Beverley Spears’ Early Churches of Mexico
Beverley Spears presents a visual and informational glory in Churches of Mexico: An Architect’s View, published by University of New Mexico Press. Ten years in the works, the book has 408 pages and hundreds of beautiful photographs. For her images, made from 2006 to 2016, Spears used black-and-white photography to emphasize the ancient buildings’ essential characteristics, to “convey architectural form, space, and light,” as she puts it in her introduction.
The churches and (mission complexes or monasteries) were built during the 1500s by mendicant friars — Franciscans, Dominicans, and Augustinians — who came from Spain to convert, teach, and baptize indigenous peoples. The structures show massive walls, often buttressed and topped with rows of merlons (projecting forms like tiny towers), some with a single tower on one side only, and with grand (churchyards) in front. Another striking characteristic, especially in the Franciscan conventos, is the rib-vaulted ceiling structure.
The majority of features Spears’ photographic examination of exteriors and interiors, but the text chapters treat Spanish history in Mexico and explain mission architecture and ornamentation. An appendix offers a detailed chart of vaults, bell towers, atrios, and other features in 108 in a dozen Mexican states, from Hidalgo to Chiapas. “The book is really about how I see these as architectural monuments, as pieces of art,” said Spears, an award-winning Santa Fe architect. “I’m really interested in the spatial quality more than the history and the art history, the decorations and the murals.”
Her topic encompasses a whole different realm from New Mexico’s 17th- and 18th- century mission churches, with their f lat roofs and transverse clerestories. The roof structures in are vaults, which were not done in the north of colonial Nueva España. “I think there were fewer, less- skilled masons here,” Spears said. “There were millions of people in Mexico who worked in stone, who had built the pyramids. So the friars were able to teach them about vaults and arches. Some of the spaces in these Mexican churches are just magnificent, partly because typically they’re not basilicas with three aisles and columns [as in Santa Fe’s Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi]. They’re very tall and very long, but it’s a single vault. So that space is very contained and very focused on the sanctuary.”
Spears discusses Early Churches of Mexico: An Architect’s View at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7, at Collected Works Bookstore (202 Galisteo St., 505-988- 4226). — Paul Weideman