Sunday, May 15, 2016

Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán, the jewel of the Alta Mixteca

It is difficult to imagine the impact that a pilgrim can feel, when you see Yanhuitlan for the first time.

We were driving back from Tamazulapan and Santiago Teotongo, and in the middle of nowhere this gem appears.
The Dominicans set up this mission in the second half of the 16th Century on the site of a pre-Columbian religious shrine. The dimensions are impressive. From the floor to the Gothic ribbed ceiling, is over 80 feet in height. Quite an accomplishment in a time before reinforcement steel bars and concrete. The façade has been recently restored, and on a sunny afternoon, the glare of the reddish-white granite is almost blinding.

At the very entrance of Santo Domingo
Yanhuitlan, we find a series of retables
 or altarpieces.
The Dominican Fray Francisco Marin started this construction in 1550.
These wood-coffered ceiling of the sotocoro
(underneath the choir loft) at the entrance of
the church is a common feature in Dominican
Churches and monasteries, copied from the
Moorish architecture of Southern Spain.

Another view of the wood paneled
ceiling and the retablo.

A small retablo in a niche.

A three level retablo on a side altar

The main altar retablo designed and
executed by Andrés de la Concha,
famed 16th Century Painter from
Valencia, Spain

One of the finest examples of Gothic
ribbed vaults in la Nueva España is
that of Santo Domingo Yanhuitlan.

A closer view of the ribbed vault,
The piped masonry is carved in
decorative patterns. The Yanhuitlan
is similar to the star-rib pattern.

Here we can see the cloister built on the right
side of the façade of Santo Domingo Yanhuitlan,
and supporting buttresses on the left side.

The cloister on the right side is actually a very
tall 3 story structure, but it is dwarfed by the

On the right side of the choir loft
is the late 17th century restored
organ of Yanhuitlan.t
The concert at Santo Domingo Yanhuitlan included works from Alessandro Marcello (1684-1750) and John Stanley (1712-1786), Pablo Bruna (1611-1679), Juan Cabanilles (1644-1712) and Antonio Vivaldi. Victor Contreras played the organ while Juan Luis Gonzalez Gómez accompanied with a trumpet. Victor and Juan Luis are both from Tultepec, State of Mexico.
Here is a small sample of the duet.
This organ is similar to the famous organ of the Basilica of Our Lady de la Soledad in Oaxaca, that was built in 1686, so people assume that both organs were built at the end of the 17th Century. The decorative elements of the original organs are still to be seen today, such as the masks and the floral designs on the frontal tubes. It is the only organ in Oaxaca with the Dominican white and black Cross, the eight-pointed star as well as the famous Dominican symbol: the dog with the torch in his mouth (the Domini-Canis), painted on the case, as well as a painting of Saint John the Baptist.
The organ was restored, or rather reconstructed (due to so many missing parts) by Pascal Quoirin  between 1996 and 1998, as a project sponsored by the Centro Cultural Banamex., A.C.
The portico on the top floor of the Cloister and
the view of the surrounding countryside.

The Dominican Cross in a mosaic on the floor
of the courtyard of the cloister of  Yanhuitlan

Courtyard of Yanhuitlan.

One of the earliest written documents that has survived up until our present time concerning Yanhuitlán, is called the Yanhuitlán Codex. This codex portrays the Dominican Monks, the Spanish Conquistadores and the local indigenous chiefs and warriors, negotiating their role in the society as set down in la Nueva España. This codex is held for safekeeping at the University of Puebla Museum Archives.

The Yanhuitlán Codex affords us a unique insight into the everyday reality of mid 16th Century Nueva España, and the reality of the rapport between the medicantes or Misssionary Orders, the Encomenderos, the Viceroy, the Crown, and the local Aristocracia Indigena or Indigenous Aristocracy.
Plate XIX of the Yanhuitlán Codex
Fray  Domingo de Santamaria in
audience with natives "7 deer" and
"10 monkeys".
courtesy of BUAP LaFragua Library.
Don Domingo de Guzman is the "hero" or at least protagonist of the Yanhuitlán Codex, who is brought to the Inquisition by the Dominicans, accused of idolatry.
Don Domingo is coaxing his subjects
to continue to adore their traditional
idols Yanhuitlan Codex courtesy of
BUAP LaFragua Library.
Don Domingo has formed an alliance with the encomendero Francisco de las Casas, to have the Dominicans expelled from Yanhuitlán, and eventually makes Fray Domingo de Santamaria and Fray Pedro Hernández leave the incipient mission. Gonzalo de las Casas, son of Francisco de las Casas will take charge of the territory he inherited from his father, Francisco, and will lure the Dominicans back into Yanhuitlán and support the construction of the landmark shrine.
Battle scene in Yanhuitlan Codex courtesy of
BUAP LaFragua Library
The son of Don Domingo de Guzman, Don Gabriel, is educated by the Dominicans and eventually becomes chief of Yanhuitlán, lasting for 33 years in this charge.
In plate VIII of the Yanhuitlan Codex,
 Francisco de las Casas negotiating
with a prominent merchant to
 bring 600 Arabs to help start to
cultivate silk worms in Oaxaca.
 Image courtesy of the BUAP
LaFragua Library.
The Yanhuitlán Codex was a popular epic thriller in the mid 16th Century of the Alta Mixteca of Oaxaca.
Yanhuitlán Codex, image
courtesy of the BUAP LaFragua
In Plate XIV of the Yanhuitlán Codex
Bishop Sebastian Ramirez de
Fuenteleal, President of the 2nd
Audiencia de La Nueva España
signing agreement with feathered pens
with Fray Domingo de Santamaria,
who after his assignments in Teposcolula
 and Yanhuitlánwill become the
Provincial of the Dominicans. 
The Yanhuitlán Codex is not a pure Pre-Columbian Codex, neither in its context nor in its aesthetic technique.

Side aisle of the courtyard of
the cloister of Yanhuitlan shows
a good example of Tequitqui
style, with a mixture of Romanic
columns and arches, Gothic
ribbed vaults and Moorish

Saint Christopher (carrying Christ
over troubled waters) was a
popular figure in Monasteries
 and Churches in La Nueva España.


The walls of cloister seem to work
as a support of the neighboring

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