Catedral Metropolitana

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 (Foto: Iván Macías)
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The bells sound daily in the temple located in the heart of the city - all except for one. Of the 40 metal pieces that make up the bell tower, there’s always one that stays quiet. They call it “the punished one” because its clashing resulted in the death of one of its companions over a century ago. The Catedral Metropolitana guards at least 200 years of history: some of them embellished, some of them real. But it holds a place in history books and in the collective memory of the city’s inhabitants.

The cathedral’s construction began in 1570, Claudio de Arciniega designed the initial project; but more than 20 architects oversaw the work, until the project finally reached the hands of Manuel Tolsá, who finished the colossal space in 1813.

The building, made up of 16 chapels, is a synthesis of colonial and New Spanish art, the work being a majestic example of stylized trends of the times. Baroque is present in the alters of De los Reyes and Del Perdón; where we find neoclassical touches in the dome’s lovely little lantern and the balusters, one of Tolsá’s personal touches. The Herrera style (characterized by its rigorous geometrical elements and the care given to its decoration) is most notable in the Sala Capitular, the sacristy and the temple’s façade. It’s design by José Damián Ortiz de Castro is unique, given the shortage of this architectural style in Mexico and Latin America. 

La Catedral is home to invaluable jewels and artifacts. Father José de Jesús Aguilar, who served as the sanctuary’s first sexton, set aside many items of great historic value, such as Augustín de Iturbide’s throne and the remains of José Vasconcelos. In the chapel of Our Lady of Angustias de Granada, one can find the baptism font of San Felipe de Jesús, considered Mexico’s first saint. La Capilla de las Reliquias holds paintings primarily depicting the passion of Christ, and the Virgin of Guadalupe by José Ibarra. Another highlight is the collection of Japanese sacristy textiles, and the liturgy dress of the Catedral Metropolitana de México.

The most visited statues are the Cristo de Veneno and the Señor del Cacao, called such because during colonial times people made him offerings of cacao. The image of the Niño Cautivo, in the chapel of Nuestra Señora de la Antigua, is considered the patron of the captured and kidnapped. His story goes back to 1620, when Francisco Sandoval Zapata was captured by pirates, and the bandits asked for a ransom that took more than seven years to arrive, and by the time that it did, Sandoval Zapata had died. The pirates eventually gave the estate to his family. 

The tombs located beneath the Altar de los Reyes include the principal crypt housing the remains of the titular archbishops of the archdiocese, from Fray Juan de Zumárraga to the cardinal Ernesto Corripio y Ahumada. The door of the crypt was made in bronze by architect Ernesto Gómez Gallardo and is one of the architectonic contributions from the 20th century.

The building has survived a few close calls with the passage of time, the most serious was in 1967 when a fire in the Altar del Perdón damaged the choir room and the paintings of the dome. Between 2000 and 2004, they worked to correct the subsidence (or natural sinking of the land) that was about to split the building in two; the work was overseen by Sergio Zaldívar and Xavier Cortés Rocha. It consisted in moving tons of construction (the total weight of the building is 127,000 tons) in order to level the earth and encourage a more balanced sinking. This massive labor resulted in international recognition for the Mexican architects who were then petitioned to help with balancing Italy’s Tower of Pisa.

Nowadays, the Catedral offers guided tours for tourists and at certain times of the year, it’s the stage for theatrical representations and baroque organ and choir concerts. The Epistle’s organ was designed by José Nasarre and dates back to the colonial era, and with approximately 3,000 flutes, it’s one of the biggest in the world and currently under restoration. Guided tours of the catacombs are given on the first two days of November.

By: Alejandra Villegas

Posted:

Venue name: Catedral Metropolitana
Contact:
Address: Plaza de La Constitución s/n
Centro
Mexico City
06000
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 7am-10pm
Transport: Metro Zócalo
Price: Free entry
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