February 25, 2010

Ex-Convento Acolman, Near San Juan Teotihuacan

Earlier this month, while in the San Juan
Teotihuacan campground, we decided to visit the mid-1500's Ex-Convento de San Agustín Acolman, just down the road. I picked up the guidebooks, and read that the attached  church has one of Mexico’s earliest plateresque facades. OK, huh...what IS that?

On the Internet, I came across an architectural website that discusses some of Mexico's most intriguing historic buildings. It's called Mexican Colonial Architecture, and talks about Acolman: http://www.mexicanarchitecture.org/glossary/index.php?building=45

The site is intriguing. Right off the bat, I discovered that the “Ex-Convento” was not a building to house nuns, but friars! Maybe y’all knew that, duh, but it sure helped us to better understand many buildings we’ve seen! Also, the Acolman church façade incorporates indigenous elements by representing the meaning of the Aztec word “Acolman” in a carving that integrates Aztec pictograph symbols to represent the first man, who was pulled from a lake. It was an unusual thing to do. From the website:

Acolman was represented by the arm of the first man crowned by water. In this example, the symbol for water closely resembles the pre-Hispanic Aztec glyph (wavy lines terminating in sea shells), while the naturalistic rendering of the arm bears far more resemblance to artistic canons of the European Renaissance.

Special too is an example of Tequitqui sculpture - images executed in Aztec carving style - at Acoman. I now think that we’ve seen that before in other old Mexico churches.

Our visit was great. An admission fee gives access to the museum, and we were free to wander the ex-convento, the friar rooms, cloisters and halls at our own pace.

Artisans covered much of the walls and ceiling with frescos in the late 16th century, and many clear examples remain.

My overwhelming impression was that Acoman feels "made by hand." Irregularities in the painted elements demonstrate the humanity of painting done without modern aids. Plaster on the walls seems patted and shaped by the human palm using eyeball alone as a tool. It is a warm, soft building that embraced
these religious people!

On we went to the church, where all the seats were quickly being filled for a service. In the congregation were large numbers of aged people arriving with canes and in wheelchairs. Families and church attendants helped them down the sloped, terraced entrance. There were so many that we wondered if there was a special theme that day, but not so, according the xerox service program they passed around!

We slipped in to stand and listen at the back of the very high-domed church where many people were standing. Before long, the congregation began to sing softly, and the sound swelled to fill the church as we walked quietly out.
By the way, the carving representing the "first man" is high on the church facade, to the right of the upper arched window.

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