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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:20

Atrial Cross, convento San Agustín de Acolman, mid-16th century

Viceroyalty of New Spain

Video transcript

we're looking with the famous atrial cross at the site of a very early mission a convent Oh a place where the indigenous population was converted very soon after the Spanish conquest and this cross at a Coleman would have originally been in the center of the atrium but today was actually just across the street from the entrance to this missionary complex this convent Oh an atrium was an important part of the convent oh it was this very large open courtyard where you would have processions where newly converted individuals would be taught about Christianity they'd be preached to from this open elevated balcony chapel here at the convent oh so it was a multi-purpose very important space and so right in the middle of that space would be a cross and this particular cross is decorated in such a way that it's very didactic meaning that it's this exceptionally important teaching tool to help the newly converted indigenous population learn about Christianity and particularly the Passion of Christ or the events leading up to the crucifixion we read a series of symbols that tell us more about Christ's suffering so while inside the convent oh particularly in the cloisters you have these wonderful murals that are displaying for us the various scenes of The Passion here we have this condensed symbolic version of that where we see symbols associated with the passion things like the rooster that was supposed to crow three times as a sign that st. Peter would denounce Christ we see the crown of thorns that Christ wore when he was on the cross and a variety of these other instruments right above Christ's head I see that symbol associated with the Augustinians of the pierced heart marking this atrial cross as being part of this Augustinian convent oh the arms of the cross and in flowers the arms are actually covered in foliot imagery there's a particular type of marigold which in nahuatl the language of the nawa population is called tempest ochico which is a particular type of marigold that you still see used for Day of the Dead and it had this relationship to death so might have been multiple ways of reading this image so if you were an indigenous viewer using these flowers associated with death might have relevance in relation to the martyrdom of Christ what's also important to keep in mind is that there could have been this bilingual process or what we could even call visual bilingualism the symbol of the Cross is not something introduced by the Europeans it's a long-standing ancient symbol here in Mesoamerica that had associations with fertility with the Kosmos with the center of the universe so an indigenous viewer looking at this could have read these images or this cross simultaneously in two different ways and the artist was likely an indigenous artist the laborer used to build these convent O's and to decorate them were drawn from the indigenous population and then down at the bottom of the cross we seem to see an image of Mary and other symbols related to the Passion of Christ we think this is the Virgin Mary in part because her arms are crossed over her chest which is at this point in time in Europe how Mary is usually shown when she's grieving for her dead son and some of the other symbols that we see include a skull a twisted snake and even what looks like a disc of some sort so the date of this cross is so early in the history of New Spain this cross was probably constructed sometime between the 1540s and 1560s and it's representative of atrial crosses that you would see it other conven toes and just to go back to what we said earlier about this being an educational tool in the center of the atrium speaks to the need for educating people about the tenets of Christianity about what it means to be Christian in the week of the conquest and the evangelization that's following and the important role of images in doing that images were crucial to the conversion process because they were a primary means of teaching people about Christianity in the face of language barriers you