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Temples, Churches and Ex-monasteries
The work, in its entirety, belonged to the Augustinian Order that arrived in the city of Antequera, Oaxaca during 1576. This religious community distinguished itself in the city for the educational activities they initiated; they opened a school of humanities, where they taught everything from the alphabet to the arts, and theology. At least, until the arrival of the Jesuits, they covered middle and higher education, since they occupied all professorships at the recently founded university.
Fray Juan Adriano founded the Augustinian mission of Oaxaca. The Bishop of Oaxaca, Fray Fernando de Albuquerque donated the land where the priests built their convent.
The first works of the temple and convent did not correspond to the present design. As in other cases, they were built with adobe walls and beam and tile roofing. The temple, with these characteristics, was consecrated in 1586, although it was completely finished in 1596.
The present project of the temple was elaborated in the last decade of the seventeenth century. The purpose for this construction, that was in process for thirty years, was the formal planning of the temple and the convent construction, which were sponsored by the generous Portuguese philanthropist Manuel Fernandez Fiallo, and a benefactor named Lorenzo de Mendoza. The complete construction was finished in 1722, year of its consecration.
In 1862, because of the secularisation decree, the Federal Government gave the convent to the Institute of Art and Sciences. In 1893, Bishop Eulogio Gillow acquired the convent, and founded the Children’s Home, institution for child beneficence, that still stands to date.
The temple of San Augustus has one of the more striking portals of the city. In its interior are authentic jewels, surprising for their originality and artistic quality.
The sculptor Tomas de Sigüenza made the baroque style portal. It is divided horizontally in three sections, divided by entablatures; vertically, it is comprised of three spaces divided by various types of columns. In the first section the temple access stands out, under a semicircular arch, in its keystone is an Augustinian emblem. On both sides, in the entrecalles, delimited by Ionic columns, two niches containing images of Saint Nicolas Tolentino on the left, and Saint Juan of Sahagun to the right. Below the niches, are two medallions with inscriptions in Latin, allusive of the reconstruction of the temple in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
In the second section, the central area, contains a dedicatory picture, whose central personality is Saint Augustus, Bishop of Hipona. Saint Augustus, bearded and dressed in the Augustinian full-length robe, extends his right arm in pastoral attitude, while holding a maquette of a temple on the other. Above the bishop, two cherubs hold his chasuble, which is sheltering a group of friars at prayer. To the feet of the saint are three heads of bearded men. The lateral areas have Corinthian columns. The niches contain sculptures of Saint Alipio, to the left and, Saint Thomas Bishop of Valencia, to the right.
The third section reproduces the second to a great extent with its Corinthian columns and niches. The left niche houses a sculpture of Saint Clara de Montefalco, and on the other side, to Saint Rita of Cascia. The central area gives rise to an extensive octagonal skylight that introduces light to the interior of the nave through its coloured window. The pinnacle is an open pediment with framework sporting the Augustinian emblem.
The northern side portal is more modest. It is under a semicircular arch framed by smooth pilasters and an entablature, whose frieze is decorated with rhombus. Upon the entablature, two high pinnacles frame a niche with the image of the Virgin of Guadeloupe. The niche is framed with fluted pilasters of Ionic capital and an entablature crowned by vases, in addition to another niche with the image of the Immaculate Conception.
The interior design is a Latin cross. Upon entering the main door is the choir loft, covered by a double vault, over which stands the choir in the front with a wrought iron balustrade. The nave and the transepts are covered with lunette vaults, the transept with a groined vault.
The main retable, located in the apse, is the central motif of the interior. It is baroque-Salomonic style, finished in carved wood and gilt. It is composed of five sections and three areas, determined by cornices and Salomonic columns, among which are oil paintings and niches, with polychromatic sculptures. The main sculpture is that of Saint Augustus, located in the centre of the retable. Up and to the sides are the sculptures of Saint Alipio, Saint Thomas of Villanueva, Saint John of Sahagun and Saint Fulgencio, important personages related to the founder’s Order. Underneath Saint Augustus, is an oil painting representing the Holy Trinity crowning the Virgin in Heaven. To its sides are sculptures of the Virgin’s parents, Saint Joaquin and Saint Ana. All other paintings represent scenes of Saint Augustus’ life.
In the transepts there are two other retables that, though of smaller size, are equally beautiful to the main one. A base, two sections and a pinnacle compose them, and cornices and Salomonic columns divide these. The retable on the northern side is dedicated especially to Saint Nicholas Tolentino, whose sculpture is located in the central niche. Under this niche is the sculpture of the Virgin of Consolation to which he was devoted. The other paintings that it contains represent scenes of Saint Nicholas’ life, who preserved a charitable spirit until his death, which occurred in Tolentino, Italy, in 1305. The retable, of the south side, does not have a definite theme. The disposition of the decoration, however, can be divided into three categories: the first one includes the sculpture of Saint Monica, mother of Saint Augustus, the painting of the Virgin of the Assumption, and that of the Virgin with Baby Jesus, and a Guardian Angel. The second category includes the painting of Saint John the Baptist as a Child, accompanied by Jesus mounted on a sheep, and the painting that represents the same John the Baptist at the moment of baptising Jesus in the Jordan river. The third category includes three paintings, located in the pinnacle; they represent three members of the Brotherhood: Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Augustus, and Saint Ignatius of Loyola.
In addition, there are two small chapels in the transepts; one of them dedicated to Saint Judas Tadeo, and another to Saint Rita de Garcia. It is also worthwhile admiring the inlayed wood pulpit with its staircase that starts in the presbytery. In a glass enclosure, under the pulpit, are bone fragments, relics of Saint Augustus, donated by the Roman Curia. Another similar capsule, in the retable of Saint Nicolas Tolentino, contains a garment fragment of Saint Nicolas, utilised during his divine office.
It is located a block east of the Central Plaza (Zócalo) in the city of Oaxaca, on the corner formed by Guerrero and Armenta y Lopez Streets. It currently houses the Children’s Home school in the installations that were formerly the convent.