Santos in Oaxaca's Ancient Churches
A study of santos in 16th-century and other churches in Oaxaca, Mexico
By Claire and Richard Stracke
Funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
In Santa Ana del Valle:
Click for the full-size format of this photo
The theology that supplies the artistic unity for
this composition rests on Hebrews
therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses
over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which
surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight
proposed to us: Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of
faith, who having joy set before him, endured the cross,
despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand
of the throne of God." The Santa Ana Crucifixion Group
captures this byplay between shame and joy by placing
the large and bloody crucifix against the background of
a hanging that portrays the Trinity in glory surrounded
by angels. (In the photo we see only the feet of the
Father on the right and the Son on the left, his feet
bearing the marks of the nails used to crucify him. Note
how the juxtaposition makes the Son's right foot seem to
rest lightly on the crossbar of the crucifix.) Further
linking it to the crucifix, the bottom of the hanging
also portrays Joseph and Mary. The two stand left and
right of their son's bloody knees, like the Mary and
John of Calvary images. But this is not the sorrowing
Mary of Calvary but the glorified mother, together again
with her earthly spouse.
Standing on the altar are further
manifestations of God's glory and the "shame" that Jesus
"despised." In back, we see the Resurrection on the
left, a portrait of Jesus' face framed by a glorious
sunburst, and on the right his triumphal entry into
Jerusalem. In front, and in alternation with those three
smaller "glories," are two small crucifixes, an ancient
one on the left and a modern one on the right.
The sharp variations in style among
these seven objects and the hanging give even further
depth to the composition as a whole, uniting it across
time and space and Heaven and earth.
Site: Church of Santa Ana del Valle.
Location: Altar at the east end of the south wall of the nave (see note).
Next: The large crucifix
references to the cardinal directions always assume
that the main altar is at the east end of the church,
the narthex or entry area at the west end, and the two
of the nave on the
north and south. (The
nave is the long central section.)
Actual orientations may differ.