Sunday, April 8, 2018

Church of San Luis Obispo - Tlalmanalco

Tlalmanalco, now in the State of Mexico, was founded as a Spanish town in 1525 by one of the Twelve Apostles of Mexico, Franciscan Friar Juan de Ribas, also known as Juan de Rivas. At the same time, fellow Franciscan Friar Martin de Valencia, the leader of the Franciscans, began evangelizing the local Nahua population. Part of this process included early-on destroying the Nahua shrine in the area. 
This is 6 of the 12 Apostles of Mexico, part of a mural from San Miguel Arcangel  in Huejotzingo. Fray Martin de Valencia is on the far right and Fray Toribio de Benavente Motolinia (mentioned below) is third from the right. 
This is from the same mural showing the other 6 "Apostles." Fray Juan de Ribas is third from the left. 
In keeping with early patterns of evangelization, Juan de Ribas built a capilla abierta, or open chapel, with a large connected atrium in 1532, and the chapel of San Luis Obispo was started, but not completed. I'm assuming that, as in other places, the open air chapel was built on top of the local native shrine. 
This is as close as we could get to the outdoor chapel, outside the walls. 
Just down the street from the church I got this view of Izta, mostly covered in clouds. 
The current church was built between 1585 and 1591.  
The church has a distinctive reddish tower. The top of the open chapel is seen to the left. 

Fray Martin died on March 21, 1534 at the edge of Lake Texcoco, the lake around Mexico City, as he was getting ready to take a boat or canoe there. His body was brought to Tlamanalco where it was interred in or around one of the chapels (he is now interred inside the main chapel which was not built at that time). The bronze plaque noting his burial indicates he was born in Valencia, Spain, which I assume is why he was known as Martin de Valencia. 

An enlargement of Fray Martin. 
The 7.1 Central Mexico earthquake that hit this area (34 miles south of the City of Puebla) on September 19, 2017 did damage to this church, as it did to every other old church we visited on our trip to Mexico. When we visited the church was closed for repairs and an outdoor tent was set up to hold services, as we'd seen in other churches we visited. So our observations were all from outside the fence. 
This tent was set up for church and possibly also for school. It was behind the church in an area not locked off by a gate. 
Behind the church we were able to get a look at the construction. 
Note the porous volcanic stone that was used. 
I also thought it was fun to see wood and pottery mixed in with the mortar between the stones. 
Tlamanlco is the poster-child of open-air chapels, being one of the best examples still existing. The capilla abierta is considered "one of the most distinct Mexican construction forms." Another of the Franciscan Twelve Apostles of Mexico, Fry Toribio de Benavente Motolinia, stated that the open air chapel, along with the large connecting atrium, allowed the holding of mass in front of a single altar for an enormous number of people, particularly on Sundays and during festivals. During slow times, such as mid-week, the main church, if there was one, was used. Another benefit of the open-air chapel was that it was similar to the "teocallis" or sacred precinct of the pre-Hispanic temples, so the natives felt comfortable participating. 

The open chapel in Tlalmanalco has a trapezoidal layout (a quadrilateral with only one pair of parallel sides). There are five arches with capitals finished with reliefs and a frieze that follows the outline of the arches filled with human figures. The arch behind was probably reserved for the altar. There are indigenous elements created by native craftsmen depicting a battle between good and evil, with monkeys, lions, angels and cherubs and portraits of Friar Martin and St. Claire. 
If you look closely you can see the single arch behind the five front arches. That is where the altar probably was. My pictures are not close enough to reveal the details on the friezes. 
The open-air chapel as reviewed from the front outside the gate. 
The church. 


  1. One day we need to go back to see the inside of the church. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to be inside when the earth begins to shake.