8554 - Calendrical and Astronomical Symbolism of Religious Architecture in Prehispanic and Colonial Mexico

The conceptual correlation of time and space has been a prime concern of architectural planners and designers in most civilizations, both Western and non-European. Specialized craftsmen and architects in Prehispanic Mesoamerica built ceremonial compounds where they not only recreated the formal structure of the universe as they conceived it, but also established precise numerical correspondences between standard measurement units and astronomically or calendrically defined periods. Time was therefore manifested in its physical and spatial extension, whereas space was simultaneously structured and ordered by timely guidelines in ingeniously masterminded religious precincts.

After the Spanish conquest many indigenous religious buildings were destroyed and replaced by Christian churches, monasteries, missions and minor sanctuaries. According to late medieval and early modern or Renaissance models, European architects active in New Spain also reproduced in their structural configurations several peculiarities of the Western worldview, respectively components of the Christian calendar through numerically significant quantities of architectural features, like niches, columns or statues, as well as lineal or surface measures in exactly determined values expressed by metrical standard units.

After presenting examples of Prehispanic and Colonial religious buildings or compounds in various regions of Mexico where these highly specific time-space correlations were identified, we discuss their functional and ideological implications. Special emphasis will be laid on the question if the architectural planning and execution of Colonial structures simply reflect a universal concern about the harmonious correspondence of time and space in an idealized cosmological system, or if they evidence a direct continuity of native Mesoamerican concepts, perhaps unnoticed or tolerated, if not welcomed, by Spanish officials for various motives.

Keywords: Architecture, time-space correlation, Mexico, Prehispanic, Colonial

Author: Lelgemann, Achim (UASLP, Germany / Deutschland)


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