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OAXACA, MEXICO

Exploring Oaxaca City's Churches
by Ron Mader

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Santo Tomas

FLICKR ALBUM: Oaxaca City Churches


RECOMMENDATION --If you have time to visit just a few sanctuaries, check out the Cathedral, Santo Domingo and the Basilica de la Soledad. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, there's a popular English-language walking tour! On Fridays and Saturdays combine your visit to Santo Tomas Xochimilco with the Pochimilco natural food and craft market.


GOOD ADVICE

Church visits are not for everyone, particularly those with low baroque tolerance. Sometimes visitors complain of the ABC Tours (Another Bloody Church!), so if you are not in the spirit, the best advice is not go inside the sanctuary.

Those entering should be respectful of those who are worshipping. Flash photography is NOT permitted in most churches and sometimes tripods are prohibited. Please do not take photos during a church service. It's best to dress appropriately -- no shorts and remove your hat. If you have a cell phone, turn it off. (Favor de apagar tu celular.)

BACKGROUND

Some of the churches are noteworthy because of a particular chapel, others for the saint's feast day.

An increasing amount of theft plagues religious institutions. This is one reason why churches are locked much of the day.

TIP -- You can tell which chapel is the most popular by the amount of lit candles on the altar.


INDEX

Cathedral of the Virgin of the Assumption
Santo Domingo de Guzmán Church
Guadalupe Sanctuary
El Patrocinio
San Francisco Church
Templo de la Compañia/Iglesia de la Inmaculada
San Matías Jalatlaco
De la Defensa Church
La Merced Church
Nuestra Señora de las Nieves Church
Carmen Alto Church
Carmen Abajo Church
San Agustin Church
San Felipe Neri Church
San Juan de Dios Church
Basílica Menor de la Soledad
Temple of the Blood of Christ (Sangre de Cristo Templo)
Parroquia de Consolación
Trinidad de las Huertas Church
Santo Tomas Xochimilco


The Cathedral of the Virgin of the Assumption
North side of the Zócalo and on the eastern side of the Alameda
Construction of the Bishop's Palace began early (1553) during the conquest. Earthquakes of 1694 and 1714 gravely damaged the building. The baroque facade has been restored. The interior has a rich collection of paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries. The clock mounted on the south tower was added later (1755) as a gift from the King of Spain. There are 14 chapels inside and the most famous is dedicated to 'El Señor del Rayo.' The cross hung in this chapel comes from the original Cathedral and was the only object not incinerated when a lighting bolt set fire to the church. Other prominent chapels are Santa Cruz de Huatulco and Los Beatos.

Santo Domingo de Guzmán Church
Six blocks north of the Zócalo on Alcalá at the corner of Gurrión
The Dominican order began construction of this complex in 1570. The church is famous for decoration both inside and out. The elaborate altar is made of gold and beautifully carved wood. The Chapel of the Rosary is striking. Masses are held weekdays at 7am, 8am and 730pm and on Sundays at 7am, 11am, 1pm, 530pm and 7:30pm. On Sundays a mass in English is given at noon and Saturday mass is at 730pm. The church is closed during the afternoons from 1-4pm. If you are looking for a guide, just ask. They present the history of the church in various languages and can be hired on premise. Outside the church flamboyant trees provide generous shade on the west side of the plaza. To the south is a line-up of stout date palms (dateleros). FLICKR GROUP VIDEO

San Juan de Dios Church
20 de Noviembre and Aldama
This is the city's oldest church and located north of the 20 de Noviembre Market. Considering its age, it's a fairly bright church. Look up to the ceiling for a series of paintings depicting Biblical events. The conquistadores' arrival in Oaxaca is shown in paintings on the north wall.

Basílica Menor de la Soledad
Independencía #107 at Galeana, Seven blocks west of the Alameda
This complex was completed in the late 1600s and includes the church, convent, Sócrates Garden and an outdoor theater (Plaza de la Danza). The basilica is dedicated to the Virgin of Solitude, Oaxaca's patroness. The main celebration takes place on December 18. There's a museum dedicated to religious art on the western side of the complex.

Temple of the Blood of Christ (Sangre de Cristo Templo)
Alcalá
The main facade of the church has an ornate, multilevel entryway, or portada, and three towers with small steeples. The interior has a single nave with a barrel vault. In the presbytery there is an image of Jesus guarded by angels with the Virgen Dolorosa at the foot of the cross.

Trinidad de las Huertas Church
Cuahutemoc #100
The birthplace of Oaxaca's famous Radish Night. Across the street is a great place for fresh juices and piedrazos.

El Patrocinio
Southeast side of Llano Park
This eighteenth-century church is consecrated to Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio. The architectural layout consists of a single nave covered by barrel vaults. The main facade consists of a portada and two slender towers.

San Francisco Church
Six blocks southeast of the Zócalo, between J.P. Bustamante and Armenta y López; two blocks from La Defensa Church
Earthquake damage in 1787 altered the appearance of this 16th century church. What you can see is the only estipite facade in Oaxaca City. On the lower level of the facade are statues of St Francis of Assisi and St. Peter of Alcantara. There is also a statue of the black saint from Lima Peru, Saint Martin de Porres. He fed the poor, ministered to slaves, and treated hurt animals, even the lowly rat at his foot.

Siete Principes Church
Located next to the Casa de la Cultura Oaxaqueña

Templo de la Compañia/Iglesia de la Inmaculada
Southwest of the Zócalo at the corner of Flores Magon and Trujano
Built in 1579 by la Compañia de Jesús, this church was built by the Jesuits and maintained until the order was expelled from Mexico in 1767. Later it was declared a historical monument in 1930. Open from 7am-12:30pm and from 5-8:45pm.

Guadalupe Sanctuary
North side of Llano Park
Inaugurated in 1644, this church venerates the Virgin of Guadalupe. The main celebration takes place on December 12. If you are seeking fresh rompope, the nuns often sell this outside the church after the Sunday noon mass. On the southeast side of the church is the Capilla de Belén.

La Merced Church
Manuel Doblado, between Independencia and Hidalgo, 5 blocks east of the Zócalo
This church was built in 1646. The special day is August 31st when the church commemorates the "Blessing of the Animals" and parishoners bring their pets -- appropriately dressed for the occasion.

Nuestra Señora de las Nieves Church
Corner of Reforma (formerly Calle Las Nieves) and Morelos
Formerly part of the Colegio de San Juan. The church was first built in 1579 and renovated in 1770. The church has characteristics of renaissance and baroque architecture.

Nuestra Señora de la Defensa Church
Corner of Arteaga and Fiallo
Sadly three 18th century paintings were stolen from this church.

San Matías Jalatlaco
Aldama, Colonia Jalatlaco
Located in one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, this church has a renovated pipe organ and a beautiful tree on its east side. Construction began in the late 1600s. The left side of the front has a belfry tower and the towerless right side has a beautiful spiral design.

San Agustin Church
Armenta y López and Guerrero, two blocks east of the Zócalo
Look for the carving of Saint Agustine holding the City of God. His feast day is celebrated on August 28.

San Felipe Neri Church
Independencia and Tinoco y Palacios
Inaugurated in 1644, the church showcases the opulence of the era and modern touches, including art deco painting. It is famous for its role in Oaxacan history as the church where Benito Juárez married Margarita Maza.

Carmen Abajo Church
Tinoco y Palacios #620, corner of Morelos and across from Casa de la Ciudad
First thing you might notice about this lovely church is that it is shaped as a cross. Focus on the name and a few questions arise. In Oaxaca City, there is a Lower Church (Bajo or Abajo, depending on which sign you read) of Saint Carmen and an Upper Church (Alto or de Ariba). Why? There are two explanations. Carmen Alto is built on higher ground than Carmen Bajo. The second explanation is that Carmen Alto was attended by the Spanish colonists whereas Carmen Bajo ministered to indigenous and mestizos populations. It gets a bit more complicated when we look at the history. The first name of the church was 'Las Lágrimas de San Pedro' or St. Peter's Tears. Then it was called 'Los Dolores' and finally 'Del Carmen de Abajo.'

Carmen Alto Church
Corner of Jésus Carranza and García Vigil
Built around 1670 to house Carmelite friars, the church is said to have been constructed on the site of a temple dedicated to the goddess Centéotl, goddess of corn and fertility. The Spanish destroyed the temple, built the church on top and converted the summer celebration to the July 16 feast day of Saint Carmen, which launches the Guelaguetza celebration in July. Built in a neoclassic style, it houses the Virgin of el Carmen and other religious paintings. Around 1856 the convent was secularized and passed into the hands of the federal government; it then served as a jail and a cavalry barracks. The church has been restored and is open for public worship.The Plazuela de Carmen Alto is on the south side of the church. In January the church hosts one of Oaxaca's best firework displays in honor of the Christ of Esquipulas.

Parroquia de Consolación
Moctezuma and Bustamante Streets
The construction of the first church, dedicated to Nuestra Señora de la Consolación, was carried out between 1656 and 1661. In 1679 the Carmelites used it before they founded their convent. It has two atriums, one in front of the main facade and the other to the south (between the parochial annex and the church).

Santo Tomas Xochimilco
Colonia Xochimilco
According to some this church was built over an indigenous temple in the 16th century. Trees in the atrium include jacarandas, huajes and causarinas. On Fridays and Saturdays the Pochote natural food and craft market is open from 9am-3pm.

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WALKING TOUR

Walking tours for the devout, the lapsed and the never-were are guided by Linda Martin, a U.S. artist who discusses art, architecture and history. Join the tour in front of the Cathedral near the Zócalo at 10am on Tuesdays and Saturdays. A donation of 100 pesos per person is suggested which goes to a Oaxacan charity. To schedule a tour at other times contact Linda via email.

HISTORIC ORGANS

Oaxaca has a number of historic organs, many of which have been restored by the Historic Organ Institute. Organs have not fared well in the region given the numerous earthquakes and tremendous termite problem. During the Mexican revolution soldiers dismanted several organs' lead pipes to make bullets.


AUTHOR

Ron Mader is the responsible travel correspondent for Transitions Abroad and host of the award-winning Planeta.com website.


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