Churches of Latin America: Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a los Cielos, Mexico City

Continuing on with our considerations of some of the beautiful and historic churches of the old colonial missions in Latin America, we turn to the Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a los cielos (Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven) in Mexico City. 

The cathedral itself was strategically placed to sit near the former, main Aztec holy site, being built in sections between the years 1573 to 1813.  Due to the long period of building, the cathedral complex is composed of a number of period stylistic influences, ranging from baroque to neoclassical to gothic elements. To set this into some historical context for our readers, this means that construction work on this cathedral  began only a decade after the closing of the Council of Trent and planning for it began prior to the closing of that council. 

The primary entrance of the cathedral boasts a relief sculpture of Our Lady of the Assumption, patronal namesake of the Metropolitan Cathedral, with statues of St. Matthew and St. Andrew to either side. Beside the main door of the cathedral are images of Ss. Peter and Paul.  Personifications of  the virtues of faith, hope and charity are found above the clock on the clocktower. 

Especially prominent to the exterior of the cathedral are the belltowers which boast 27 bells in total, the largest of which weighs over 29,000 pounds (13,000 kg). 

Located to the right of the main cathedral, we must mention the Sagrario Metropolitano, which is essentially a distinct chapel that is also the place used to house the historical vestments of the Archbishop of Mexico City. 

Interior of the Sagrario Metropolitano. As you can see, it effectively amounts to a fully functioning church in its own right.

But of course, the main interest is the interior of the cathedral itself, beginning with the sanctuary. regrettably the original high altar no longer exists, but one can still see the remnants of it.

The following historical illustrations gives some sense of the high altar and sanctuary as it existed:

Some other views of the central nave. One will take note here of the traditional ornamental covering of the architecture with decorative textiles, similar to what one frequently sees in Italy and Malta.

The contemporary, post-conciliar high altar

Next we look toward the great choir and organ of the cathedral, constructed between 1696-97 of mahogany, walnut, cedar and a local wood, tepehuaje.  The balustrade that separates the choir from the main nave is dated to 1722. 

But if Spanish baroque is your thing, the many chapels and other altars found within the cathedral are going to be of particular interest to you. Here is just a small selection of some of these and some details of their gilt altarpieces. Two of the most impressive are the Altar of Forgiveness and the Altar of the Kings.

Altar del Perdon (Altar of Forgiveness)

Altar de los Reyes (Altar of the Kings). Construction on this altar, found within the royal chapel of the cathedral, began in 1718 and was completed in 1737. The retablo is made from gilt cedar and is considered an example of, specifically, Mexican baroque.  The sculptural programme of this altar is filled with saints of royal blood, including St. Helena and St. Edward the Confessor.

Detail from the Altar of the Kings

A further sampling from some of the other chapels with some selected details to give you a sense of the copious detail and colours of the sculptural programme. Each chapel, as is typical, is aligned to a particular saint or theme and their execution was each entrusted to one of the religious guilds of the city.  The cathedral boasts sixteen chapels in total. Here is a taste of some of them.

Altar of the Divine Saviour

Detail from the reliquary chapel

A neo-classsical altar

A few other details worth sharing.

Finally, what tour would be complete with a quick peak into the sacristy, one of the oldest sections of the cathedral in this instance, combining both gothic and renaissance influences.  The walls of the sacristy contain paintings of The Triumph of the Eucharist, The Church Militant and Church Triumphant, The Virgin of the Apocalypse and more. 

If, however, you'd like a look into the sacristy closets themselves, I'd recommend you read our article dedicated to the subject. 

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