Church of the Precious Blood of Christ--page 1 (of two pages)

16th century?; rebuilt? 17th century, according to Richard D. Perry

A colonial Catholic church built on an ancient Zapotec religious site

This church, built and rebuilt after earthquake damage, is in the prosperous weaving village of Teotitlán del Valle, a short distance from the capital city of Oaxaca. It is built over the ruins of a much older Zapotec pilgrimage site and some of the ancient pre-Hispanic relief carvings are displayed in the wall of the structure. (See page 2.) This stone church is supported in part by large buttresses on each side and has an emphatic portal with an "alfiz," the carved frame around the arched opening, and a shaped parapet above with painted coping. The octagonal window above would have been starred-shaped in some Mission architecture.

Details of the west front

The paired towers, one with herm-like pilasters, are relatively squatty, perhaps in response to potential earthquakes, and both have shallow cupolas with tiles in mosaic.

Main portal with "alfiz" frame and octagonal window

The relief decorations here are examples of what is called "tequítqui" style, a blending of two cultures or the fused Indian-European identity seen in the 16th century with the conquest of Mexico. The persistence of Indian beliefs in a Christian context is evidenced in murals, crosses, and sculpture.
Here, in the doorway, the iconography of the bas reliefs focusses on basic native beliefs rather than the newly introduced European Christian ideas. Indeed, except for the allusion to Mary, this facade has none of the usual Christian iconography with various saints and reminders of important Christian events.

Keystone: shell holds the crown indicating the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven


"Tequítqui" style

The reliefs depict important Indian symbols, corn and squash with human heads emerging from the flowers. Perhaps the slanted foreheads are also reminders of the Mayan fixation on this cranial deformity.

"Tequítqui" style

This style in low relief is characterized by flattened figures with sharp edges--a sort of cookie-cutter look

The plaza

Small chapels are at the corners for the uninitiated. Like many ancient Christian churches (Old St Peter's, for example) and even ancient Mesopotamian temples, the sacred space of the church is approached gradually--through the main gateway to the plaza, and then through a large open area before entering the most sacred precinct, the church proper.

Left: one of the corner chapels; center: the main gateway into the plaza

These external walls enclosing the plaza also have pieces of the reliefs of the earlier pre-Hispanic building. See also page 2.

Continue to page 2.

Works consulted or quoted:
Richard D. Perry. Exploring Colonial Oaxaca. The Art and Architecture. Santa Barbara, CA: Espada Press, 2006.
Thanks as well to Florencio Moreno for his leadership and guiding on our tour. Any mistakes, however, are my own.

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© 2009 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.