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MEXICO'S FORTRESS MONASTERIES.

Molango and the "Monster of Penitence"

In 1538 Fray Antonio de Roa, an Augustinian friar of great size and strength known to his peers as the Monster of Penitence, bodily lifted the massive stone statue of the god Mola and hurled it down the mountainside at Molango (Place of Mola). The monolithic idol shattered into a thousand pieces, convincing the local Indians of the superior power of the Christian god.

Fray Antonio, a passionate man much given to self mortification, had had a checkered career. A native of Roa, near Burgos in Spain, he came to Mexico in 1535 where he joined Fray Alonso de la Vera Cruz, the noted humanist and missionary, in evangelizing the mountainous Sierra Alta region, north of Mexico City - then an active focus of Augustinian missionary activity.

Plagued by self-doubt and dismay at the slow progress of conversion, he was ready to give up and return to Spain. Urged on by his fellow friars, however, Fray Antonio persevered in his arduous mission. Following his legendary feat of iconoclasm at Molango, he successfully founded the mission town there in the foggy heights of what is now the state of Hidalgo.

The legendary "Apostle of the Sierra," as he was later known, lived out his life in this rugged region as a hermit and holy man, enjoying the regard of the Indians he had labored so hard to Christianize.

Molango, angels in the architecture (doorjamb)

The Monastery

The isolated fortress monastery of Molango stands upon a high platform above the village, a precipitous site that seems suspended between the often misty sky and the green chasm of the valley below.

Massive arched buttresses brace the rough-hewn nave walls which contrast with an elaborately sculpted west doorway, whose arch and jambs bear foliated friezes and angels with wings spread upholding large crosses. Carved in native "tequitqui" style, some of the faces have inset obsidian eyes in the pre-hispanic tradition.

The crumbling arcade of the convento is in the process of reconstruction, its plain columns banded with "pearl" moldings and massed in the corners as at Acolman. Reliefs of the Augustinian insignia are emblazoned above the arches.


Text & illustration ©1992 &1999 by Richard D. Perry

More information on the fortress monasteries of Hidalgo

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