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Mexico's Fortress Monasteries, a series.

ACOLMAN: The Eden of the Americas

According to an ancient Indian legend, when the gods created the First Man, they plucked him by the arm from the waters of Lake Texcoco, and set him, dripping and alone on the site of Acolman, above the Valley of Mexico. The arm of this first man, ringed by a halo of droplets, formed the Aztec glyph for Acolman, and is emblazoned on the facade of the great Augustinian monastery here.

Acolman is celebrated for its exquisite Plateresque facade, sculpted by Spanish craftsmen, which exerted a powerful influence on other Augustinian church fronts, notably at Yuriria (Michoacán) and Metztitlan (Hidalgo)

In addition to its two contrasting cloisters and its wealth of monastic murals, Acolman also boasts a more humble but equally fascinating early colonial treasure-its churchyard cross. Located across the road from the spectacular facade, this carved stone cross is a classic of 16th century Indo-Christian art, using Catholic imagery but executed by native stonecarvers. The melancholy, mask-like face of Christ, crowned with thorns, projects from the center of the cross, while the Instruments of the Passion are carved all around the cylindrical arms and shaft.

A small, crude figure of the Virgin of Sorrows huddles below the cross, a weathered stone skull and serpent at her feet. The dark stone disk set into her breast follows in the Aztec tradition of inlaying jades or other precious stones into their statues, to symbolize the "soul" of the figure represented.

Text & illustrations © 1992;1999 by Richard D. Perry

for more on Acolman and the missions of Mexico see our Mexico's Fortress Monasteries