Mexico // Oaxaca //

Santo Domingo

The church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán is one of the real highlights of Oaxaca. Consecrated in 1611, this elaborately carved and decorated extravaganza is one of the finest examples of Mexican Baroque anywhere; its external walls (10m thick in some places) solid and earthquake-proof, the interior extraordinarily rich. Parts were damaged during the Reform Wars and the Revolution – especially the chapels, pressed into service as stables – but most of the interior was restored during the 1950s.

The church drips with gold leaf throughout, beautifully set off, especially, by the afternoon light. Highlights include the great gilded main altarpiece and, on the underside of the raised choir above you as you enter, the family tree of Felix de Guzmán, father of St Dominic (the founder of the Dominican Order), in the form of a vine with leafy branches and tendrils, busts of leading Dominicans and a figure of the Virgin right at the top. Looking back from the altar, you can appreciate the relief scenes high on the walls and the biblical events depicted in the barrel roof and the ceiling of the choir, a vision of the heavenly hierarchy with gilded angels swirling in rings around God. The adjoining Capilla de la Virgen del Rosario (completed in 1720) is also richly painted and carved: the Virgin takes pride of place in another stunning altarpiece, all the more startlingly intense in such a relatively small space.