complex includes two churches (the Church of San Francisco and the Church of La Soledad), and a broad courtyard.

The Church of La Soledad lacks any architectural splendor -- even though the interior was dressed up for some occasion.  But past the blue, yellow, and white bunting, there is not much there.

However, I did have an interesting experience while looking at an obvious Mason symbol on the altar.  I heard two people speaking in turn.  It was an older Indian couple reading prayers.  Another example of people putting their faith in action.

What was ironic is the history of the church.  Indians were not allowed in this church.  It was only for the Spanish.

The Church of San Francisco was built as a place for the Indians to worship.  Whenever separate but equal is put into place, there is no equality.  Even with its rustic look, the church has more charm than its Spanish only neighbor.

The barrel vault ceiling gives the impression of three-dimensional plaster.  But it is merely paint cleverly disguised.  A number of the repeated figures on the roof are of Indian origin.  Appropriate symbols for the original worshipers.

Life sometimes comes in interesting juxtapositions.  Just as the Indian couple was worshiping in the former Spanish only  church, this Mexican family was receiving a mixed Catholic-Indian blessing in the former Indians only church.

Whatever the source of the blessing, the husband and wife were emotionally moved as they looked through the rest of the church.

But that is why the place exists.  To exercise one's faith.

The church also contains an interesting effigy -- Santo Entierro.  A wax figure of Christ in a glass coffin.  The legend is that the arms and legs of the statue are growing -- an apparent miracle for no particular purpose.  That explains the bay window at the end of the coffin.  Making room for those growing legs.

I am not certain what explains the line of pesos and dollars along the edge of the coffin.  Traveling money?

The cloister in front of the churches shelters one of Tzintzuntzan’s most interesting relics -- a grove of olive trees planted by Don Vasco.  He had another of his dreams.  To grow olives for oil as part of his Eurocentric Utopia.

Unfortunately for him, the Spanish government had mercantilistic ideas of its own. 

To protect its own farmers, Spain declared that olives could not be grown in any of its colonies.  If the colonists wanted olive oil, they would need to buy it from Spain.  Of course, most of the population in Mexico was quite happy to ignore this bit of protectionism by using local corn oil.  As they do to this day.

The rheumatic gnarls that were once young olive trees now stand as historical contraband.  As illegal as marijuana -- and thriving. 

The legend is that the olive trees have never borne fruit.  The trees are undoubtedly pining away for the return of Don Vasco.

But Tzintzuntzan’s place in the sectarian sun was short-lived.  Don Vasco decided his attempt to bring Thomas More’s Utopia alive would be more effective in the political capital.

In 1539 he pulled up his bishopric stakes and moved his seat to Pátzcuaro -- along with his dreams of a five-nave cathedral.  As a result, Tzintzuntzan slipped into what it is today.  A sleepy, slightly seedy lakeside town.

As part of his Utopia plan, Don Vasco assigned specific craft skills to each Purépecha village.  For Tzintzuntzan it was wood carving.  You can still find wood-carving craftsmen in town.

But most of the pieces are far more souvenirs than functional home items.  The type of thing you see in someone’s home and immediately remark what a beautiful view they have.

And then there is the usual tourist market with fields of undistinguished pieces of pottery you can find at every tour bus stop.

The one exception is the colorful woven reed decorations that beguile every camera-toting visitor.  Including me.

After leaving the woody craftsmen, I decided to head back to Pátzcuaro on the shore road I discovered earlier in the week.  It is an amazing stretch of pavement.  At every turn the view is more stunning than the last.

Unfortunately, you will have to take my word for it.  There simply were no turnouts for the best shots.  This will have to do.


jennifer rose said...

You might not want the likes of Manuel Morales and his family know about your impressions of the status of pottery in this town. After all, Morales' taller is only steps from the church. And when George Foster studied the town over and over again over decades, the town's business was pottery. 

Don Cuevas said...

"the colorful woven reed decorations that beguile every camera-toting visitor.  Including me"

Yes; and a real bargain at only $20 pesitos each. My sister in law stocked up on her Christmas shopping while we were there in June.

Saludos, Don Cuevas

Steve Cotton said...

Interesting.  I saw a couple interesting pineapple pieces, but most of the pottery looked as if it had been imported for sale in an airport departure lounge.

Steve Cotton said...

I have long been an advocate of celebrating Christmas in the summer.  It seems a bit less pagan that way.

name said...

How soon will you be leaving for San Miguel de Allende?  I think I hear the community calling for your return. 

Steve Cotton said...

Plans? I don't need no stinkin' plans. And I have none. We shall see.