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OAXACA, MEXICO

Religion in Oaxaca

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FLICKR ALBUM: Oaxaca City Churches


Religion in Oaxaca is a serious matter from pilgrimages to rural churches to Easter processions.

BUILDING CHURCHES

Colonial churches in Oaxaca have heavy buttresses -- necessary as the land is prone to frequent earthquakes.

DOMINICANS

The Dominicans were the dominant force of the evangelization process in Oaxaca. They built forty convents, most of which can be seen in the Central Valleys and the Mixteca.

Among frequently used symbols are the shell, signifying Saint James or John.

Born into Spanish nobility in 1170, Dominic received a religious education and enrolled as a priest in the Augustinian order. An invitation to join his bishop on a missionary tour alerted him to the presence of several active heresies operating in Southern France. This ultimately led to his formation of the Order of Preachers dedicated to working in the world, using preaching as a means of attracting converts to the true faith.

Founded in 1215 and sanctioned by Pope Innocent III, this group soon spread to northern Europe, Russia and North Africa.

Then, in response to a request for missionaries from Conquistador Hernan Cortez, Spanish Dominicans travelled to Mexico in 1526 and established churches and convents in southern areas. The one at Santo Domingo in Oaxaca functioned from 1608 to 1857, and is said to be one of the most beautiful examples of Dominican style architecture.


MIXTECA

Beautiful churches in the Mixteca region are found in Teposcolula, Yanhuitlan and Coixtlahuaca. The monastery in Coixtlahuaca was built on a temple dedicated to Quetzelcoatl, the feathered serpent. The paintings in the Yanhuitlan date to 1570.

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CENTRAL VALLEYS

In the Central Valleys there are churches in Cuilapam, San Jerónomo Tlacochahuaya, Tlacolula and Oaxaca City.

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In Tlacochahuaya Dominican Fray Jordán de Santa Catalina founded the church with the objective of avoiding the excesses elsewhere in the Order and the church was built to focus on meditation. The chambers are dark and have low ceilings. The pulpit is forged in iron.

Fray Juan de Córdoba spent a quarter century here and prepared the first Zapotec dictionary. Note that the capilla has a church within a church.


OAXACA CITY

Santo Domingo de Guzmán Church opened for worship in 1608 and is one of the best examples of baroque architecture in Mexico. The genealogical tree of Santo Domingo de Guzmán (founder of the Order) is outstanding.

It is done in gilded and polychrome plaster work upon the ceiling of the sotacoro (the area under a raised choir). The arched vault of the main nave is also spectacular and has thirty-six paintings depicting passages from both the Old and the New Testament. Oaxacan artists rebuilt the splendid, gilt baroque retable in 1959.

The eighteenth-century Capilla del Rosario (annexed to the church) is an architectural jewel dedicated to the Virgin of the same name. Within it there are paintings of the Virgin and of Christ. The mysteries of the rosary are depicted upon the walls of the church, and upon the ceiling of the choir.


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