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Famous Religious Edifices (Self Guided), Mexico City

After Hernán Cortés conquered the city of Tenochtitlán in the early 16th century, the Spanish razed the Mexica temples and built Catholic churches atop their remains. Coming from a deeply religious atmosphere in Spain, colonial missionaries were active throughout the land, establishing an abundance of Catholic churches, schools, and hospitals. Every religious building in this city is now a part not only of Mexican religion but also of Mexican culture and life. Take this self-guided walking tour to discover some of the most famous places of worship in Mexico City.
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Famous Religious Edifices Map

Guide Name: Famous Religious Edifices
Guide Location: Mexico » Mexico City (See other walking tours in Mexico City)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 6
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Sagrario Metropolitano
  • Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral)
  • Iglesia de San Francisco (Church of San Francisco)
  • Santa Veracruz Monastery
  • San Juan de Dios Church / Museo Franz Mayer
  • San Hipolito Church
1
Sagrario Metropolitano

1) Sagrario Metropolitano

Attached to the larger Metropolitan Cathedral flanking Mexico City's Zocalo, you will find the Sagrario, considered a masterpiece of Churrigueresque Baroque architecture in Latin America. Built in the 18th century to keep the archives and vestments of the archbishop, it has been declared a UNESCO landmark and is impressive in its own way.

With geometric designs in the form of pilasters, the altarpiece pattern in the facade has a unique resemblance to the main altarpiece inside the church, which in turn, resembles the Altar of the Kings inside the neighboring cathedral. The high altar has twelve stained glass windows in the neoclassical architectural style, but is not made of wood or gold like those in other churches – instead, it uses white stone in the shape of a Greek cross, surrounded by walls of 'tenzontle' (a reddish porous volcanic rock) which may be the church's most distinguishing feature.

The Sagrario Metropolitan stands on a drained lake and its foundations are slowly sinking because of the instability of the soil beneath. Efforts are underway to stabilize the building and other nearby structures.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am–8pm
2
Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral)

2) Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral) (must see)

Dominating the Zócalo to the north, the Metropolitan Cathedral is a mortar-and-stone representation of the central role of the Catholic Church in Mexico's past and present. A modest church was built on this site in 1524, over the location of the destroyed Aztec palace of Moctezuma. Shortly thereafter, New Spain's governors commissioned the construction of a bigger, grander church to fit their vision for the City of Palaces. The first stone of the new cathedral – now the oldest and largest in the Western Hemisphere – was laid in 1553, but it wasn't completed for 240 long years. Over the centuries, different architects have left their mark on both the interior and exterior, which boast a dazzling array of Baroque (façade), Neo-Classical (dome), Renaissance and even Chugeressco styles.

Within the cathedral's two bell towers, 25 multi-ton bells are still rung by hand. During the earthquake of September 19, 2017, a cross known as La Esperanza, which topped the eastern tower, toppled and fell to the ground. Tours of the bell towers have since been suspended indefinitely. An exceptional collection of paintings, colored statues, and glittering altarpieces adorn the interior, which also houses the largest 18th-century organs in the Americas – hence the frequent concerts with a focus on organ and choral music.

Tip:
It's a functioning cathedral so be mindful of that, and try to avoid mass. Walk down the sloping floor from the alter towards the back of the church, and look for the large pendulum suspended from the ceiling which tracks how much the building has sunk by marking a record on the floor. Look also at doorways and columns to see how the church – and many of the other heavy old buildings – are leaning and sinking; don't miss the Black Jesus, or "Lord of Poison" statue in the chapel at the back (but do read in advance the story for which it is famous); seek out the chapel of the Virgin of Guadalupe in a chapel on the quiet side of the church, and see the depiction of when Saint Juan Diego opened his cloak before archbishop Zumárraga (again, read the story in advance – anecdotally, Mexicans seem to believe that their Saint takes precedence over Jesus); and, finally, go outside to see where one of the crosses fell from the roof during the 2017 earthquake.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am–8pm
3
Iglesia de San Francisco (Church of San Francisco)

3) Iglesia de San Francisco (Church of San Francisco)

The Templo y Convento de San Francisco was once part of the largest convent in New Spain, whose chapels, monastery, hospital, and orchards covered 30,000 square meters. Destroyed during the 19th-century Reformation, only this church remains; apparently, the third to be built on the site in the 1710s, after the two sunk into the soft soil underneath Mexico City and had to be torn down.

Although, the entire building is known as the San Francisco Church, the entrance on Madero Street is actually the entrance to what was a side chapel in the once enormous complex, as the main facade is walled in and cannot be seen. Nonetheless, you can still witness a glimpse of the San Francisco's past glory: in front of the chapel is an atrium with several sets of stairs leading down to the church below (because it, too, is sinking). Inside there is an 18th-century gold-covered altarpiece dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe as well as the entrance to what was once the Chapel of the Second Station.

As you explore Centro Histórico, make sure you mark this on your map for an important milestone of Mexican faith.
4
Santa Veracruz Monastery

4) Santa Veracruz Monastery

The old Santa Veracruz Monastery in Mexico City's historic center was the third most important church in the area in the 16th century, and maintains its original function, whereas the former monastery building and hospital now house the Franz Mayer Museum. Most of the church's interior decorations are gone, but it is still home to two important images, the Christ of the Seven Veils and the Virgin of the Remedies ("La Gachupina"). From the outside, you will notice that its twin steeples are tilting in different directions. The soil under Mexico City is notoriously spongy, resulting in drunken-looking structures.

Shortly after the Conquest, Hernán Cortés founded the Brotherhood as an act of gratitude for the successful arrival of the Spanish on the American mainland. The original members were conquistadors; later, memberships were restricted to aristocrats and others with noble titles, but eventually were open to anyone with sufficient money and clout. Those who belonged to the organization wore a large red cross on their chest and a crucifix with an image of the Christ of the Seven Veils on two small tablets with the Ten Commandments. The members' main duty was to accompany prisoners to jail and those condemned to death to the gallows, for whom they also paid the funeral and burial expenses. To commoners, this brotherhood was known as the "Knights of the (straw)Mats" as the prisoners were buried in the cheapest way possible.
5
San Juan de Dios Church / Museo Franz Mayer

5) San Juan de Dios Church / Museo Franz Mayer

On the western side of Plaza de Santa Veracruz, the Church of San Juan de Dios served as a flour mill, hospital, church and monastery for four centuries before housing the vast collection of decorative arts – Latin America's largest – amassed by German stockbroker Franz Mayer during his lifetime and among the finest you'll ever lay eyes on.

Now called the Franz Mayer Museum, the historic structure is used to display fine artworks, books, furniture, ceramics, textiles and many other types of decorative items. A large portion of the collection comes from Europe and Asia but most comes from Mexico itself with items dating from the 15th to the 20th centuries. Many pieces are fine handcrafts, such as textiles and Talavera pottery, and they are important because they often did not survive elsewhere.

In addition to displaying the items Mayer collected, of which only over a quarter is visible, the museum still makes acquisitions, sponsors temporary exhibits and has a café located in the center courtyard/garden. In the cloister area, an important section is dedicated to Mayer's over 14,000 books, which include 800 different editions of "Don Quixote" and the "Chronicles of Nuremberg", edited in 1493. In 2016, the Center for Popular Art Studies opened in the museum's basement.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am–5pm; free on Tuesdays
6
San Hipolito Church

6) San Hipolito Church

Situated near the northwest corner of the Alameda, this church was built to commemorate the conquest of Tenochtitlán by the Spanish. On the 13th of August 1521, San Hipólito's Day in the Catholic Calendar, the Spanish overcame the Aztecs at this very spot; nevertheless, they suffered heavy casualties and the chapel was built as a monument for those killed in the battle. Unsurprisingly, too, San Hipólito became the patron saint of Mexico City, and is here represented as a triumphal Hernán Cortés astride the Mexican eagle, which, in turn, is standing on a prickly pear cactus. The two praying figures are Moctezuma, who is leading the indigenous population, and Pedro de Alvarado, who leads the "conquistadores".

Built partially with uncoated "tezontle" volcanic rock, San Hipólito was completed in the 1730s. Baroque in style, its two towers in front have a unique 45-degree angle, while the main bell tower has a Moorish design and so do the interiors. The floor plan, however, is a classic Latin cross with the central dome rising at the crossing point.

Locals gather here because the main altar inside contains a shimmering statue of San Judas – the patron of lost and desperate causes. The saint's annual feast day, October 28, is the biggest religious party in Centro by a wide margin. Believers adorn their San Judas statues with beads, threaded necklaces, colored lace, scapulars, and roses.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7am–9pm

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