Consecration of the First Cathedral in Mexico Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In 1667, the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City was officially dedicated, following nearly a century’s worth of building and design. From that point, the cathedral became the architectural and ceremonial focal point of the city’s Catholic and Spanish heritage.

Summary of Event

In 1667, the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City (sometimes referred to as the Cathedral of Mexico or the Cathedral of the Ascension of Mary) was officially dedicated by the city’s civic and religious leaders. A grand example of Spanish architecture during the colonial period, the cathedral had been originally established in 1563, near the site of former Aztec pyramids. Over the next hundred years, steady work was performed on the building and a regular stream of architects contributed to the cathedral’s evolving design. In 1572, Archbishop Pedro Moya de Contreras Contreras, Pedro Moya de laid the first stone, and in 1667 the building was formally dedicated by Antonio Sebastian de Toledo, Toledo, Antonio Sebastian de the marqués de Mancera. Mancera, marqués de Although work continued on the cathedral up through the nineteenth century, the present-day building is easily recognizable from its presentation in 1667. [kw]Consecration of the First Cathedral in Mexico (1667) [kw]Mexico, Consecration of the First Cathedral in (1667) [kw]Cathedral in Mexico, Consecration of the First (1667) Architecture;1667: Consecration of the First Cathedral in Mexico[2270] Organizations and institutions;1667: Consecration of the First Cathedral in Mexico[2270] Religion and theology;1667: Consecration of the First Cathedral in Mexico[2270] Mexico;1667: Consecration of the First Cathedral in Mexico[2270] Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City Cathedral of Mexico (Metropolitan Cathedral) Ascension of Mary, Cathedral of the (Metropolitan Cathedral)

The first church in Mexico City had been built around 1524, shortly after the Spanish conquest and nearly coincident with the appointment of Fray Juan de Zumárraga to the bishopric of Mexico. Forty years later, a new cathedral was established just north of the older church. The erection of the new cathedral was part of the first of two great “waves” of building in Mexico City that took place during the colonial period. Different designs had been proposed for the new cathedral, and the resulting plan followed closely the styles that were then typical of late sixteenth century Spanish architecture. It was during this period that the cathedral’s walls and vaults were begun.

The second great wave of work on the cathedral took place from 1630 through the 1660’. In 1629, Mexico City had been besieged by massive rainstorms, which caused flooding that left the city submerged for nearly five years. During this time, some of the city’s leaders had proposed abandoning the flooded city and establishing a new capital on the shore of Lake Texcoco. However, Rodrigo Pacheco y Osorio, Pacheco y Osorio, Rodrigo the marqués de Cerralvo, Cerralvo, marqués de the viceroy of Mexico City, ardently resisted the proposed plan to move the capital, and he eventually prevailed. Over the next several years, he oversaw an extensive effort to rebuild the city’s civic and religious buildings. The result of this large-scale renovation was a steady influx of architects and builders who implemented much of the city’s Baroque architecture, most notably seen in the cathedral itself.

As the centerpiece of the city’s rebuilding project, the cathedral drew a number of prominent architects, from both New and Old Spain. The most famous of these was the architect Juan Gómez de Trasmonte, Gómez de Trasmonte, Juan who worked on the cathedral from 1640 to 1661. Some of his work on the cathedral was completed in 1681 by Rodrigo Diaz de Aguilera, Diaz de Aguilera, Rodrigo while the construction of the cathedral’s temple was overseen by Melchor Pérez de Soto, Pérez de Soto, Melchor a Spaniard who had been driven out of his country by the Inquisition, apparently because of his demonstrated interest in astrology. Work on the cathedral during this period had largely followed the plans that had been established at the beginning of the seventeenth century, although Trasmonte had at one point proposed a radical plan for expanding the girth of the pillars. Although his plan was rejected, the contribution of so many architects ensured a wide variety of styles and ornamentation.

By common assent, the cathedral that was dedicated in 1667 represented a remarkable synthesis of European architectural styles. For example, the numerous vaults added to the cathedral during this period are clearly Gothic or neo-Gothic, while the temple’s altars are clearly Baroque in appearance. The three most prominent styles incorporated into the building are classical, neoclassical, and Baroque, the last of which was the predominant “new” architectural style in colonial Mexico. In this respect, the cathedral reflected the developing architectural styles of the home country, Spain, even as it helped to produce a flourishing of Baroque architecture in the colonial city itself. Even at its dedication, the cathedral was commended for its relatively seamless incorporation of multiple styles, such as the mixture of neoclassical and Baroque elements in its huge facade—which, unlike the walls and vault, had been constructed in the seventeenth century, at the height of Baroque vogue.

Almost immediately after its dedication, the cathedral assumed prime importance in the symbolic and mythological character of the city. The dedication itself can be seen as a politically charged event, and it has been argued that the newly appointed viceroy staged the ceremony partly to confirm his civic authority. Shortly after the cathedral’s dedication, the well-known Baroque historian Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora Sigüenza y Góngora, Carlos de devoted an entire volume to the history of the Mexico City cathedral, although the work itself has not survived. The development of the cathedral’s architecture continued long after its dedication, and in 1813 the architect Manuel Tolsá Tolsá, Manuel added a balustrade and changed the cathedral’s cupola in order to emphasize the building’s synthetic appearance.

Significance

The dedication of the Metropolitan Cathedral in the seventeenth century was the ceremonious acknowledgment of two important trends in colonial Mexico, one architectural and the other sociopolitical. Architecturally, the cathedral embodied the dramatic influence of European styles, especially the Baroque, in colonial Latin America. In many ways the Baroque style became more entrenched in Mexico than in many parts of Europe, where it was sometimes considered gaudy or eclectic. The cathedral both embodied the presence of the Baroque in colonial Mexico and encouraged the spread of this architectural style throughout the rest of the city over the next two centuries.

At the same time, the inauguration and dedication of the cathedral helped to solidify the city’s role as the capital of colonial Mexico, a position that had been somewhat precarious since the disastrous flood of 1629. Moreover, the Catholic Church had been both an intrusive and a controversial presence in the social and political life of Mexicans since its introduction to the New World in the sixteenth century, stretching its arms into areas ranging from the establishment of governing clergy to the codification of marriage laws. Thus, the cathedral’s dedication in 1667 reaffirmed, in both symbolic and practical terms, the continuation of the Church’s influence in daily life.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baird, Joseph A. The Churches of Mexico, 1530-1810. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962. A concise history of the major churches and cathedrals in Mexico, with attention paid to historical context, major architects, and architectural details. Several photographs, biographies of architects, a glossary, and a bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Leonard, Irving A. Baroque Times in Old Mexico: Seventeenth-Century Persons, Places, and Practices. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1959. A lucid account of the social and cultural life of colonial Mexico, with much attention paid to religious and cultural institutions in Mexico City during the period. Bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schwaller, John F., ed. The Church in Colonial Latin America. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 2000. A collection of essays on the role of the Catholic Church in seventeenth century Mexico, dealing with the Church’s influence on political and social institutions (such as marriage), as well as the ritualization of religious practices and ceremonies in specific locations, such as the church in Mexico City. Suggested readings, bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weismann, Elizabeth Wilder, and Judith Hancock Sandoval. Art and Time in Mexico from the Conquest to the Revolution. New York: Harper & Row, 1995. A well-illustrated book on colonial architecture in Mexico, with a chapter devoted to the cathedrals that were built in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Several photographs, bibliography.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City Cathedral of Mexico (Metropolitan Cathedral) Ascension of Mary, Cathedral of the (Metropolitan Cathedral)

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