Monday, April 9, 2018

Church and Convent of San Gabriel - Cholula

Interestingly, with the focus on the early churches having an open chapel, or capilla abierta, the open chapel concept led to creative designs to get the same effect in a covered church. Just ten miles from Huejotzingo, the Royal Chapel of San Gabriel in Cholula used the arch concept to get the same effect indoors, patterning the interior after the Cathedral in Cordoba, Spain which had originally been an Islamic Mosque. The chapel has a square floor plan with seven naves with seven sections each, separated by octagonal pillars. It has 49 cupolas, 12 columns and 24 octagonal pilasters. The main altar is in the center toward the back and has great visibility from most everywhere in the chapel, except right behind it. 

The Franciscans, who built the church and convent, followed a familiar blueprint: they destroyed the Temple to Quetzalcoatl and built the church on top of it. Sacred space for the Nahuatl speaking Indians was transformed into sacred space for the Catholics. The initial structures were started in 1529, presumably an open chapel and large atrium with four corner chapels, capillas posas, with pinnacle roofs and simple arches (three survive today), surrounded by a perimeter wall, with pointed merlons, which separates the church from main plaza in Cholula. 
Part of the perimeter wall is visible to the far right. A capilla posa, or corner chapel, is straight ahead and attached to the wall. The main chapel is to the left. The front is yellow, but the sides are dark rock. You get a sense for how large the atrium is. 
The Capilla Real or Royal Chapel. Some of the many cupolas are visible on the roof. Also, more sense for how large the atrium is. 
In 1540 the Capilla Real was started. It is also known as the Capilla de Naturales (the Indigenous Chapel) and was behind a large atrium area. The current structure was built in the 17th century and I can't find whether the earlier structure had the arch concept incorporated in it, but I assume it might have because it is mentioned in a Wikipedia article on the capilla abierta. The interior was redone in 1947. The interior is not decorated. The interior has very little decoration, virtually none in the center. The side walls do have some paintings and very modern stained glass and a few side chapels. 
You get a sense for the large number of cupolas and arches from this picture.
A view into several cupolas.
The main altar is at the end of this walkway, toward the back of the chapel. 
A sample of some of the modern stained glass.
I enjoyed the stained glass, but I was more appreciative of the older elements of the chapel. 
There were several paintings showing Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe. The light was not great, so the pictures did not turn out real well. 
The font dates from the 16th century and was sculpted from one piece of stone. 
The atrium cross was sculpted in 1668. 
For older atrium crosses, the base was made to look like a native rock alter where sacrifices were performed. The cross on top was to show the superiority of Christianity. It is obvious that need had abated by the time this cross was built. 
The main church was started in 1549. When we visited it was very crowded around the opening and a mass was going on. We peaked inside and it was standing room only. Part of the bell tower and some of the merlons were knocked loose in the 2017 earthquake and pieces were still lying on the ground. 
The main church as viewed from the Capilla Real. One of the gates through the perimeter fence is visible at the right. 
This view is of the main chapel and the Capilla Real is visible and set-back to the left.  
This photo is taken through the gate giving an idea as to how tall the perimeter wall is. 
Merlons and part of the tower knocked loose by the earthquake. 
Broken stained glass, presumably from the earthquake. 
A Franciscan symbol on the front of the main chapel. 
Another chapel, the Capilla de la Tercera Orden, and a cloister, were added later, but we did not really see them or go near them. 

1 comment:

  1. I loved the interior columns and arches in the chapel that clearly were patterned after Cordoba--just without the stripes. It's startling to see such a Moorish style used in an old Mexican church. What a blend of cultures!