Thursday, January 14, 2016

Santa Clara del Cobre, and the Arts and Crafts of Vasco de Quiroga

An essential part of Vasco de Quiroga's social plan of implementing a Utopia in Michoacán in the XVIth century, was to divide the different communities into specialized arts and crafts villages, and the tradition has survived even up until today. One such village was dedicated to Saint Clair, the founder of the female order of Saint Francis's Sisters of Saint Claire. 
Church and main plaza of Santa Clara del Cobre
 Vasco de Quiroga understood that establishing trade guilds among the natives would be an effective means of stimulating economic growth in the villages and developing a civilization similar to that of Europe, that would be easier to convert to Christianity. So he taught the natives trades such as wood carving, and manufacturing musical instruments, and making pottery and textiles. In the case of Santa Clara, he chose to develop coppersmiths. 

Main altar of Church of Santa Clara del Cobre
Santa Clara was one of more than 50 parishes ujnder Vasco de Quiroga's  jurisdiction in Michoacán. Vasco de Quiroga took up his vows and robes as a Franciscan and most of the missionaries in this zone in the 16th Century were Franciscans. In the specific case of Santa Clara, the Parish priest was from the Order of Saint Augustine.

Wooden latticed ceiling of the main vault
at the Church of Santa Clara del Cobre

Opposite view of the plaza in the town of
Santa Clara del Cobre

The main plaza has a Cross in the
background which acted as a Atrium Cross

The Blessed Virgin at the Altar

Altar at chapel

Chapel at Santa Clara del Cobre

A sun clock in the main plaza of Santa Clara

Small niche along the Plaza

Copper foundry in Santa Clara del Cobre

Big Copper Pot made in a shop in Santa Clara

Coppersmith working at a shop in Santa Clara

Furnace heating up at a copper shop

Working copper is like working iron: it is heated
and then cooled quickly and then hammered.

Estela is trying her hand at hammering
the copper pot.

I felt a special tie to this old coppersmith: my father worked as a coppersmith and pipe fitter at the Navy Yard  in Philadelphia during World War II. He told Estela and me that his father had been a coppersmith, and before that his grandfather, and so on, for countless generations, but that his children did not follow his steps, but were working as field hands on farms in the United States. We were the only foreign tourists that day in his shop, and in fact, in the entire village, as many tourists have been scared away by the different drug trafficking mobs, that also deal in kidnapping.

Finished copper pots at a shop in Santa Clara
Estela and I travel to many villages in Mexico which are considered dangerous. Many areas of Michoacán are not safe, and it is ill-advised to drive after dark or on lonely roads. On the other hand, it is a shame to boycott these beautiful villages, just on the grounds of safety.  

Forming a copper jug.

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