Tuesday, March 08, 2011

nun but the brave

Other than the cathedral (and its Aztec annex), our tour did not visit any other churches in Mexico City.

That may be an accomplishment in itself.  You cannot swing a Canadian tourist in Mexico City without hitting another church.  Their bell towers and domes are ubiquitous.

During a bit of our free time, I decided to visit a little church that was just down the street from our hotel.

The church is not that small.  It simply seems that way because its
façade is quite narrow --tucked in between the city’s modern workaday buildings.  I managed to walk past it three times without seeing it.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar (its official name, but popularly known as La Enseñanza from its heritage as a school for young women) is an architectural gem.  Both the
façade and the interior are renowned as the pinnacle of Mexico’s Churrigueresque style.

If you are not familiar with the term, think of it as Hispanic Rococo – that hyperactive cousin of Baroque that never met a curlicue it did not like.  It is not my favorite, but the architect of this church knew his stuff.

The church's past represents a nice summary of Mexico’s checkered history with its church.  Completed in 1778, it served as a church until the government seized it as part of its Reform Movement in 1867 -- and turned it into a prison.  It then served as the home of several government agencies until it was refurbished and restored to worship in 1974.

I am not certain what was refurbished.  Certainly the altarpiece received some attention.  It is a true work of art.  Excessive art.  But art, nonetheless.  You could perform a good portion of The Sound of Music in front of it.

When I visited, there were a few worshipers in prayer.  That has been true of every church I have visited in Mexico.  Faith is not a Sundays-only affectation for many Mexicans.

But I saw something unusual in this church.  For a long period, priests and nuns were prohibited from wearing their clerical garb in public.  Those days are now gone.  But I have not seen very many habit-wearing nuns in Mexico.  Maybe because Mexico has the same nun shortage as the rest of the Roman church.

I was lucky that day.  Off the street came two nuns in updated habits.  They approached the altar and prayed briefly.  And then left.  For all I know, they are part of the order that now maintains the church.

There was something nice about seeing a church restored – and nuns going about the business to which they have dedicated their lives.

And the place is certainly far more pleasant than it would have been as a prison.


teresa freeburn said...

i enlarged the picture of the altar and the first adjective that came to mind was "manificent!" "that hyperactive cousin of Baroque that never met a curlicue it didn't like" gave me a good chuckle, something i needed after waking up to yet another day with a cold that doesn't seem to want to budge.

enjoying all the reports on your trip.

have a great day!

Felipe Zapata said...

One church worth a visit, due to being a good bit different than most, is the "new" church of the Virgin Guadalupe. Built during the stoned hippie era, the 1970s, and you can definitely see that influence.

Jem_ca said...

Please take care with those Canadian tourists.
Elaine in BC Canada

Steve Cotton said...

No Canadians were harmed in the making of this post.

I suppose I should explain a little. The expatriate community in Melaque is made up of at least 80% Canadians. On each of my tours, the figure may have been closer to 90%. Thus my little inside joke.

Steve Cotton said...

I need to make the trek. I find the fusion of Mary and the Aztec goddess Tonantzin to be fascinating. And that Mary in the robes of John Paul II on the side of the Metropolitan Cathedral is just the height of kitsch. I do not criticize anyone's spirituality. But the potrayal can be jarring.

Steve Cotton said...

I know what you mean. I am sitting in Salem today -- looking forward to my return to the warmth on Saturday.

Nita said...

One of the things I like best about the churches in Mexico, they never seem to be locked, not even at night, so you don't have to be just a Sunday worshiper. In the states they are locked up tight, for fear of vandalism.

Steve Cotton said...

That is an interesting observation. When I toured the Yucatan, Islagringo and I were shocked that almost all of the churches were locked -- even during the day. And some of the outer gates were padlocked. I have no idea why that was true. Everywhere else I have been in Mexico (including Melaque), the churches are open during the day.

Kim G said...

I haven't yet seen that church. I'll have to add it to my list.

One of my favorites near there is Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Loreto, which is at the corner of San Idelfonso and Jesus María, behind and slightly west of La Catedral Metropolitana. Built in a modified Greek-revival style, it has some fantastic (though damaged) frescoes inside, and beautiful architecture.

Hope you are doing well.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we have quite a few nice churches too. But more puritan and restrained.

Steve Cotton said...

We were almost churchless on this tour. But there will be other visits.