In the area of the Popocatépetl volcano in central Mexico, monks of the Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians built numerous monasteries for the missionary work of the Aztecs and other Indian peoples in the 16th century. Fourteen of these monasteries were included in the World Heritage List. They are impressive architectural witnesses to the missionary era.
Monasteries on the slopes of Popocatepetl: facts
|Official title:||16th century monasteries on the slopes of Popocatépetl|
|Cultural monument:||14 monasteries on the slopes of the volcano, which is still active today: Atlatlahuacán, Tetela del Volcán, Cuernavaca, Tepoztlan, Zacualpan de Amilpas, Hueyapan, Yecapixtla, Tlayacapan, Yautepec, Totolapan and Ocuituco (Morelos State) and Calpan Tochimilco (State of Morelos) and Calpan Tochimilco, Puebla State|
|Country:||Mexico, Puebla and Morelos|
|Location:||on the foothills of the Popocatépetl, southeast of Mexico City|
|Meaning:||Well-preserved evidence of the architecture of the Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians in Mexico to this day|
Monasteries on the slopes of Popocatepetl: history
|1523||Settlement of Franciscans|
|1526||Settlement of Dominicans|
|1529||Founding of a monastery in Huejotzingo|
|1534||Settlement of Augustinians|
|1570-1600||Construction of the Atlatlahuacán Monastery|
|1859||Abolition of the order under the government of Benito Juárez|
16th century monasteries on the slopes of Popocatépetl
According to oxfordastronomy, the Spanish conquistadors under the leadership of Hernán Cortés landed near the present-day city of Veracruz in the Gulf of Mexico in 1519 and marched from there to Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztecs, now part of Mexico City. Franciscans, Augustinians and Dominicans followed these first invaders into the New World and built numerous monasteries and churches at the foot of the snow-covered five-thousand-meter peaks Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl.
Initially, these sacred buildings had a defensive character, which can easily be seen in the battlements and battlements as well as thick walls with small windows. Another characteristic is a large forecourt with a stone cross in the middle. At its four corners there are “capillas posas”, processional chapels, which are used on the one hand to store statues of saints for processions and on the other hand to relax and unwind during long celebrations. A wide staircase with several arches between the atrium and the monastery entrance underlines the open design. A two-story cloister forms the center of the monastery, usually with a fountain in the middle. The architectural styles include classical Gothic, the (Moorish) Mudejar style and elements of the Renaissance.
The small town of Huejotzingo is 2300 meters high at the foot of the Iztaccíhuatl, the neighboring volcano of the Popocatépetl. The former Chichimec settlement cooperated with Cortés in 1519, so that the Franciscans began building a monastery ten years later in order to spread the “true faith” from here. An imposing flight of steps leads to the monastery entrance, the columns of which are adorned with artistic stone carvings. Inside, many of the original frescoes have been preserved, showing, among other things, the arrival of the first twelve Franciscans in Mexico.
Two years after stepping on Mexican soil, the Franciscans reached Cuernavaca and immediately began building a monastery there, which they completed within four years. This monastery adjoins the cathedral, which is flanked by two chapels. The monk Toribio de Motolinía sat in the cloistered patio of the monastery and wrote down his famous notes on the history and way of life of the indigenous people. An essential structural feature of the early Franciscan foundations is often a »capilla abierta«, an »open chapel«, which made it easier for the Indian population to be evangelized to enter and stay.
In the hills of the state of Morelos, at an altitude of 1630 meters, one encounters the Augustinian monastery of Tlayacapan, the vestibule of which opens onto the cloister with its Gothic arches. Volcanic stone of different color nuances served as building material. The main hall is decorated with frescoes depicting the stations of Christ’s passion. Meanwhile, the monastery friars’ dining room, the refectory, has been converted into a small archeology museum.
To the northwest of this monastery is Totolapan with the monastery founded by Jorge de Avila in 1534, which the Augustinians completed at the beginning of the 17th century. Some of the frescoes, albeit heavily faded and partially damaged, date from the first days of this sacred building. Only a few kilometers southeast of here, the Augustinians built the monastery of Atlatlahuacán in the second half of the 16th century, in whose cloister vault there are also remains of frescoes.
The Augustinian monastery was first founded on Mexican soil in 1534 in Ocuituco. The large church forecourt there is dominated by the stone cross, and a hexagonal fountain is surrounded by animal sculptures. In Zacualpan de Amilpas, the frescoes of the cloister in the Augustinian monastery from the 16th century were restored in the 19th century and are therefore particularly easy to recognize.
Located on Tochimilco’s main square, the Augustinian monastery with its Renaissance-style facade attracts numerous visitors on weekends: Catholicism is deeply rooted in the souls of Mexicans, and the first monasteries are known to every schoolchild.