Famous Religious Edifices Walking Tour, Mexico City

Famous Religious Edifices Walking Tour (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 Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Famous Religious Edifices Walking Tour
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 (Metropolitan Tabernacle)
  • 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
Sagrario Metropolitano (Metropolitan Tabernacle)

1) Sagrario Metropolitano (Metropolitan Tabernacle)

Situated to the right of the Metropolitan Cathedral is the Metropolitan Tabernacle (Sagrario Metropolitano). Built between 1749 and 1760, it is considered a masterpiece of the Churrigueresque Baroque architecture. The structure has a Greek-cross plan and was purposed to house the archives and vestments of the archbishop; it also functioned, and still does, as a place to receive Eucharist and register parishioners.

The tabernacle has two main entrances; one to the south, facing the Zócalo, and the other facing east toward Seminario Street. The porous volcanic rock – tezontle – responsible for the deep-red color is beautifully contrasted by the white stone carvings adorning the exterior.

The southern (main) façade is richly decorated. Here, alongside the carvings of grapes and pomegranates as the ritual offerings symbolizing the Blood of Christ and the Church, you can see the images of apostles, saints, and martyrs, as well as scenes from the Bible and some zoomorphic reliefs, like a rampaging lion and the eagle from the coat of arms of Mexico. The eastern façade, somewhat less elaborate, contains images from the Old Testament and some prominent religious figures like Ignacio de Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order.

The Tabernacle stands on the site of a drained lake and its foundations are slowly sinking because of the unstable subsoil. Efforts are currently underway to stabilize the building and other nearby structures.

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

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

Dominating the Zócalo to the north is the Metropolitan Cathedral, the oldest and largest European church in the Western Hemisphere. The temple sits on the site of the former Aztec sacred precinct, the palace of Moctezuma, destroyed during the Spanish conquest.

The cathedral's first stone was laid in 1553, set to replace the modest church built in this place in 1524. The whole building took nearly 250 years to complete, from 1573 to 1813, over which period numerous architects, sculptors, and painters worked on it, bringing in a dazzling array of styles (Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassical, Renaissance, and even Churrigueresque) and diverse decorations. An exceptional collection of paintings, statues, and glittering altarpieces found inside the cathedral are complemented by the largest in the Americas 18th-century organs (nowadays frequently used in musical concerts).

A mortar-and-stone symbol of Catholicism in Mexico's life, this cathedral was often at the epicenter of historically important events, such as the coronation of Agustín de Iturbide and Ana María Huarte as the first emperors of Mexico in 1822, and many others.

Throughout its long life, the cathedral suffered multiple damages. During the earthquake on September 19, 2017, a cross known as La Esperanza, which used to crown one of the two belfries, toppled and fell to the ground. The spot where it landed is now an attraction in its own right.

Since this is a functioning cathedral, make sure to avoid mass hours.
Walk down the sloping floor from the altar towards the back of the church, and look for the large pendulum suspended from the ceiling which tracks how much the building has sunk (due to the soft clay subsoil on which it stands) by marking a record on the floor. Also, check out the doorways and columns to see how the church is leaning.
Don't miss the Black Jesus (aka the "Lord of Poison") statue in the chapel at the back (you may want to read in advance to see why it's famous).

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

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

The church of San Francisco is all that remains of what was once the largest and most influential convent in Mexico City. The sanctuary was established as the headquarters of the first twelve Franciscan friars who came to Mexico after receiving authorization from the Pope to evangelize in New Spain. At its peak, during the colonial period, the monastery complex included chapels, outbuildings, a hospital, and orchards, and comprised a total area of more than 30,000 square meters.

Curiously enough, during pre-Colombian times, this part of the city was occupied by the animal house, a kind of zoo of the Aztec Emperor, Moctezuma II.

The current church on the site is the third one, built between 1710 and 1716. Its two predecessors fell victim to the soft soil underneath and had to be torn down. Although the entire building is known as the San Francisco Church, the actual site on Madero Street is the Balvanera Chapel. To get inside the church one has to walk downstairs quite a few steps because, unfortunately, the building has sunk considerably. For this reason, its main facade is walled in and cannot be seen. Thus, the only way in is via the Balvanera Chapel on the side.

The facade of the chapel dates back to 1766 and is attributed to Lorenzo Rodríguez, best known for his work on the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Inside is an 18th-century altarpiece dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe and the entrance to what was once the Chapel of the Second Station of the Stations of the Cross.

Both the church and the monastery saw a number of historic events in their time. One such was the funeral mass for Hernán Cortés after they thought he was dead in Central America. Following the Reform War of 1858-1861, the monastery of San Francisco, like many others, was disbanded and most of its property was seized by the government. Eventually, much of the monastery was demolished for the construction of new roads. Other parts have survived, proving more expensive to be demolished than to be left standing.

As you explore Centro Histórico, make sure to mark this on your map as an important milestone of the Mexican faith.
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.
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
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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