Wednesday, January 21, 2015
get me to the church two times
Jennifer commented yesterday: "But you're spending less time in each venue than a fully escorted tour group would. If it's Wednesday, this must be Cholula?"
She is correct. But there is a method to our traveling. We wanted to see as much of Mexico as we could on this trip. To do that, we have not indulged in the usual culture vulture routine of stuffing as many sights as possible into each stop.
Instead, we usually pick one or two places that interest the three of us, and we focus our time there. Yesterday it was churches. Or, two churches to be more precise.
The first was in Puebla -- the Church of Santo Domingo. I had searched for it on Monday, but it was closed when I found it. So, the three of us returned yesterday morning.
The church itself is a rather odd combination of styles. It is a former monastery, and the chapels along the nave show that. They are simple. Almost austere.
The chapels at the front of the church and the altar are superb -- with gilded wood carvings. But it was not the church we had come to see. We were interested in a chapel to the left of the main altar.
And not just any chapel. When I rounded the corner, it took my breath away. That is not merely an old metaphor. I literally gasped.
It was the Chapel of the Rosario -- one of Puebla's most popular stops for travelers and believers. My eye was immediately drawn to the rectangular altar at the front of the chapel.
The fact that the place is covered in gold leaf has an immediate impact on the eye. But it is what the gold is covering that makes it such a special place. For instance, this dome. The detail is beautiful.
But the detail is more than merely interesting. The details are the place. And part of that mystery is found in the chapel's name -- rosary.
The small room is filled with more symbolism than a Dan Brown novel. Take these angel heads that encircle both sides of the chapel. Each face is each separated by a tile with a round shape.
On its face, it all looks quite lovely. Customized figures topping a base of talavera tile.
But, like most art, there is a fuller meaning beneath the surface. Each of the linear tiles represents a bead of the rosary.
Similarly, the figures in the dome represent the various natures of the holy spirit. If you look carefully at the figures, you will see that they perpetuate the santa sophia myth dressed up as orthodox Catholic theology. At one point, artists were burned for such heresy.
The place is also filed with whimsy -- such as this figure and her colleagues who hide in the picture frames.
The chapel was originally built in the seventeenth century and underwent a major restoration in the 1960s and 1970s.
I have seen many gilded chapels over the years, but this one may top my list. The guide books were correct. It was not a stop to be missed.
Nor was the second church on our Tuesday tour -- Our Lady of the Remedies Church in Cholula.
When our buddy Hernán Cortés showed up in Cholula during his conquest days, he declared it to be the loveliest city in the world -- outside of Spain. He was probably wrong about the qualifier. Cholula was known throughout Mesoamerica for its size and beauty. At its height, the city may have had 100,000 inhabitants.
In the center of the city was the Great Pyramid. (Now, we all know the Mesoamerican structures called pyramids were nothing of the sort. They were foundations for other buildings, such as temples. But that is what we are going to call it.)
At the time, it was (and is) the largest pyramidal structure in the world. Even though the pyramid was disused and partially overgrown with plants when he arrived, it is easy to see why Cortés was so impressed.
He was less impressed with the leaders of Cholula. Believing they were going to attack and kill him and his men, he called the Indian leaders to a meeting, where his soldiers murdered up to six thousand.
The Indians had worshiped their rain goddess on the heights of the pyramid. The Spanish saw an opportunity to usurp that worship by turning the pyramid into a base for a church to the virgin Mary -- in her guise as Our Lady of the Remedies.
And usurp they did. The first sanctuary was built in 1594. But it has been replaced by several successive churches. The current version was built in the 1800s.
Photography is prohibited inside. But here is a peek. Completed with tracer lights on the altar.
To my untrained eye, it looks less like a sanctuary than a Las Vegas wedding chapel.
We did not visit the small portion of the pyramid that has been uncovered and reconstructed. But it was possible to see the base from the church side -- as well as the large complex that surrounded the structure in its heyday.
The best way to see the size of the pyramid is to view it from the town. It is as omnipresent as the Eiffel tower is in Paris.
With a bit of daylight to burn, we headed off on the next leg of our trip. Guanajuato is now off of the non-existent list.
Instead, we headed to Guadalajara, and made it to the unremarkable town of Atlacomulco -- northwest of Mexico City.
I suspect we will stay in Guadalajara a couple of days before we close our travel loop in Barra de Navidad. That is, I will close the loop. Dan and Patty will be heading north after a couple of days of rest.
But, there I go rushing the process. There is still plenty to see in Jalisco.