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St. Michael and the sudarium: a Christian soldier and human sacrifice.

Late in the seventeenth century, an unusual image of the archangel St. Michael was sculpted in relief as part of the retablo facade of the church of Nuestra Senora de la Soledad in Oaxaca (figure 1). Consistent with European images of St. Michael from the Baroque period, he is dressed in a Roman military costume that includes a stiff, hard breastplate probably trimmed in leather at the neck, and full sleeves, gathered and held in place at the shoulder. He wears open-toed boots topped with cloth that matches his sleeves in fullness and a full skirt slit over each leg to expose his carefully defined masculine knees. In contrast, his chubby face and neck and full head of curly hair are childlike and feminine. The delineation of his wings and hair as surface pattern and the short, nervous folds of his wind-blown skirt give the figure a feeling of bristling energy. He stands triumphantly and looks straight ahead while holding a portrait of Christ. His monumental pose and posture are accentuated by his location high above the ground, and his huge size is established by the diminutive image of Christ that he holds. Such characteristics establish that he is a vigorous supernatural who is far more majestic and mysterious than his European antecedents.


The image of Christ that he proudly displays is the sudarium or Veil of Veronica. According to medieval legend, it was offered by Veronica to Christ as he struggled up the hill to Calvary so that he could wipe sweat and blood from his face. When returned to her, the veil miraculously was imprinted with the portrait of Christ. The name Veronica derives from the supposed relic, which was venerated during the Middle Ages in Europe as a true image or "Vera icon" of Christ (Brown 112). During that period many prints and painted versions of the theme appeared in Europe as devotional reminders of the passion and sacrifice of Christ. Characteristically they express Christ's determination to provide redemption for mankind because of his love. Unlike such European images, the face of Christ on the Mexican relief does not express compassion. Rather He appears to be a sacrificial victim who is suffering or who has suffered a painful death.

Although angels sometimes display symbols of Christ's passion, to my knowledge neither St. Michael nor any military angel is associated with the sudarium in European art. Instead the archangel defeats the devil by trampling him underfoot or drives Lucifer and the fallen angels from heaven. He also is associated with the last Judgment, since it is Michael who weighs souls to determine who will be admitted to paradise and who will be condemned to eternal damnation. Considered the first and most powerful of all created beings and "Like unto God," Michael is called the "Banner of Heaven" because it is believed that he will carry the banner of the cross on Judgment day (Clement 55). In the Book of Revelations Michael is the protector of the Woman of the Apocalypse. As captain general of the archangels he is the defender of the faith and champion of good over evil (Hall 208; Burke 301).

In the Mexican relief of the angel, the two European themes of St. Michael and the Veil of Veronica were conflated by a native craftsman working under the direction of the priest in charge. By studying a series of colonial images of St. Michael and the veil as independent themes, we can better understand the rationale behind their conflation in Oaxaca. As a single image composed entirely of European elements, the relief conveys a Christian message that is reminiscent of Pre-Columbian ritual practice. This paper will establish that the sculpture is an example of Indo-Christian art in which a suppressed native tradition was indirectly kept alive by the subtle selection and manipulation of European forms by their Mexican interpreters.

This image of St. Michael holding the sudarium was made by an unknown sculptor during the ambitious rebuilding project of the church of Nuestra Senora de la Soledad undertaken in 1682 by the secular priest Don Pedro Otalora y Carvajal. The priest took responsibility for the new construction project at a meeting that took place on November 11, 1681, after members of the church explained that the building had been hopelessly damaged by earthquakes and was in dire need of repair (Libro del Cavildo 2: 131v). The new structure and its elaborate retablo facade were dedicated in 1689, approximately two years before the death of the major patron, Otalora. In the funeral oration of this beloved citizen of Oaxaca, the facade was praised as Otalora's great accomplishment (Saldana 149). As was the custom in Mexico, he probably oversaw the project, depending on a crew of local sculptors to carry out the work. Although we do not know the name of the person who actually carved the image of St. Michael, we know that this sculptor worked under the direction of the extremely wealthy patron of the church whose list of titles included Archdean of the Cathedral and local representative of the Inquisition (Otalora y Carvajal 219v). Such obligations accumulated over a lifetime devoted entirely to serving the Mexican Catholic church and to saving the souls of the people of Oaxaca through the Christian faith.

The relief of St. Michael I believe derives from a sixteenth-century European painting of St. Michael by Martin de Vos belonging to the Mexican church of Cuauhtitlan (figure 2). This painting served as the prototype for many colonial images of St. Michael (Toussaint 151--52; Romero de Terreros 51), including a seventeenth-century painting of the saint belonging to the Cathedral of Oaxaca (illus. in Tovar y Teresa). The triumphant pose, military attire, adolescent or androgynous facial characteristics, and the delineation of the hair, wings, and knees are consistent with the painting, suggesting that the artist of the relief intended to represent St. Michael. Two eighteenth-century inventories identify a figure as St. Michael adorned with a lamb of God that stood adjacent to the Virgin on the nolonger-extant main altarpiece of this church. By stating that the angel was adorned with a lamb of God, the inventories document the relationship between St. Michael and the sacrifice of Christ at this site (Libro de ynbentarios). Since Mexican interior altarpieces and retablo facades customarily are iconographically consistent, the inventories suggest that the angel holding the sudarium is St. Michael. On the facade of the church of Siete Principes in Oaxaca there is a free-standing figure of St. Michael. By trampling a serpent-like devil that is chained to the monstrance that he holds, this image of St. Michael further establishes that the archangel was associated with the death and salvation of Christ in Oaxaca.


Although the first Christian image introduced in New Spain was not St. Michael, the link between the archangel and Christian redemption seems rooted in the early contact period. During the military campaigns of Hernando Cortes and his men, Cortes erected crosses at key points to symbolize his political and religious victory (Diaz del Castillo 63--180). The Spanish considered the conquest of Mexico as part of a master plan that would rid the world of idolatry, allowing for the spread of Christianity. Their recent success at expelling the Jews and restoring Christianity in Spain encouraged the conquest of the new world, which was envisioned as a continuation of the same religious struggle (Valle 5--8). Some Spaniards believed that the indigenous people of the Americas were basically good, but had been deceived by the devil, who inspired their religious ritual (Burkhart, Slippery Earth 38--40). The conquest was justified, according to Spanish logic, because it led to the destruction of such evil practices and their eventual replacement by Christianity. This is the subject of a print by the Mestizo chronicler Munoz Camargo, in which Cortes is represented as a Christian soldier who has defeated the shackled Montezuma, toppled an indigenous idol, and converted Malinche, who humbly stands behind him with her hands held in prayer (figure 3). Another print, also by Munoz Camargo, expresses how the religious battle begun during the conquest was continued later in the sixteenth century by small groups of friars who destroyed Pre-Columbian temples in order to exorcise the devil. By burning an indigenous temple, the friars are destroying a Pre-Columbian deity who is represented as a European devil (Munoz Camargo 246v, 240v).


Church construction paralleled such militant evangelism. The friars often built large and impressive monasteries, sometimes on the sites of Pre-Columbian ritual centers, in order to attract the populace. Like the Franciscan monastery at Tula, these were often mock medieval fortresses (McAndrew 272), complete with towers and crenelations.

Since the people of New Spain were accustomed to participating in spectacular religious ceremonies in the courtyards of their temples, the friars orchestrated elaborate outdoor events in the patios or atriums of their monasteries as a way of introducing Christian themes (Burkhart, Slippery Earth 20). An engraving by Fray Diego Valades from his Rhetorica Christiana of 1579 presents an idealized version of many of the activities that took place in the atrium. In the print, friars are instructing Indians on doctrine and proper Christian conduct. Religious ceremonies that include an outdoor baptism and a procession are under way (McAndrew 295). Characteristically such large, walled enclosures where thousands could gather served as outdoor churches as well as forums for Christian plays that sometimes alluded to the conquest and to the mission of the Friars in the New World.

As the chief opponent of Lucifer, Michael was important initially in these early dramatic productions. Since Christian moral values of good versus evil had no equivalent in Pre-Columbian religion, the friars had a difficult time explaining these concepts (Burkhart, Slippery Earth 28). To get the point across they presented sermons, plays, and works of art in which St. Michael, who symbolized Christian virtues, was victorious over the devil, evil, darkness, and chaos. An example is the mock battle staged in heaven between St. Michael and Lucifer, represented as a serpent, which took place in Zapotlan, Jalisco in 1578 (Horcasitas 559).

In other dramas, the people of the new world were encouraged collectively to join the ranks of the faithful and fight under the banner of St. Michael. An example of the kind of teaching that influenced such allegiance is the theatrical event staged in Tlaxcala in 1539. By analogy, it explained the determination of the friars to end the practice of native religion in the New World and to establish the Christian faith in its place. The play depicted the expulsion of the idolatrous Moors from jerusalem. By large numbers of indigenous warriors having been cast in the role of Christian soldiers who fought under the command of St. Michael, as well as Santiago and San Hipolito (Horcasitas 505--09), Mesoamericans were presented as victorious over a system equated with their past traditions.

A similar theme is represented at the Augustinian mission of Ixmiquilpan in the valley of Mexico. According to Abelardo Carrillo y Gariel, the murals located on both sides of the nave portray a battle in which indigenous warriors under the direction of St. Michael, patron saint of the church, who presides from the altar, defeat the forces of evil and sin presented as imaginary monsters and nude humans (24). One example from the mural cycle represents a jaguar knight dressed in traditional Aztec costume, who has subdued a nude individual. Another may represent an unworthy soul held in the clutches of evil, represented as a serpent-like monster reminiscent of Pre-Columbian deities or metaphorical representations of spirits or forces often composed of composite animal forms. Although a specific interpretation of these scenes is impossible to determine, these mural segments must have served to convince the recently converted to follow the example of those who fought against evil under the leadership of St. Michael.

Militancy for a religious cause followed Mesoamerican traditions, since during pre-Hispanic times jaguar knights fought for captives who were offered as sacrificial victims to the sun. Since the responsibility for cosmic maintenance belonged to the aristocracy, the msot valiant warriors were the elite of society who trained for this grave duty as a penitential act, believing that if they died as a result of fighting they would be rewarded after death (Sahagun 3: 47--48; 6: 11--15). Throughout Mesoamerica, the need for sacrificial victims was sufficient incentive for warfare, and Aztec military leaders were respected and rewarded greatly for their military accomplishments (Hassig 37--47). Pre-Columbian art is filled with examples of military heroes such as the jaguar knights who appear in the mural paintings at Cacaxtal or the example from the Mixtec Codex Zouche Nuttall of a jaguar knigt holding his captive by the hair (83).

Ixmiquilpan is a rare example of the appropriation of visual themes from Pre-Columbian religion by the Christian church. By linking Christian teachings to past traditions, the friars made the new religion accessible to Mesoamerican people. Yet by doing so, they ran the risk that such metaphors would be misunderstood as a continuation of traditional ideology.

In the early evangelistic period in New Spain, the Last Judgment and threat of world destruction were viewed as powerful incentives to accept the new doctrine perhaps because indigenous religion predicted the end of the world (Burkhart, Slippery Earth 79). Since Baptism was the essential first step on the road to redemption, large baptismal fonts that could accommodate many people were important pieces of church equipment. The baptismal font at Zinacantepec is adorned with scenes of the Annunciation, the Flight to Egypt, the Baptism of Christ, and St. Michael, displaying scales and raised sword as he tramples the devil under foot. Here the miracle of Christ's birth and early life are followed by His baptism. The example set by Christ is reinforced by the image of Michael, who protects only select, Christian souls from the devil. The scene was intended as a warning that would convince indigenous people to accept this sacrament and follow Christian moral codes.

This was also the purpose of the most elaborately adorned set of processional chapels or posas found in New Spain, located in the atrium of the Franciscan convent of Culpan in the state of Puebla. Such structures, which often punctuate the corners of atrium enclosures, were used as stations where religious processions paused as part of their ritual activity. During such interludes, participants would have contemplated the sculpture of the facades in the order laid out by the designer of the posas. As John MacAndrew points out, the participant is eased into the message of the sculptural program by first visiting posas dedicated to the two compassionate intercessors, the Virgin and St. Francis, both closely associated with the painful death of Christ. This was followed by a third posa dedicated to St. Michael, which was adorned with a large scene of the Last Judgment in which the dead rise from their graves to be judged by the enthroned figure of Christ. On the other side of the structure there is a figure of St. Michael, who has pinned down the devil with his cross-topped rod. By wielding his sword and trampling the symbol of sin and damnation underfoot, he protects the worthy souls against evil forces as they journey to heaven (McAndrew 327--32 and right rear endpaper).

More violent scenes of the Last Judgment appear in mural paintings such as those found on the interior walls of the open chapel at Actopan, or the inferno scenes from the west wall of Santa Maria Xoxoteco (Gerlero 1011--18). Passion plays of the Last Judgment enacted throughout the sixteenth century included scenes of torturous treatment inflicted on those whom St. Michael and Christ deemed sinful. In an elaborate production enacted at Tlatelolco in 1531 or 1533, St. Michael explained judgment day and the frightening consequences of a life of sin. The damned were relinquished to the devil and punished while a priest told the audience that judgment day was eminent (Horcasitas 561--93; Burkhart, Slippery Earth 79--80).

The tremendous popularity of St. Michael during the seventeenth century in Mexico, I believe, is a result of the increasing importance of the saint as a protector of the righteous and of his diminished role as adversary of the wicked. This change in status and his broader appeal are attested by the cult of St. Michael that developed in Tlaxcala around the accepted site of his apparition.

In the spring of 1631, according to tradition, the Saint miraculously appeared near the Puebla-Tlaxcala border in the jurisdiction of Santa Maria Nativitas. He identified himself only to the Indian Diego Lazaro de San Francisco, whom he instructed to tell the citizens of his community that a spring, located in a local ravine flanked by hills, had miraculous curing powers available to the faithful.

Some time later, when Don Diego was sick and near death, the angel appeared again. Immediately St. Michael magically cured his fever and transported him to the ravine. By touching a spot he called "the place of our Lord" with his cross-topped golden rod, St. Michael identified the location of the sacred spring. The saint explained that many people would join the Christian faith and repent their sins after seeing miracles occurring at this site. The faithful and penitent, he added, would be relieved of their toils and needs, and would be cured of sickness (Baez 41--42).

Diego reported his story to the friar in charge of the Franciscan monastery of Santa Maria Nativitas. He, in turn, notified the Tlaxcaltecan cacique, Gregorio Nacianceno, who accused the Indian of lying about the well-known water source. When a series of miracles initiated a cult of St. Michael at the site, the bishop decided to visit the location. There he discovered a cross adorned with carnations and an image of St. Michael placed in a hand-burrowed hollow. In the late fall of the same year, the bishop recognized the cult by conducting mass at the site and authorizing the construction of a shrine and a small hostel for pilgrims. After visiting the hermitage in 1643, Bishop Palafox ordered that a larger, more substantial church be built along with a new hostel that would accommodate the growing numbers who traveled to the site. By the end of the seventeenth century, the legend was accepted church doctrine and the site was a major pilgrimage center recognized for its healing properties (Rojas 57--58).

Since caves and water are closely linked to the concepts of rejuvenation and continuance in indigenous religious practice, the curing, strengthening powers of water associated with St. Michael at this cave-like location must be rooted in Mesoamerican tradition. The fact that in at least one instance Michael was associated with curing and water in Europe (Clement 78) may be part of the reason he was so popular in the New World. Perhaps the water source at Santa Maria Nativitas had ancient significance, since the cacique knew of its existence. A visual example of the significance of water in Pre-Columbian tradition appears on page five of the Codex Zouche Nuttall where an image of Tlaloc pours water over a man dressed in an eagle costume in order to strengthen him (5). This Mesoamerican association between water and health affected the acceptance of baptism in early colonial Mexico. Perhaps because of traditional medicinal powers of water, indigenous people wanted the sacrament repeated many times and took containers of baptismal water to their homes (McAndrew 81; Burkhart, Slippery Earth 112). Two significant early cults of the Virgin established in Mexico, dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Virgin of Ocotlan respectively, were associated with sacred springs and curing.

At the chapel of San Miguel del Milagro in Tlaxcala and elsewhere in Mexico during the seventeenth century, St. Michael is portrayed in art as a guardian figure. Rather than focusing on the defeat of the devil, most paintings emphasize the person or concept being aided or protected, such as the extremely popular Woman of the Apocalypse and the Virgin Mary. In the immense painting of the Assumption by Juan Correa of this theme located in the sacristy of the National Cathedral in Mexico City, St. Michael protects the ascending Virgin (illus. in Ruiz Gomar 1044).

Often Michael is portrayed as the captain general of the archangels. In painted examples, such as the one from the church of San Miguel in Xochitl, he is surrounded by the members of his force, each clearly identifiable by the attributes they hold. The European theme of the seven archangels was so popular in Mexico that a sumptuous chapel of the National cathedral was devoted to it. At the famous shrine of the Virgin of Ocotlan in Tlaxcala, Michael stands at the pinnacle of the facade while the other archangels guard strategic positions around the centrally located Virgin. In Oaxaca during the eighteenth century, the convent named Siete Principes was placed under the protection of the seven archangels.

Often in colonial Mexico, Michael stood alone as a devotional figure, sometimes rivaling the Virgin Mary in popularity, as a symbol of goodness and purity who protected the faithful against harm and sickness and who helped them achieve salvation. In this role, Michael sometimes stands on a cloud surrounded by angels, as on the facade of the parish church dedicated to St. Michael in Mexico City. Often, he displays a banner, cross, palm branch, or sword as a symbol of his victory. An example is the painting by Cristobal de Villalpando located in the parish church of San Pedro in Cholula.

In his broader Mexican role, St. Michael was credited with keeping away all forces of evil. In a seventeenth-century painting by Juan Correa, St. Michael as the defender of the church has driven Adam and Eve from the garden after they have fallen to temptation (illus. in Ruiz Gomar 1058). In a painting by Cristobal de Villalpando, Adam and Eve are presented in a different light. Once they are cleansed by the blood of Christ after the Crucifixion, St. Michael and other archangels serve as intermediaries, helping Adam, Eve, and their children achieve salvation (illus. in Miexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries 337).

The relief of St. Michael that adorns the church of La Soledad is associated more directly with redemption through the Veil of Veronica that he holds, since it symbolizes Christ's passion. The theme of the sudarium or Veil of Veronica was introduced in Mexico early in the post-conquest period as a relic or icon of Christ. In a sixteenth-century mural from Huejotzingo, Puebla members of a flagellant procession display the veil and instruments of the passion as reminders of Christ's tremendous sacrifice. This relic of the suffering Christ serves to inspire the participants of such processions who flagellate themselves in imitation of His suffering and as punishment for their sins. This was a practice that was carried out in Oaxaca during the sixteenth century, at the site of the present church of La Soledad. Such flagellant processions are described in a late sixteenth-century document sent to the King of Spain by the Bishop of Oaxaca (Ledesma).

Images of the face of Christ from the Veil of Veronica that appear in the center of atrium crosses (Monteverde 143; Angulo Iniguez 274) link the sacrifice of Christ to the Mesoamerican concept of the death and transformation of the sun. Such monuments played a major role in the early evangelistic process since they stood at the focal point of large outdoor areas where thousands gathered to participate in religious ritual. An especially interesting example is located at the Augustinian monastery of Acolman in the central valley of Mexico (figure 4). The head of Christ and the foliated terminations of the crossarm transform the atrium cross into an animate, anthropomorphic being (Neumeyer 107). Like most atrium crosses of Mexico, the shaft is covered with instruments of the passion. The crossarm is adorned with foliate, floral, and swirling forms making it a symbol of a living tree similar to Pre-Columbian directional trees that end in trefoil foliation. The flowers must represent life and renewal as they do today (Laughlin 136--37). Together, the two arms represent life, death, and life out of death or rejuvenation.


Since during the sixteenth century the friars equated Christ with the sun and the antithesis of darkness (Burkhart, "Solar Christ"), this austere image of the face of Christ could double as an anthropomorphic image of the sun. This association is further strengthened by studying other atrium crosses. On some examples the face of Christ is surrounded by the crown whose thorns point outward like rays of the sun (Hunt 142). On others the crown contains an obsidian insert following a pre-Columbian custom of adding such a stone to give them the force of life (Garcia Granados 55--56). By explaining the concept of hell by association with the Mesoamerican underworld (Burkhart, Slippery Earth 51--55) the friars may have encouraged a relationship between Christ's descent before His resurrection and the Mesoamerican concept of the transformation of the sun in the bowels of the earth at night. If this is the case then the image in the center of the cross of Acolman may correspond to the renewal of the sun and to all life in general as well as to the Christian concept of everlasting life.

The central position of the face of Christ corresponds to the Mesoamerican fifth direction, a place of transition or transformation. The vertical shaft of the cross suggests the Mesoamerican avenue of passage that leads down to the navel of the earth or place of rejuvenation, rebirth, and purification (Elzey 321--27). The female figure at the bottom of the cross, who may be the Virgin of Solitude or Mary Magdalene (George Scheper, personal comunication), can be equated with metaphorical representations of the earth or fertility located at the base of Pre-Columbian directional trees. An example of a tree that grows from the earth personified as a female figure appears in Codex Borgia (53). In light of such analogies to Pre-Columbian concepts, this cross at Acolman makes reference to the indigenous belief that human sacrifice provided the energy for the renewal of the sun in the bowels of the earth.

The style and iconography of the seventeenth-century image of the face of Christ from the Veil of Veronica held by St. Michael on the church in Oaxaca are quite different from the probable European antecedent of the relief, the 1513 print by Albrecht Durer (Moreno Villa 27 and figure 5). In the European example, Christ's compassion and determination to save sinners through his sacrificial death are expressed through his vivid expression. In the Mexican relief, the face of Christ appears to float diagonally across the surface of the veil. I believe that His unfocused eyes and drooping half-open mouth express the idea that he is extremely dizzy, unconscious, or dead. To me, Christ appears as a sacrificial victim whose death and passion were painful and tragic. This corresponds with a description of a passion play performed in Mitla, Oaxaca in the 1930s in which the sudarium was imprinted with the face of Christ after his death (Parsons 273). It is also consistent with a Nahuatl play translated by Louise Burkhart in which the torture that Christ endured is emphasized as a necessary penitential act ("Nahuatl" 160).


This victimization of Christ, which is evident in many Mexican examples, parallels indigenous religion since Pre-Columbian gods were sacrificial victims. Aztec myth tells of Nanauatzin, a sick and syphilitic pauper, who burned himself alive before becoming the new sun, and of the deformed Xolotl, or Venus as the evening star who was sacrificed in order to put the new sun in motion (Seler 1: 55, 1: 133, 2: 45). Xipe Totec, an earth god, associated with the moon, young corn, rain, and fertility, was the supreme penitent and personification of victimization. At festivals held in honor of this god, a deity impersonator was tied to a cross or tree and shot with arrows (Torquemada 3: 416; Taube 331). The atrium cross belonging to the church of San Pedro Topiltepec located in western Oaxaca documents the analogy made during the colonial period between the Pre-Columbian ritual of arrow sacrifice and the death of Christ (figure 6). The sacrificial victim on the shaft of this cross is dressed in the guise of Xipe (Caso 178), and the image as a whole is more reminiscent of the depiction of arrow sacrifice in Codex Zouche Nuttall (83) than a European representation of the Crucifixion.


As a winged warrior associated with sacrifice, death, and transformation, the angel holding the veil has parallels in the Pre-Columbian tradition. Specifically the angel might be related to the Yahui or turtle fire serpent sacrificer (John Pohl, personal communication). This supernatural appears in the Mixtec Codex Selden dressed in turtle shell armor, offering a blood sacrifice to a sun deity located in a sky band above. In the Mixtec Codex Zouche Nuttall, he hovers above a coyte, as he holds the recently removed heart of the sacrificial victim in his clawed hand. There is a stucco relief of a yahui on the north wall of the late period 5 Zapotec tomb I at Zacchila. In this context, he is associated with deified ancestors, death, and transformation.

Warrior kings and valiant heroes figure in Mixtec and Zapotec legendary history. There is a contemporary illustration in the town hall of Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca that recounts a myth remembered today and recorded in the seventeenth century. It tells how a Mixtec warrior conquered the sun by shooting it at dusk, causing it to sink on the western horizon so that it would rise in the east at the beginning of the next day.

Mexican churches are filled with pitiful images of Christ that convey the message that His death was painful and tragic. At the church of Nuestra Senora de la Soledad in Oaxaca, the image of St. Michael holding the sudarium adorned with an image that depicts Christ's suffering indicates that St. Michael played a vital role in the events that led to salvation. Since the association between St. Michael and the sacrificial death of Christ seem uniquely Mexican, it is logical that the connection stems from the Pre-Columbian concept that the death of the sun is necessary for the continuation of life, as well as the sixteenth-century association in Mexico between Christ and the sun. By triumphantly holding a symbol of Christ's passion and death, the relief image of St. Michael that adorns the church communicates the belief that the archangel is a participant in the renewal of all life, which includes, by association, the rejuvenation of the sun.

This is certainly the message of modern religious belief recorded by Thomas Hinton among the Coras of Nayarit. In this area St. Michael is the morning star, a powerful spirit of the underworld who is descended from the god of the sun. Armed with bows and arrows, St. Michael kills the great serpent each day, allowing the sun to rise (37).

In the context of the Christian church, I believe that the didactic message of the angel holding the sudarium is that Christ's painful death is the ultimate weapon against the devil, sin, and temptation, which can stand in the way of salvation. The image of Michael with the sudarium evolved out of a colonial tradition, begun soon after the conquest, that was linked intentionally and coincidentally to the indigenous past. This legitimized the new religious doctrine, making it accessible to Mesoamericans. By embodying cultural memories that evolved over two centuries in New Spain, the relief transcended the limitations of European Catholicism, presenting a message that is subtly and uniquely Mexican. Because this garnering of European motifs was tempered by Pre-Columbian traditions as they persisted during the colonial period, it served to perpetuate the memory of Mesoamerican warfare and human sacrifice since these elements can be identified among the ingredients that compose the relief.


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Title Annotation:The Legacy of Columbian Encounters: Selected Perspectives
Author:Callaway, Carol H.
Publication:College Literature
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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