It is located in the trascoro, in the front of the central nave. The altarpiece was made by the Spanish architect Jerónimo de Balbás in 1735, being one of his most important works. It is baroque, finished in gold leaf, represents the first use of the stipe in the Americas, in which, the columns represent the human body. In early 1967 there was a fire in the cathedral that damaged the altar. Thanks to the restoration practiced, today you can admire a great work of viceregal art.
It is called that because it is behind the door of the same name. Although there are two other legends about the origin of the name, the first states that those condemned by the Inquisition were taken to the altar to apologize before their execution. The second refers to the painter Simon Pereyns, author of many works in the cathedral, which was reportedly accused of blasphemy and sentenced to prison, while in prison, painted a beautiful image of the Virgin Mary, so his crime He was forgiven.
On this altar is the image of Jesus Christ crucified made of corn cane paste known as the Lord of the Poison. The image dates back to the 18th century and was originally in the chapel of the Porta Coeli Seminary in Mexico City, but after it was closed to public worship in 1935, it was transferred to the Metropolitan Cathedral. His party is celebrated on October 19.
Altar of Forgiveness
It is called the altar of forgiveness in the Spanish cathedrals which occupies the storage and that is why it is in front of the main door of the church that also receives the name of the door of forgiveness. Let this be that the penitentiaries of the Holy Office entered through that door to reconcile with the church that magnanimously granted their forgiveness, after certain ritual ceremonies. In all Spanish cathedrals there is the door called Forgiveness.
This altar can only be dated from the time after the conclusion of the Cathedral. We do not know what his disposition was in the seventeenth century, but only that it was released on August 5, 1650, as Guijo notes in his Journal (p. 136): “On that day, (August 5, 1650) they celebrated the brothers of the brotherhood of Our Lady of Forgiveness of the altar of the cathedral the feast of the Snows, which was this day, and premiered a collateral, and renewed the brush of the Virgin and canvases of the twelve apostles, and added the four evangelists: it was a very solemn party, which had its beginning since last year of 1648, and the church and chapel chapel sang the mass, and all of it attended, and all the expenses of the referred and paid by the council are collected from the royal environment that each of the brothers gives each week, and this day they elect rector, The current date of the eighteenth century and, according to the chroniclers of the Cathedral, was dedicated on June 29, 1737. According to traditional news, his work is due to the same architect Jerónimo de Balbás who made the altar of the Kings and the former cypress.
Three first-order works of art adorn this altarpiece. On the altar table, covering the tabernacle, an oil painting with a Holy Face. It is clearly signed by the distinguished painter Alonso López de Herrera, who flourished at the beginning of the 17th century and left a magnificent series of works that make our colonial painting proud. This cannot be considered among the best creations of his spirit, as he had to follow certain previous indications that give his painting a somewhat conventional appearance. However, you can make sure that it is better than others that with the same theme are preserved from the same architect.
The large painting that decorates the center of the altar represents the Virgin Mary with the Child in her arms, some saints at her sides and angels at the top. This image has given rise to a legend deeply rooted in the colonial era. It was said that such painting was the work of a prisoner who had obtained his freedom in an extraordinary way, since having managed to bribe his jailer to provide him with colors and brushes, he painted on the same door of his cell an image of the Virgin.
When the judges who had sentenced him to prison saw that very devout image, they decided that a man who knew how to paint pictures with images of such purity, of such religious fervor, could not be guilty of the crimes that were imputed to him and that consequently, he should be released incontinenti. Historians who have dealt with this matter are satisfied that this painting cannot refer to another painter than to Simon Pereyns, who more or less suffered all the vicissitudes referred to in such a legend.
A famous painter who had arrived in Mexico in 1566 in the entourage of the viceroy Don Gastón de Peralta, two years later, due to carelessness in his way of speaking or rather because of the lack of protection, since the viceroy had He was called to Spain, was prosecuted for badly sounded words and sentenced to paint at his expense an image of Our Lady of Mercy for the old cathedral in Mexico. I suppose that the invocation of the painting was changed and that Pereyns really painted this image as punishment for his naive sins.
The fact that the painting is on a table with door nails, as any spectator can observe, indicates only that there was not a table large enough for the defendant to fulfill his sentence and, then, on the leaves of a door whose nails were flattened by force of hammer and on which a cloth was placed, he had to paint his picture.
In the upper part there is a painting that represents San Sebastián and that, like his partner below, has been the object of an ancient tradition. According to her, this painting is due to an extraordinary woman named Sumaya, who taught the art of painting to the famous painter Baltasar by Echave Orio.
All traditions have, apart from the beauty that surrounds them, a background of reality. The reality in this legend is what we give next. Baltasar de Echave, born near Zumaya in Guipúzcoa, in the mid-16th century, arrived in Mexico and, interacting with his countrymen, entered the workshop of Francisco Ibía, a native of Zumaya, his landowner, known for the place of his birth, which He was a prestigious painter in New Spain. Echave, endowed with great faculties, studied painting with his countryman and managed to develop his art in an extraordinary way.
Mexico, at that time, was a city to which artists such as works of art from Spain, Flanders, Italy. Echave, it can be said, discovered himself and eventually became obfuscated until his master Francisco de Zumaya was forgotten. But he had a daughter. Her name was Isabel: she was very beautiful. Echave, like the apprentices of many other painters’, as well as that apprentice whose name was Diego Velásquez, seized on the daughter of his teacher Francisco Pacheco, fell in love and married her in 1582, without still being a distinguished painter teacher Echave continued to work, and just as Velasquez completely overshadowed Pacheco, he left Zumaya in the shade. It is the tradition and research of modern critics that have turned their prestige to this ignored artist. Tradition says that it was Zumaya who taught Echave to paint. It would perhaps be Zumaya’s love that made Echave learn painting, but not from her, but from her father, Zumaya.
The painting of San Sebastián, which can hardly be studied by the height at which it is found and by the hateful and useless glass that covers it, is, at present, the legend of which we have spoken, the only one that can be documented of Francisco de Zumaya.4 It should be noted that in the old cathedral of Mexico a brotherhood of San Sebastián founded before 1565. For this brotherhood the picture we have studied may have been painted.
The altar was dedicated on June 19, 1737 and the chroniclers of the Cathedral assume that it was the work of the same Jerónimo de Balbás who made the altar of the Kings and the so-called cypress. Occupy the trascoro. It consists of a first body formed by four stipes and a second in the form of a semicircular auction with medallions with saints in relief. They represent San Cayetano, San Felipe de Neri, San Apolonio, San Dativo, San Saturnino, San Leandro, San Valentino, San Cándido, San Delfino and Ananías. There are also eight sculptures in the same altarpiece that represent San Rodrigo, San Félix, San Pedro Arbués and San Zenón; in addition, San Lorenzo, San Esteban, San Juan Nepomuceno and San Cayetano.
Destroying the harmony of this altarpiece, a relief with the Holy Trinity surrounded by a golden gust was placed on the Virgin painted by Pereyns. Also another symbol with such a burst in the upper part. Both aggregates were the work of the pious, although indiscreet ecclesiastical zeal of Don Francisco Ontiveros, of whom we have spoken.
Artistic styles of the Cathedral
The fact that the Cathedral of Mexico is an authentic school of the diverse artistic currents that took place during four centuries is impressive, and that were reflected both inside and outside, given that while it was built, the various trends, movements and art schools in the field of architecture, painting, sculpture, etc. that according to the various builders, influenced their building.
Thus, we talk about 400 years of artistic culture using all kinds of material, such as wood, metal, tezontle, stone, marble, stucco, and especially quarry that is the most widespread material of the Cathedral, in this way we speak from Gothic art, at the end of the fifteenth century until the neoclassical of the nineteenth century both in its construction and in its altarpieces, sculptures, columns, shelves, balustrades, vaults, and we can affirm that our Cathedral has all the styles that were born, grew, matured and finally disappeared during its construction and that logically influenced its factory, the only styles that are not found are the last ones, generically called “modern” or “modernist” and especially the “postmodernists”, thinking that the Cathedral finishes its construction towards the year 1813
The oldest of the styles found in the Cathedral is the so-called “Gothic”, a term coined by Renaissance humanists to despise the “art of the Goths,” today the French, and despite efforts to change the term, this one it was already in the memory of the centuries.
Gothic art is usually divided into three stages that span from the eleventh century to the end of the fifteenth century. From the first period called “primitive Gothic” we have as an example the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (a. 1163); from the second that is called “full Gothic” we have as an example the Chartres Cathedral (a. 1250), and from the third period, called “late Gothic” we have as an example the Royal Chapel in the College of Cambridge (a. 1515).
As characteristics characteristic of Gothic art, we have the use of the ogival form (in the form of a leaf); the ribs in the vaults and columns and the use of the rosettes (multicolored circular stained glass). The Gothic, like all art, reflects the values of the spirit of the time, thus, in the Middle Ages it deprived a spirituality directed “upwards”, that is, towards the height where God is, hence the man should “look to the heights “more than to the realities of the earth, from here the very high ships, the ogives of arches, ships and stained glass windows that end in point, and that invited to go towards the top, where the true values were.
The interiors of the Gothic cathedrals were rather dark, as if inviting meditation, prayer, and interiority. The Gothic is disappearing towards the fifteenth century, and yet, the portentous creativity of the Gothic man, still today causes a deep admiration, which certainly influenced not only in France, but throughout Europe, including Spain, where art comes to us Gothic.
When the construction of the Cathedral of Mexico began, the Gothic was already in its last stages, giving way to new and different architectural and artistic conceptions in general, however, the Cathedral also has some gothic brushstroke like the two wonderful vaults of the Sacristy carried by the gothic ribs and sub-stalls, the same goes for the vaults that cover the Chapter House, twin of the Sacristy and that form, together with the apse of today Altar de los Reyes, the oldest cathedral buildings, although there are no rosettes.
The Herreriano Art
The next of the architectural styles that we find in the Cathedral is the so-called Herreriano that, although it is not the immediate follower of the Gothic, because this is followed by the Mannerism of which the Cathedral does not have any example, because he had already finished his time when he construction of the cathedral building begins.
The herreriano is a style named for the architect Juan de Herrera who owes this style whose best example is the Escorial (a. 1584) and whose work was under the orders of King Felipe II (1552-1584), style that It was promoted in Spanish America.
The herreriano has as its own characteristics: its monumentality, its sobriety, its classic elegance and its severe and broad style. Like the Gothic, also the herreriano is caused by the spirituality of his time that carries the idea of a Church solidly grounded, of strength and greatness, but at the same time of great sobriety, so that luxuries and ornaments are eliminated.
Under these concepts, the herreriano will use large spaces, whose long, solid and tall walls, are only interrupted by the large square windows, with a trellis, that illuminate the interior, so in this style multicolored stained glass windows are not used.
The idea is perfectly expressed by the elements that make up this architectural type. Being therefore the herreriano the style that is own of Spain and promoted by the same King Felipe II, nothing strange that it passed his influence to the Spanish Colonies, and thus, our Cathedral has the herreriano to a large extent.
Indeed, the large spaces of the side walls, both east and west and also the apse walls, interrupted by the large square windows that illuminate the interior of the Chapels, give an imposing monumentality seen from the outside. And inside, both the Sacristy and the Chapter Hall, are a clear example of the rigor of Herrera with such severity, that later its walls were covered with large paintings and altarpieces
Between the last Gothic stadium, at the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the Baroque at the end of the 16th century, there was a period that produced Mannerism in the first part of the 16th century in Italy.
Mannerism was an aesthetic movement that reflected the crisis in art that appeared in this period and is characterized by a turbulent art, full of contradictions, rare and exaggerated with anguishing visions of nightmare and even diabolical, so it is difficult to define it with precision.
Architecture did not receive as much influence as painting and sculpture, so we do not properly have examples of this style. As a reaction to Mannerism, a new artistic form emerges that receives the name of Baroque, a term of origin really uncertain, since some do derive from the Italian term “Baroque” which is the name of a medieval syllogism and others of the Portuguese language “Baroque” that in jewelry means an irregular pearl so it will be until the 19th century when it is given a more precise definition.
Baroque dominated in general terms, from the end of the 16th century until the middle of the 18th century and three well-defined stages can be considered: primitive baroque, full baroque and late baroque. The baroque is mystical exuberance in all artistic orders.
The sixteenth century was one of the most prolific times for being a century of passage, transition. There is an extraordinary effervescence in the political, economic, social, artistic and attached to this, the discovery of the New World, transforms international relations, so Baroque art is the reflection of this widespread mood.
In the religious, the great changes that came from the Protestant Reformation and the reaction of the Catholic Church, resulted in a change in all the arts where the baroque was manifested as the exuberant of faith, and the splendor of the Catholic cult in architecture, sculpture, painting, literature and even music, baroque reaction that appears widespread in all Catholic areas, in the face of Puritanism and the exaggerated sobriety of Protestants.
Thus, the mysticism of the Baroque underlines the optimism, vitality and triumph of the Catholic faith in its splendid ornaments, ornaments and, at that time, bold artistic conceptions. On the other hand, the baroque unifies three of the great arts: architecture, sculpture and painting, so that the most important thing in the baroque is not the detail, but the overall vision, which even today, makes those who marvel contemplate the mastery of this style.
In Mexico, as in all of Latin America, the bold inventiveness of Spanish architects, together with the profound artistic vision of the natives, gave new and surprising visions to the Baroque, especially during the 18th century, precisely when in Europe the Baroque was extinguished little by little, degenerating into the exaggeration of the rococo, or, as in other cases, assuming the neoclassical style.
From the splendor of the Baroque in its various stages, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico is one of its clearest examples, because indeed, during the development of the Baroque they are under its influence from the incipient Baroque of the front, eastern and western front covers to to reach its maximum expression inside the Chapels with its extraordinary altarpieces, mainly the Altar of the Kings and the Chapel of the Angels, to name a few, which we will see in more detail in the following files.
The Neoclassical Art
The baroque in its last stage, was assumed in other styles, including the Neoclassical. This is an artistic movement that was born in Europe towards the second half of the 18th century (1750) and lasts until the end of the 19th century. Actually it was a reaction to the exaggerated style of Rococo, heir of the Baroque, on the one hand, and on the other hand, was the result of the discovery at that time, of two Greco-Roman cities: Pompeii and Herculaneum, in Italy, whose art influenced prevailing mode at that time.
As a fundamental feature, the neoclassical sought to imitate Greco-Roman architectural models, mainly Doric art. His mysticism is based on a romantic sense of classical values and a spirituality focused on the longing for Greek heroic times.
Romanticism was the main feature of literature and music in the nineteenth century, and also influenced the arts such as painting, sculpture and architecture. This style is an art rather symbolic than creative.
In the field of architecture, neoclassical art made its appearance in the Spain of Carlos III (1760-1788) and its best examples were the Puerta de Alcalá and the extraordinary building that houses the Prado Museum, in Madrid.
In the Latin American countries, the Neoclassical one turned more to Doric monuments and lasted until the 20th century. The Cathedral of Mexico, did not escape the influence of neoclassicism, and although it does not appear in a significant way outside the Cathedral, since most of the building had been completed, if it appears in some changes that were made in the interior of the Chapels, and in some of them, where there were baroque altarpieces, were reconstructed, according to the prevailing canons of the time and it is precisely the neoclassical style reigning, thus, the altars carved in quarry of the Chapels of Our Lady of the Dolores and the Chapel of Mr. del Buen Despacho, on the west side, and on the east side, the Chapels of Santa María la Antigua and Our Lady of Guadalupe, are examples of the neoclassical influence.
In conclusion, if anyone wanted to know the various most important architectural styles that occurred during the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, nothing better than taking as a guide and example the Cathedral of Mexico, because they were all embodied in its construction when each one of the Major Masters who built it, faithful to its times, unified, in a marvelous way, what already existed, with the novelties of art in the times that they had to live.
There is nothing in the Cathedral that has not been assumed in a whole, although the different styles that forged it can be distinguished.
Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral
The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heavens (Spanish: Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a los cielos) is the seat of the Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico. It is situated atop the former Aztec sacred precinct near the Templo Mayor on the northern side of the Plaza de la Constitución (Zócalo) in Downtown Mexico City. The cathedral was built in sections from 1573 to 1813 around the original church that was constructed soon after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan, eventually replacing it entirely. Spanish architect Claudio de Arciniega planned the construction, drawing inspiration from Gothic cathedrals in Spain.
Due to the long time it took to build it, just under 250 years, virtually all the main architects, painters, sculptors, gilding masters and other plastic artists of the viceroyalty worked at some point in the construction of the enclosure. This same condition, that of its extensive period of construction, allowed the integration into it of the various architectural styles that were in force and in vogue in those centuries: Gothic, Baroque, Churrigueresque, Neoclassical, among others. Same situation experienced different ornaments, paintings, sculptures and furniture in the interior.
Its realization meant a point of social cohesion, because it involved the same ecclesiastical authorities, government authorities, different religious brotherhoods as many generations of social groups of all classes.
It is also, as a consequence of the influence of the Catholic Church on public life, that the building was intertwined with events of historical significance for the societies of New Spain and independent Mexico. To mention a few, there are the coronation of Agustín de Iturbide and Ana María Huarte as emperors of Mexico by the President of the Congress; the preservation of the funeral remains of the aforementioned monarch; burial until 1925 of several of the independence heroes such as Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and José María Morelos; the disputes between liberals and conservatives caused by the separation of the church and the state in the Reform; the closure of the building in the days of the Cristero War; the celebrations of the bicentennial of independence, among others.
The cathedral faces south. The approximate measurements of this church are 59 metres (194 ft) wide by 128 metres (420 ft) long and a height of 67 metres (220 ft) to the tip of the towers. It consists of two bell towers, a central dome, three main portals. It has four façades which contain portals flanked with columns and statues. It has five naves consisting of 51 vaults, 74 arches and 40 columns. The two bell towers contain a total of 25 bells.
The tabernacle, adjacent to the cathedral, contains the baptistery and serves to register the parishioners. There are five large, ornate altars, a sacristy, a choir, a choir area, a corridor and a capitulary room. Fourteen of the cathedral’s sixteen chapels are open to the public. Each chapel is dedicated to a different saint or saints, and each was sponsored by a religious guild. The chapels contain ornate altars, altarpieces, retablos, paintings, furniture and sculptures. The cathedral is home to two of the largest 18th-century organs in the Americas. There is a crypt underneath the cathedral that holds the remains of many former archbishops. The cathedral has approximately 150 windows.
Over the centuries, the cathedral has suffered damage. A fire in 1967 destroyed a significant part of the cathedral’s interior. The restoration work that followed uncovered a number of important documents and artwork that had previously been hidden. Although a solid foundation was built for the cathedral, the soft clay soil it is built on has been a threat to its structural integrity. Dropping water tables and accelerated sinking caused the structure to be added to the World Monuments Fund list of the 100 Most Endangered Sites. Restoration work beginning in the 1990s stabilized the cathedral and it was removed from the endangered list in 2000.