Sunday, August 21, 2016

Mexico City's Original Villages-Coyoacán: The Lord of Compassion Travels from San Pablo Tepetlapa to Santa Úrsula Coapa

Many times traveling by taxi down la Calzada de Tlalpan, through the southern part of Coyoacán, we have noticed what appears, from its simple facade, to be a very old church. We always say we'll have to visit it someday. Well, the summer visitas of el Señor de la Misericordia, the Lord of Compassion, to various pueblos and barrios of the delegación of Coyoacán, presented us with the perfect opportunity.

Being away from Mexico City for the first two weeks of July, we missed el Señor's procession from Pueblo Candelaria, where we last encountered him, to San Pablo Tepetlapa, south of Candelaria. Fortunately, we are back in the City in time for his transfer from San Pablo to Santa Úrsula Coapa. Both barrios are located along the Calzada de Tlalpan, the highway that follows the original Mexica causeway from Centro Histórico to what were pueblos originarios, original indigenous settlements, in what are now the City's southern delegaciones, boroughs, of Coyoacán, Tlalpan and Xochimilco.

San Pablo Tepetlapa

The meeting of el Señor with Santa Úrsula is scheduled for 11:15 a.m. on the fourth Sunday in July, but we want to greet him as he is leaving the church of San Pablo, St. Paul, in the original barrio of Tepetlapa, as we haven't previously visited it. We have been fascinated by the barrio from our investigations via Google Maps. Its core is a virtual circle, with cross streets intersecting near the middle, the classic pattern of an indigenous community, divided into the four quadrants of the cardinal directions, as was Tenochtitlan.

Barrio San Pablo Tepetlapa
Present-day Pueblo San Pablo Tepetlapa extends around the circular core

So we travel by taxi down División del Norte, past Pueblo Candelaria, arriving at about 9:30 a.m. at a narrow calleja, side-street, that is an entrance to this barrio.  

Calle Miguel Hidalgo, just off División del Norte

There is virtually no one in the street, but we find the ubiquitous comerciante, street merchant, and ask the way to the church and la fiesta. La señora tells us that the church is actually on the other side of Division, but that the procession has already left the church and is traveling up Division del Norte—as the music of la banda and exploding cohetes announces. So we head off, following the sounds.

Iglesia de San Pablo Apostol Tepetlapa
Built in the 17th century, it faces the Calzada de Tlalpan, 

the original Aztec roadway, now a modern highway.

As we didn't make it to the church on time,
we returned a couple of weeks later, during Sunday Noon Mass, to take these photos.

Side entrance
Feligreses, parishoners at Mass

Moorish Dancers and the Spiritual Conquest

Passing through a callejón, alleyway, and down some stairs, we return to the main avenue and, ¡qué sorpresa!, what a surprise! We seem to have been transported back to some version of Moorish Andalusia. We had encountered los chinelos in the pueblo of Tepotzlán, in Morelos, just over the mountains south of Mexico City, but were not aware that they are a feature of fiestas in Mexico City.

Procession of chinelos leads el Señor de la Misericordia and his host, San Pablo, St. Paul.
Note the Virgin of Guadalupe on lead dancer (in red), 

symbol of the merger of indigenous and Spanish peoples.

Chinelo comes from the Nahuatl word zineloquie meaning “disguised.” The tradition of chinelo dancers is, ostensibly, a fairly recent one. According to a Morelos blogger, they began in Tepotzlán, a heavily indigenous Nahua community, in the late 19th century, as a way to mock criollos, pure Spanish-blooded residents, during Carnaval, just before Lent.

Exaggerated, pointed beards and blue eyes
mock Spanish nobility.
Masks are made of stiff netting, so wearer can see through it.

The chinelos' dance consists of brincos, jumps, and spinning like Sufi dervishes. Their elaborate costumes seem to be a takeoff on Islamic Moorish dress. We had encountered similar fiesta costumes in the explicitly named danzas de los moros in Purépecha pueblos in Michoacán, two hundred miles west and historically separate from the Nahua of the Valley of Mexico. 

Reggae figure, with dreadlocks.
How Jamaican reggae got to Mexico
is another mystery to be investigated

The Spanish friars brought such dances to Nueva España as a way to dramatize the Spanish defeat of the heathen Islamic "Moors," thus teaching a gentle, but not too subtle lesson to the "heathen" of the "New World."

Our interpretation is that these dances have been adopted by indigenous communities as an expression of their non-Spanish identity, while framing them within Spanish Catholic celebrations. This was clearest to us when we witnessed a Mass done in Purépecha, in Pátzcuaro, in which "Moorish" danzantes proceeded down the aisle of the Basilica de la Virgen de Salud, the Virgin of Health, and paid homage to the Virgin and the celebrating priest. The danzas de los moros and of los chinelos are another paradoxical cultural synthesis created by the Spiritual Conquest.  

Note Aztec Eagle Warrior on headdress of first dancer.
But, in full global syncretism, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse can also show up.

Visitors to the Labyrinth

The procession marches a short way up the modern Avenida del División del Norte then turns back into the ancient Pueblo San Pablo Tepetlapa

The Lord of Compassion, accompanied by St. Paul

Ever-present, essential banda

As we have experienced in other processions of el Señor, there are many stops along the route through the labyrinth of narrow callejas so the bearers of the saints' palanquin can rest. Added to that, this time there seem to be moments when the procession loses its way. After crossing an intersection, it has to double back and take a different path through the maze.

During one such moment of evident confusion, we comment on this to a man who is at the front of the chinelos, waving a large, colorful banner. 

Banner of
la Comparsa de Chinelos de San Lorenzo Huipulco

He explains that the chinelos are la Comparsa de Chinelos de San Lorenzo Huipulco. We recently learned about comparsas, dance troupes that perform at fiestas, when we encounterd la Comparsa de Charros de San Francisco Culhuacán at the fiesta in Candelaria. Huipulco is a colonia further down the Calzada de Tlalpan, at the entrance to the Delegación Tlalpan, where the southbound highway intersects with the main road to Xochimilco. The comparsa are invited guests of el Pueblo San Pablo Tepetlapa, so they don't know their way in their hosts' labyrinthian barrio.

At this point, we focus to take another photo of the colorful chinelos.

La Comparsa de Chinelos de San Lorenzo Huipulco
spontaneously pose for a formal group photo.

The young man carrying the banner then tells us that the annual fiesta of Huipulco's patron saint, San Lorenzo, St. Lawrence, is the week of August 7, with the culminating procession in which the Comparsa will participate on August 10. He invites us to come. We gratefully and excitedly accept the invitation. Another door into the pueblos originarios of the city opens. ¡Nos vemos allí! See you there!

People Behind the Masks


Along the way, two more traditional figures join us.

Torito, "Little Bull",
appears in many fiestas.
Bulls are symbols of both fertility and
hence, of life and death.
Mojiganga, (mo-hee-GAN-ga)
wearing traditional indigenous huipil blouse.

Mojiganga is derived from medieval Spanish
street festivals, likely of Arabic origins.

Neighborhood participants and onlookers

Ancient ritual in midst of the modern city

Eventually, the procession exits the maze of callejas of el barrio Tepetlapa and re-enters División del Norte, with its modern, multiple straight lanes and endless streams of cars and buses. 

Procession moves down División del Norte to where it intersects with Calzada de Tlalpan

At the intersection of División and the Calzada, itself a contemporary labyrinth of multi-lane underpasses and overpasses, the procession comes to a small open space alongside the bullicio, hubbub, of traffic. There, a traditional tapete de aserrín, sawdust carpet, has been laid out, in readiness for the meeting of saints.

Tapete de aserrín
Triangular upper figure is outline of the Lord of Compassion;
Lower scene of sun and sea, dolphins and seagulls
is poco raro, a little strange,
as Mexico City is over 200 miles from the Pacific Ocean

Soon, we hear the familiar sound of cohetes and a banda coming from the south.

Santa Úrsula Coapa

More chinelos lead the procession coming from Santa Úrsula Coapa.

Marisol and calavera,
sunflower and skull,
life and death.

Santa Úrsula arrives on her flower-bedecked palanquin,
accompanied by three pavos reales, royal turkeys, i.e., peacocks

El Señor de la Misericordia is given his place of honor behind his new host.

And we all start off toward el Pueblo Santa Úrsula Coapa.

Procession down the Calzada de Tlalpan, an eight-lane highway,
San Pablo, St. Paul, in the lead.
Men in navy blue T-shirts are the organizing committee from Santa Úrsula.

Neighbors and Friends

Duing the inevitable stops along the way first on the Calzada then in the callejas of Pueblo Santa Úrsula, we get to take notice of, and even meet, some of our fellow travelers and onlookers, a cross section of everyday chilangos, Mexico City residents.

Couple from San Pablo Tepetlapa

Old Church, Living Community

Eventually, the procession exits the narrow streets of the pueblo and returns to the Calzada. There stands the old church we had noticed so many times on trips down the highway, the parish church of Santa Úrsula Coapa.

Iglesia de Santa Úrsula Coapa,
Built in the 16th or 17th century, remodeled in the 18th and 20th centuries,
it directly faces the Calzada de Tlalpan.
In front of a modern, roofed bus stop,  sits a taxi in the new, official City colors.

In front of the church are street vendors, ubiquitiously present wherever people gather, be it at bus stops or church festivals.

Arrival of the saints, comida, dinner, and a sobering surprise

As saints approach the entrance, comida awaits to be served from the upper, rear level.

The bus stop outside and the narrow entrance
make it a challenge to get the saints and their palanquin into the equally narrow atrio.

Saints are received with applause, at least from the adultos mayores.

An unusual addition to a fiesta, an ataúd, a casket.

At this point, we become aware of an unusual addition to the procession into the church, an ataúd, a casket. We ask a person standing next to us why. She tells us that one of the members of the fiesta committee died suddenly yesterday in his home. So his funeral is being combined with the reception for the Lord of Compassion. We realize the combination could not be more fitting.

...and altar boy await;

Cohetes are shot from the church roof...
... and the three saints are carried up the stairs,
through a narrow walkway,
into the church,...

Life, Death and Continuity

...where los feligreses, parishioners, await celebration of the Mass.

El Señor de la Misericordia is set in his place of honor.

A Statement of Faith:
"God is the force and power of the pueblo
(the people and their community)"

As we leave the church, we notice narrow doors in the high brick walls on both sides of the narrow entrance walkway. Opening them, we find the parish panteón, cemetery. 

Flower-bedecked panteón, the parish cemetery. 

Once again, we have encountered traditional rituals and contemporary, "ordinary" people full of life. And there is also death, this time in individual specificity as well as that universal reality symbolized in the suffering of el Señor. And there is ongoing faith in God and el pueblo, the continuity of communal and human identity.

San Pablo Tepetlapa is upper star.
Santa Úrsula Coapa is lower star.
Calzada de Tlalpan is main north-south highway on their eastern boundaries.
Parque San Andrés is Mexico Ambles' home base.

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