Postcard from Puebla, Mexico: Uriarte ensures talavera traditions endure

Deep blue and light blue from cobalt, green from copper, yellow from antimony, orange from amatita (?) and black from iron. These are the only mineral-based colors permitted to create authentic talavera pottery in Mexico, and the special glazing helps them last and last and last.

Dominican friars arrived in Mexico from Spain centuries ago to teach Native Americans their techniques, and a potters’ guild formulated regulatory ordinances in 1682. The colors of the ancient tiles adorning churches and public spaces throughout Puebla remain brilliant, testimonies to the enduring quality of their craftsmanship.

There are only nine workshops currently authorized to produce the now even more stringently regulated form of art. To many, the leading workshop is in the heart of downtown Puebla, the tile on the façade of the building advertising its presence – Uriarte Talavera.

Many of the tiles around Puebla predate the workshop because it is relatively new by colonial standards. Don Ygnacio Uriarte did not found his workshop until 1824. Today, Uriarte Talavera is recognized as the eighth oldest company of any kind in all of Mexico.

Years ago, when we made our way into Uriarte, every single inch was lined claustrophobically with tall shelves of pottery of every shape and size in varying degrees of completion with layers of powdery pottery dust covering it all. We wandered around among the hundreds of offerings crowding the shelves and finally settled on a very fine, classic talavera pot to bring home with us.

Now the presentation one encounters upon entering is artful, not overwhelming. The company was purchased recently by new investors whose love of the caring craftsmanship and talavera traditions is clearly evident. The entire interior has been renovated.

Alas, as we were not driving this trip but flying and we have both downsized and modernized our décor to better suit our loft, no major purchases were made. But I did end up with some blue Uriarte earrings that were easily transported and that I love. And we still have our very fine pot.

Sometimes I still find myself lusting for a set of talavera dishes or, better yet, a house with walls completely covered with azulejos azules….

Postcard from Puebla, Mexico: Talavera tiles accent glittering gold

Gilded to the hilt, the Capilla del Rosario provides a Cinderella-like setting for destination weddings in downtown Puebla. The chapel is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, who appeared to Saint Dominic (1170-1221) and presented him with a rosary to aid his efforts to combat heresy and recruit converts to Catholicism.

The chapel is “new,” added in the second half of the 17th century to the much older Templo de Santo Domingo, dating from the late 16th century. Templo de Santo Domingo boldly combines ornate gilded Baroque embellishment with seemingly incongruous folk-art-like, colorful talavera tile.

Most of these images are from the interior of the temple Santo Domingo, but the same is true in many of the city’s churches. Somehow the contrasting styles work together, the tiles conveying a comforting hominess preventing the opulence from overwhelming the faithful flocking to kneel in the pews.

But back to the rosary. Among the many things nuns never taught me was what to do with the beads of a rosary. About the only thing I understood about the rosary given to me by my godmother on the occasion of my first communion at age 6 was that I was not to wear it as a necklace when playing dress-up.

Even in the late 1950s, rosaries seemed to be used only by white-haired widows, mysteriously muttering over each bead for long periods of time. Now I know why; it’s complicated. According to one website:

A rosary is a string of beads with a crucifix. A short string of five beads is attached to the crucifix which leads to a large circular strip of beads made of five sets of one large bead and ten smaller beads, called decades. You begin on the crucifix with a Sign of the Cross and an Apostles’ Creed. Say an Our Father on the large bead and one Hail Mary for each of the next three smaller beads. On the next large bead, say a Glory Be to the Father, announce and meditate on the first mystery and say an Our Father. Say a Hail Mary for each of the following smaller beads, and end the decade with the Glory Be. Begin the cycle again with an Our Father, meditate the second mystery according to the same schema and so on for the third, fourth and fifth mysteries. You end with the Prayer After the Rosary and a Sign of the Cross.

Phew! But those are only part of the instructions, omitted from gift boxes containing rosaries. The five mysteries to be contemplated on each decade change according to the days of the week, meaning there are a lot more than five with which one must be familiar. The Joyful Mysteries are recited on Mondays and Saturdays and are counter-balanced by the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesdays and Fridays. The redeeming Glorious Mysteries are the focus on Wednesdays and Sundays, and then, there are my favorites, the Luminous Mysteries celebrated on Thursdays. Thursday rosaries probably are most popular with those footing the bills for the destination weddings as well; for the second Luminous Mystery relates to the miraculous conversion of water into wine for the guests attending the wedding feast at Cana.

For exterior views of some of Puebla’s churches, visit an earlier post, Almost a church on every corner in the “City of Angels,” and to see saintly shrines housed within, visit Saints to answer any prayer.

Postcard from Puebla, Mexico: Culinary riches emerged from convents

Never thought “get thee to a nunnery” had an appetizing sound to it. But Puebla is different.

The Talavera-tiled kitchen of the former Santa Rosa Convent is reputed to be the birthplace of the richly flavored mole poblano, and the nuns of the former Convent of Santa Monica are credited with inventing the famous chiles en nogada in 1821 to celebrate Mexico’s newly gained independence from Spain. Reason enough to visit the former convents.

The early history of the building housing the Ex-Convento de Santa Monica is highly unusual. At the beginning of the 1600s, it served as a home for widows and wives whose husbands had abandoned them. Then its role switched as a place to isolate some of the city’s prostitutes; and then the usage seesawed back to a high school protective of young virgin girls in its charge. In the 1680s, it became a convent.

Santa Monica served as a convent for more than two centuries before the nuns had to go underground following the 1917 Constitution of Mexico. The façade of the convent was remodeled to appear as a house, but inside, behind a secret door, a group of nuns remained cloistered.

Supposedly, an antique dealer grew angry when the sisters refused to sell him paintings he desired. Inebriated in a bar, he began complaining about the nuns. A detective overheard him, and the closet convent was raided by police in 1934. The nuns were banished from the premises, and the government converted it to a museum for religious art.

Reviving the city’s reputation for nun-chefs, a new star recently arose in Mexico. Sister Florinda Ruiz Carapia became a fan favorite competing for a cash prize on Mexico’s version of Master Chef. Known as “Hermana Flor,” the humble nun who toils as a cook for seminarians in Puebla, reached the top five. Her popularity only increased because she was striving not for personal gain but to alleviate some of the debts accrued by her order of nuns, according to a story by Mark Stevenson in the San Antonio Express-News.


Perhaps if I tiled my kitchen, I’d miraculously be transformed into a good cook?