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Mexico's Fortress Monasteries

CUAUTINCHAN

One of the most interesting and historic colonial monuments in the State of Puebla is the impressive hillside monastery of Cuautinchan, which overlooks the Valsequillo reservoir and the broad Atlixco valley, southwest of the City of Puebla.

Erected in the 1570s, the rugged, twin-towered church was built to last. Powerful stone buttresses and the massive, rounded apse have sustained the structure through more than 400 years. The imposing church front and adjacent convento arcade are sturdy but plain, their Roman-like simplicity serving to emphasize their integrity and strength.

Despite its robust appearance, however, Cuautinchan was one of the few Pueblan churches to suffer serious damage in the 7.4 temblor of last October, when an atrium gateway collapsed, and half of the belfry atop the north tower fell - due in part, it was discovered, to original structural weakness.

 

The principal treasure of the church is its huge main altarpiece, one of a handful of 16th century retablos to survive in Mexico, and quite possibly the oldest and most complete of them all.

Six large paintings depicting the Life of Christ, also dating from the 16th century and attributed to the Flemish inspired artist, Juan de Arrué, adorn the retablo - a rare marriage of early colonial arts in a single masterpiece, unique in Mexico.

In the cloister, above a doorway, is a tiny mural of The Annunciation, also believed to date from the 1500s, in which prehispanic eagle and jaguar figures flank the Virgin Mary. (The ancient place name, Cuautinchan, signifies "House of the Eagle Warriors")

Many other priceless colonial artifacts and works of art are on display in the museum attached to the convento , still under repair following the earthquakes of 1999.


Text and illustrations ©2000 by Richard D. Perry

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