Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cuilapan, an unique monastery in Oaxaca

About 10 killometes south-west of Oaxaca City you will find the ruins of an Dominican monastery dating back to the middle 1500's.  With the introduction of wheat, fruit and walnut groves, this fertile valley grew in size and wealth.  Mysteriously the construction came to halt in 1580.  There are three main structures:  the main church, the convento and the basilica featured above.  There's Bonnie, ahead of the group, going towards the basilica.  The facade features many Renaissance elements with its semi-circular arches and Corinthian columns.
In the area above then entry, you will find human figures representing the virtues, faith and hope.  In the center, there is the shield of the Dominican order along with two dogs holding torches in their mouths.  The dogs are a symbol of the Dominican order.  To the side of each dog's head you will find a scallop shell.  These are the symbols of Santiago (St. James of Santiago de Campostella), the patron saint of the monastery.
The cross was the most conspicuous Christian symbol.  It was familiar to the native people because of its resemblance of the Tree of Life.  Almost all crosses bear the letters "INRI" which are the Latin initials of the legend, "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews." 
The interior was just breathtaking!  This is one of the most original buildings in the Americas.  It was designed to have a primitive pole and thatch ramada to shelter a large Indian congregation.
 About midway on the east side is a wall pulpit with its own stairwell.  Even thou the paneled part of the pulpit had been destroyed a long time ago, one can just imagine the grandiose scale of it with the overhanging scallop canopy.  Paula was doing a pretty good job looking saintly.
Built on a large scale, the architecture is beautifully simple.
A great photo of my fabulous group:  Yvonne, Paula, Debra, Millie, Cory, Dudley, Nancy, me, Bonnie, Esther, Cindy, Gail, Mary, Roz and Benita.  Tobi was off taking photos.  Many of us were sporting the hats that we had bought earlier that morning when we were at Monte Alban.
This is the west doorway going into the church. This massive door was ingeniously designed to maximize the light from the afternoon sun.  Similar to the technique called Chiaroscuro which was developed the Renaissance.  It refers to the use of exaggerated light contrasts in order to create the illusion of volume.  The doorway is flanked by two Tuscan columns on each side and two unusual arched windows.  In the pediment, another Dominican symbol.

It's a beautiful structure and I suggest visiting early in the morning or the afternoon to take advantage of the lighting, especially if you love to shoot photos like I do.

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