Antigua’s Environs: Hitting the road off Antigua to Find More Stunning Gems
My visit to Antigua timed in during the Holy Week Thursday procession and a long line of revelers were following a trail up north like ants pursuing a marked scent.
My wandering spirit prompted me to join the beeline, which ended up in the market town of San Felipe about a kilometer northeast. The church, built after the 1773 earthquake and designed in Gothic revival, is where a major procession will be taking place. The market scene was alive and kicking, spilling from its origin to the front of the church and the adjoining road.
I then caught a ride to Jocotenango to find a visually amusing church. Thinking I was in Florida, I gathered this town’s church, succumbing to the deadly 1773 earthquake, was heavily restored and now looking well groomed. This playful Baroque is finished in flamingo pink with white trimmings.
Beyond on the left reveals an attached chapel – the Capilla de la Virgen. Not well maintained, its façade makes an awesome composition left in grimy condition. The atrium fountain and kiosk are interesting.
South of Antigua, about 3 kilometers away is San Pedro de las Huertas. Its awesome colonial church is the most exciting reason to visit this town, or probably the whole Antigua circuit. It’s a magnificently faded and grimy tangerine asymmetrical Guatemalan Earthquake Baroque church with ataurique-applied wall tastefully executed and perfectly weathered. The steroid-stuffed belfry has a simple square base superimposed by graceful octagonal topping – the best Guatemalan belfry composition I’ve ever seen!
The church was closed on my visit.
The atrium fountain and public laundry vats or lavaderos further in front do well with the provincial atmosphere.
Another architectural gem is the colonial church of San Juan del Obispo, another two kilometers south of San Pedro. This church looks charmingly rough and rotten, eye catching in its salmon colored asymmetrical format marked by an over stretched-out right side belfry aside from a stunted left side tower. The portada with its cracked doorway is flanked by a very slim pair of simple round column-pilasters, while its grimy and weathered top has an unusually composed assembly of dormers outlining an interesting jagged skyline.
The inside is a magnificent nave comprising of tall slender timber side columns, rough-finished timber plank underside ceiling, white cold walls, and magnificent Guatemalan style side and center altar retablos. The whole atmosphere is unusually light and airy.
The church has a no photo shoot policy and the two caretakers are like alertly rapacious guard dogs.
Six kilometers away is Santa Maria, a busy Mayan market town. This colonial church is situated on the steep top. Moderately bulky in volume, diminutive domes and a pleasing espadaña in the shape of a modified Roman basilica pediment topped its symmetrical skyline. The profile is the closest to a Philippine Baroque church, which I am more familiar and grew up with. Unkempt and disheveled, it still holds its charm.
An accompanying, equally untidy but also charming chapel sits on another high mound about 100 meters to its right.
To the southwest from Antigua bus terminal leading to Almolonga valley is the sleepy city-town of Cuidad Vieja. This very small city boasts of a white dominating church with massive belfries in steroids, a true hallmark of Guatemalan Earthquake Baroque. The church front brings to mind the image of a squat posing sumo wrestler. The retablo style portada is outlined in different angles with stacks of niches and partitioned by estipites finished in ataurique technique.
I gathered that this is one of the oldest churches in Guatemala but the interior does not suggest that.
Another church within this city-town is San Miguel Escobar, an asymmetrical facade with espadaña style central superimposition and another over-stretched espadaña style side belfry. The white facade is modestly Baroque but charming.