Exploring Colonial Mexico©
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Nurio and the painted chapels of Michoacán
The early colonial missions of Michoacán have many unique features. In the 16th century, under the impetus of Bishop Vasco de Quiroga, numerous hospitals were built by the Franciscans and Augustinians as essential adjuncts to their missions to serve the native Tarascan communities of the region.
A central focus of each hospital compound was its chapel, invariably dedicated to the Virgin Mary - usually portrayed as La Purísima, the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception.
Many of these early chapels still stand, in varying states of preservation. Although generally humble in appearance, modest in their construction, and plain in their exterior ornament, inside, the chapels were often lavishly furnished and decorated with impressive painted wooden ceilings and choirs - another feature largely unique to colonial Michoacán.
While some of these ceilings are in poor condition, suffering from neglect and other ravages of time, others have survived and a few have recently been admirably restored, notably at Tupátaro, Cocucho and Zacán.*
The World Monuments Fund recently added these painted chapels to its list of 101 endangered monuments for 2002, and is contributing funds for the restoration of the murals in the chapel at Nurio Tepaqua, one of numerous indigenous purépecha villages located in the Meseta Tarasca of western Michoacán.
The interior of Nurio's main church, with its carved stone facade, is also spanned by a richly painted, beamed ceiling - the model for the hospital chapel. Along the unusual underchoir, set in one corner, ornate cartouches of intricate strapwork frame brightly colored angels, some playing period musical instruments, while portraits of the Four Evangelists decorate the baptistry enclosure.
The Chapel of La Inmaculada
The little adobe chapel of La Inmaculada is found inside the gated mission hospital compound behind the church. Its humble facade (top) retains its original stone doorframe and is ornamented with simple reliefs of the sun and moon - recognized as indigenous motifs as well as symbols of The Virgin.
By contrast, the recent restored chapel interior is a riot of color.
A pinewood beam and board artesonado ceiling spans the entire chapel. Its numerous compartments are painted with florid medallions of The Virgin and other biblical figures, accompanied by baroque angels. Despite its earlier baroque style, the ceiling was painted in 1803 by the artist José Gregorio Cervantes, in a vivid palette of reds, blues and earth colors
< La Inmaculada: the ceiling (details) >
< A tiny corner choir of carved wood, an unusual feature similar in form to that of the main church, is also decorated with painted floral ornament
The chapel also houses several late colonial furnishings, including retablos, statuary and andas, or processional altars.
Outstanding among these are the ornate 18th century gilded altarpieces, all recently restored, many with images of The Virgin.
Nurio: side retablo of La Virgen Dolorosa>
- text and b/w picture ©2002 by Richard D. Perry. Color photographs ©José Ignacio González Manterola.
- For more details on the colonial missions and hospital chapels of Michoacán, consult our guidebook Blue Lakes & Silver Cities
- Restoration work at Nurio, as well as on colonial works of art and architecture in Michoacán and elsewhere, is being carried out under the supervision of, among others, the Mexican government agency Consejo Nacional Adopte Una Obra de Arte AC. who maintain a web page on Nurio and neighboring chapels*. (external link in Spanish)
- World Monuments Fund page on Nurio (external link)
- Map of colonial West Mexico