Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Templo de Santo Domigo de Guzmán.


As a food lover, I had long heard of Oaxaca but only for its culinary traditions. I never knew that the city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and that the city acknowledged the compliment, rebuilding and refurbishing its graceful colonial-era buildings, churches, and monuments, including the venerable Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán.  Now that I know I can better appreciate what I saw because it was all beautiful.  UNESCO did Oaxaca good!

The first of the Christian religious orders to set foot in Oaxaca were the Dominicans and it is they who founded the church and its monastery.  Begun in 1570, the two buildings were constructed over a period of 200 years, between the 16th and 18th centuries. The monastery was active from 1608 to 1857.   During During the Mexican War of Independence, the buildings were turned over to military use,and from 1866 to 1902 they served as a barracks.  Both buildings suffered extensive damage during this time.  The church was restored to its original glory in the late 19th century and was back in religious use in 1938.

The monastery was handed over to the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca. In 1972 it became a "Regional Museum". 

In August of 1998,  what was the "Regional Museum" reopened as the Oaxaca Cultural Center. Located in the monastery, the Cultural Center was designed to be a multi-use municipal building housing including  among other things, a library,  an important collection of pre-Columbian artifacts, among them the contents of Tomb 7 from Monte Albán and an ethnobotanical garden planted with native plants from the region.


After our visit to Mitla, we returned to Oaxaca to tour the Santo Domingo complex of buildings.  As I approached the church, I noticed the greenish tint of the stone facade.  Yesterday, Francisco had told me that many of the buildings in Oaxaca are built using cantera which is a quartz based volcanic stone. The stone's color can vary depending on the impurities present in the stone of a particular region. The cantera notably used in many of the buildings, walls, and roads in Oaxaca, is a distinct green color.

The monastery was where we started our visit.





Walking through the cloisters, the one thing that struck me was how bare everything was.  Even the courtyard, which is usually planted up with greenery, was devoid of anything living.  But thanks to restoration efforts, the wall paintings had been restored to their former beauty.





Biblioteca Francisco de Burgoa which houses more than 20,000 books and other printed materials dating back to the 15th century was located at one end of the cloisters.  It was a small but beautiful library space we entered into.  Recessed ceiling lighting provided soft lighting.  Rare books were housed in bookshelves protected by wire latticework.


Francisco was like a kid in a candy store inside the library.   Every case, every open book captured his attention.  It was hard not to get caught up into his enthusiasm for everything.  Not surprising, he was able to translate some of the script for me.  Nothing like having a walking, breathing version of wikipedia.org by your side :-)

Though the old books were interesting, it was the codices that really caught my attention.  I had seen many images of Mayan and Aztec codices when reading up for this trip but I did not expect to see a real one.

From the library, we headed up the stairs to the 2nd floor of the monastery.  The walls were very simply painted but the ceiling was ornately decorated.


El Centro Cultural Santo Domingo (Cultural Centre of Oaxaca.) occupies several rooms on the second floor of the monastery.  The center houses a relatively small collection of colonial as well as pre-Columbian artifacts recovered from areas in Oaxaca.

Francisco got us started with a history lesson to set the context for the artifacts we were about to see.  I have to admit that my eyes were wandering about the room and my ears were not paying any attention.

Treasures from Tomb 7.  In my pre-trip reading I had read that highlight of the collection were artifacts recovered in 1932 from Tomb 7 in Monte Albán.  Tomb 7 contained 12 to 14 corpses and some 500 pieces of jewelry and art made of almost 8 pounds of gold and turquoise, conch shell, amber, and obsidian. The gold objects are regarded as the finest of their kind in the Americas.  Also in the collection is a human skull decorated with a mosaic of turquoise and shell.


The Tomb 7 treasures are part of a larger collection of artifacts from Monte Albán which also included many ceramics and carvings.


We hung around in the museum until a guard came by to tell us they were closing for the day.

Green.  After we left the museum, we headed to a covered portico where we could see the monastery's garden which is filled with native plants from the region.  There was also a separate cactus garden. 


On our way out of the monastery, the painted wallspace above the entryway, leading to the stairs, caught my eye.


We're off to church!  The state of Oaxaca spent 12 million pesos to restore the church to its former glory and the result is just stunning.  Inside the church, ornate plaster statues and colored stucco flowers set off the extravagantly gilded walls and ceiling.Y our jaw will just drop to the floor at the ornateness of it all!  The highly decorated interior includes use of more than 60,000 sheets of 23.5-karat gold leaf!


As I passed through the front door, Francisco pointed to the low ceiling.  My eyes followed his finger and I gasped!  Just above my head was a beautifully painted family tree of St. Dominic on the low ceiling.  It was the most magnificent representation of a family I had ever seen, anywhere!!


Where Madonna hangs out.  Off to one side of the church is the golden Capilla del Rosario (Chapel of the Rosary), which features numerous paintings of saints and Madonnas in various sizes.







After seeing the chapel, I was certifiably dizzy.  There was so much gold and decoration, it was really hard to take it all in.  It was absolutely stunning though.  Stunning beyond words.  But don't take my word for it, I think you just have to see it for yourself.

When I got back outside, my senses were brought back down to earth by the simplicity of the church door.  The warm tone of the wood door against the greenish color of the cantera was a welcomed counterpoint to the luxurious interior I had just left.

By now, it was late afternoon.  I was tired but ready to move on! Great church!