Saturday, June 18, 2016

Centro's Four Indigenous Quarters: Santa María Cuepopan; Part I - Battleground and Sacred Ground

Northwest Quarter of San Juan Tenochtitlan

We've already explored the southern part of Centro and tracked down key remnants of San Juan Moyotla and San Pablo Teopan-Zoquipan, two of the four parcialidades or indigenous quarters comprising the Indian Republic of San Juan Tenochtitlan. Now we're ready to investigate the third, Santa María Cuepopan, in the northwest corner of Centro.

Four Ancient Barrios of Tenochtitlan
Located on Map of Present-day Mexico City

Santa María Cuepopan: Upper Left
Small Black Square: Templo Mayor

Old Boundaries That Survive

Cuepopan lay north of San Juan Moyotla, separated from it by what is now Avenida Hidalgo, the former cuepotli (Nahuatl) or calzada (Spanish), the main avenue leading to the causeway to Tacuba, on the west shore of Lake Texcoco. Its eastern half was in what is now Centro North and its western half in present-day Colonia Guerrero.
As we have learned in our exploration of the quarters, the correspondence of their ancient boundaries with contemporary streets, especially major avenues and Ejes, is not coincidental. We know that the Calzada west to Tacuba and the roadway north from the Templo Mayor were two of the four cardinal axes of Tenochtitlan.

We wonder about the other two, the original western and northern boundaries. To the west was the western "bay" of Lake Texcoco, which the Mexicas (Me-SHE-kahs) called Lake Mexico after they came to dominate it. To the north of Colonia Guerrro lies Colonia Tlatelolco, what remains of that other major Mexica atepetl, the city-state that shared the island or, rather, what were originally two adjoining islands in the lake, as we learned in our study of San Pablo Teopan-Zoquipan.

Location of the Barrio Cuepopan-Tlaquechiuhca
The Reassignment of Meaning to a Sacred Space in New Spain:

Cuepopan's boundaries are:

West: More or less at what is now Eje 1 Poniente, West Axis 1, aka Avenida Guerrero;
East: Republica de Argentina Street, which runs north from Templo Mayor;
North: What is now Eje 1 Norte, North Axis 1, aka Calle Mosqueta/López Rayón.

Eje Central, Central Axis, aka Lázaro Cárdenas, divides the former quarter in half;
Paseo de la Reforma cuts diagonally across the quarter's western half.

Santa Maria la Redonda

We begin our exploration of Cuepopan by continuing our search for the landmark churches erected by the Franciscans and other Catholic religious orders to undertake the evangelization or Spiritual Conquest of the indigenous residents of the Republic of the Indians.

So we enter Cuepopan from the Bellas Artes Metro station at the corner of Hidalgo and the Eje Central. We are little more than a block north of the Franciscans' home base, the Church of San Francisco, just east of the Eje Central on Madero Street. On the southwest corner of Hidalgo and the Ejein late 19th century splendor sit the Palacio de Bellas Artes and, to its west, the Alameda Central park.

Five blocks up the Eje Central from the intersection with Hidalgo, on the west side of the noisy commercial thoroughfare, there is a narrow one-lane street that can be easily overlooked. It doesn't even seem to have a name. It is the entrance to the Barrio de Santa María Redondo, and it is the pathway to a world historically and culturally far from the one at the intersection of Hidalgo and the Eje Central.

Santa María la Redonda
St. Mary the Round  

The laneway leads past modest, nondescript residential buildings to a wider, circular street encompassing a small, but delightfully shaded traditional plaza. On the far side rises the simple tezontle, red volcanic stone, facade of an evidently old church. It is Santa María la Redonda, St. Mary the Round. We wonder about the qualifier "The Round".

The simple interior is from before the ornate Baroque period dating to the first half of the 18th century. The present church was built in 1677, replacing the original church built in 1524 by Franciscan Brother Pedro de Gante, Peter of Ghent, and named Asunción de María Santísima, the Assumption of the Most Holy Mary, that is, her bodily assumption into heaven upon her earthly death, whereupon she became Queen of Heaven. It is believed that it was built atop a destoyed Mexica teocalli, house of god, i.e., temple.

"In the year 1524, Friar Pedro de Gante (Peter of Ghent)
began this work.
Peace and Good

The Neoclassic-style round apse or rotunda was added in the 1730s, evidently leading to the attachment of la Redonda, the Round, to the church's name.

St. Mary of the Assumption

The statue's head and hands are said to have been brought from Spain by
Friar Rodgrigo de Sequera,
Commissioner General of the Franciscans,
in the mid-16th century.

So this is where the Franciscans and Catholic Spanish culture established themselves in indigenous, "pagan" Cuepopan.

Cuepopan/Colonia Guerrero: Ground of Many Battles

It turns out that Cuepopan, the neighborhood that is now the lower half of Colonia Guerrero, "Warrior", was the scene of some important battles in the development of Mexica/Azteca power. Mexican historians, Clementina Battcock and Claudia Andrea Gotta have documented that Cuepopan, and particularly one of its barrios, neighborhoods, Colpoco, was the site of two major conflicts. 

Location of the Minor Barrios
That Make up the Barrio of Cuepopan-

La resemantización de un espacio sagrado en la Nueva España:
Cuepopan, de mojonera y escenario ritual a Santa María la Redonda.

The Reassignment of Meaning to a Sacred Space in New Spain:
Cuepopan, from Battleground and Sacred Space to Saint Mary the Round,

by Clementina Battcock and Claudia Andrea Gotta
Cuicuilco vol.18 no.51 México may./ago. 2011,
Journal of the National School of Anthropology and History of Mexico

Tenochtitlan Replaces Azcapotzalco

In 1427, war broke out between the Mexica of Tenochtitlan and the Tenocha of Azcapotzalco, the dominant altepetl, city-state on the western shore of Lake Texcoco, north of Tacuba to which Tenochtitlan was a tributary. The occasion was the death of the ruler of Azcapotzalco and an internal power struggle between potential replacements.The key battle occurred in the northern part of Cuepopoan called Copolco. The Mexica victory over the Tenocha led them to become the dominant power in the Valley of Anahuac, now the Valley of Mexico. During the next one hundred years, they expanded their rule over most of the center of what is now Mexico.

Tenochtitlan Subsumes Tlatelolco

In 1469 a series of battles erupted between the Mexica of Tenochtitlan and their Mexica cousins who had separated from them in the mid-1300s and established the separate altepetl of Tlateloloco just to the north. The decisive battle in 1473 took place in Copolco, located on the border between the two atepetls, separated by a canal, now Calle Mosqueta. Subsequently, Tlatelolco was incorporated into Tenochtitlan. What is today the Eje Central was orginally a canal and/or aqueduct carrying drinking water to Tlatelolco.

Evidently, Cuepopan was also a major Mexica religious site. Its priest was in charge of the Nuevo Fuego, New Fire ritual. Every fifty-two years, the beginning of the two calendars common to all Mesoamerican cultures—the 365-day solar calendar and the 260-day divinatory calendar—coincided. This was believed to be an especially vulnerable point of transition in time, when the sun might not rise and the present world could come to an end. Hence, special rituals were carried out at the top of a small, extinct volcano on the peninsula of Iztapalapa at the southeast end of Lake Texcoco. It was called Huixachtécatl. It is now Cerro de la Estrella, Hill of the Star. We will get to it at a later time.

As a major religious site, Cuepopan was also where Moctuzuma's body was taken to be cremated just before the Night of Sorrows. That was the last battle the Mexica were to win and leads us to Part II of our post on Cuepopan.

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