Epilogue: the Via Crucis as a collaborative effort

The construction of the Via Crucis in Puebla was a joint effort between public and religious corporations - namely, the Franciscan Order of Puebla, the Tertiary Order of Franciscans (a corporation of lay citizens), and several private Pueblan citizens - and in at least one case (the eleventh chapel- station, the Chapel of the Poor), it was a communal effort by anonymous citizens. Some of the patrons were artisans themselves, meaning they donated their labor to decorate the interiors with devotional or ornamental objects, or in the case of a select number of chapels, the whole construction process was entirely sponsored by a private citizen. In the end, however, all the chapels were constructed by the faithful with funds donated by the community. According to eighteenth-century chroniclers Mariano Fernandez de Echeverria у Veytia and Miguel de Alcala у Mendiola and the twentieth- century historian Hugo Leicht, the construction of the Via Crucis started in

View of the Holy Sepulcher Church, the last and most elaborate building of the Puebla Via Crucis itinerary. It contains six stations of the Via Crucis cycle in its complex

Figure 2.9 View of the Holy Sepulcher Church, the last and most elaborate building of the Puebla Via Crucis itinerary. It contains six stations of the Via Crucis cycle in its complex.

1606.98 The critical event in the construction of the Via Crucis was marked by the founding of the Tertiary Order of Franciscans, established by the citizens Francisco Mejfa, Diego Lopez Botello, Simon Coello, Melchor de Bonilla, Antonio de Vega, and Francisco Barbero, on a plot of land donated by Benito Conte Labana, a citizen of the city since 1602." From 1606, the chronicles provide dates of construction for the Via Crucis chapels that culminated in the Via Crucis complex’s consecration in 1664.100

From there on, the chapels underwent many changes. Some of them turned into private property, and in many cases, the historical records indicate how private citizens continued to maintain the complex through communal efforts. In the city’s municipal archive, council minutes mention the upkeep and improvement of some of the chapels (ermitas) on behalf of private donors and volunteers.101 For instance, there is a request made by a citizen named Francisco Solano, found in the city’s municipal archive and dated March 20,1688, for a paja de agua, a water allowance to maintain the calvario complex’s grounds.102 The collective participation in the planning and building of this urban-architectural complex is a relevant fact, given it suggests the idea that architecture, as architectural historian Alberto Perez- Gomez has noted, “was especially dedicated to the representation of significant human action.”103 Indeed, according to Perez-Gomez, rituals in the early modern period and the built spaces in which they took place “allowed for the recognition of an individual’s place in society and relation to the natural world.”104

In this light, the communal effort behind Puebla’s Via Crucis adds solidity to the argument of how a city in the early modern period in New Spain could still be based on what Perez-Gomez deemed the “poetical content of reality, the a priori of the world.”105 Perez-Gomez’s notion resonates with the idea of how Puebla de los Angeles operated during the viceregal era under the assumption that its symbolic dimension was at least as necessary as its material fabric. As Perez-Gomez asserts, before the modern era,

architectural intentionality was transcendental, necessarily symbolic.... Not only did form not follow function, but the form could fulfill its role as a primary means of reconciliation, one that referred ultimately to the essential ambiguity of the human condition.106

In a similar vein, the architectural and urban historian Franqoise Choay articulated a similar idea when she pointed out how there was a significant shift in the relationship with the built environment in European thinking during the period corresponding to the fifteenth century.107 Previously, the relationship between people and organized space was mediated between religious thought and the sacralization of space, including urban space. As she put it, “it is easy to forget that religion and the sacred have traditionally been the major factors organizing human space, either through the action of the spoken word or through the written word.”108

The city’s urban form and the Via Crucis’ architectural-urban complex both served to propel and feed the narrative of Puebla’s mythological origin. On a religious or spiritual level, Puebla’s symbolic order, which is to say its association with Jerusalem and its consistent attempts at singling out its exceptionalism among other cities in New Spain, facilitated, among its inhabitants, a spiritual bond with a sacred Christian universe that they held to be authentic and real. Further, this sense of exceptionalism and the city’s spiritual condition offered the inhabitants a cosmological form that provided meaning not only to the city as lived experience but to the inhabitants through their participation in their ritualistic Catholic universe, which should be understood as an integral part of the city as a whole.109

 
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