Cathedral of San Cristóbal in Las Casas, a baroque-style colonial building whose construction began in 1528 and throughout the centuries has been an emblem of the city. A beauty and treasures that it keeps inside as well as a bit of its history that makes San Cristóbalenses so proud.
Founded under the dedication of Our Lady of the Assumption, with a façade that offers geometric lines that give light and shadow to the observer and whose architecture shows the strength of the adobe with its Baroque, Mudejar and Neoclassical elements. This 16th century building has become one of the most important symbols of San Cristóbal, both for its architecture and for having been named the Cathedral of Peace.
Originally the Cathedral church was built for the veneration of “The Virgin of the Assumption”, its construction began in 1528 shortly after the arrival of Diego de Mazariegos, Spanish conquistador founder of San Cristóbal and Chiapa de Corzo.
To expand it, the residents were ordered in a council on January 24, 1533, to send the Indians to work under their charge, on Sundays and holidays; otherwise, they would be credited with a fine of two gold pesos. Pedro de Estrada was the first administrator, appointed on September 3, 1537, he was in charge of not only the contracting, but the construction and financing of expenses.
It is until 1538 that the Church of La Asunción was elevated to the rank of Cathedral and its first bishop was Fray Bartolomé de las Casas who stood out for being a defender of Native Americans, thus becoming the Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas in the fifth diocese oldest in Mexico after those of Tlaxcala, Mexico, Morelia and Oaxaca.
Bishop Olivera y Pardo enlarged it to double its size in 1720, completely rebuilt the old part, erected the façade and the Guadalupe chapel. The architectural features that it presents today are attributed to Bishop Fuero. Another interesting fact refers to the contemporary renovation of the interior that, between 1915 and 1920, was done on the initiative of Don Carolos Z. Flores. The columns were carved and the shape of the windows changed. The baptistery in its current design, comes from the same time, is the work of the master mason Don Jovo Hernández, originally from the San Diego neighborhood.
The original building underwent some transformations, the most important ones were carried out in the 18th century when it was expanded to twice its original size and the façade that we can appreciate to this day in the Baroque style was built.
Inside Cathedral of San Cristóbal de las Casas, imposing neo-classical style columns that support the church, beautiful classical and baroque altarpieces covered in gold leaf, the masterfully carved pulpit, the image of the patron saint “Saint Christopher the Martyr” and of course beautiful paintings with religious themes dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Inside you can admire a painting of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Andrew the Apostle, from the 17th century, as well as the baptism of Jesus from the same period. The cathedral is where the main functions of the Catholic religion officiated by the bishop are performed, such as Christmas, New Year, Easter and others.
The first still has special originality and encourages the population to keep alive the tradition of making commemorative sweets, which are sold in the city’s first painting. True works of art in sugar and dyes, with the most whimsical Representations of flowers, birds, fruits and endless more motifs.
The main altarpiece was made in the late 1790s. Baroque Salomonico, appears in the column stipe, pilaster in the form of a truncated pyramid with the lower base down; and the medieval caryatid, a human figure that serves as a column in the architectural body. This temple and the unit that integrates with its auxiliary facilities, contains pieces, articles and works of art of marked interest. In the sacristy, the facsimile of the Royal Certificate of Carlos I that grants the city a coat of arms, later accepted as the coat of arms of Chiapas. A painting of the Immaculate Conception, imitation Murillo, from the 18th century; its author is unknown.
The great oil of Santa Maria Magdalena, by Miguel Cabrera, painted in the 17th century. Piety is from that time, although by a different author; a mural made in the 19th century is also admired: the Garden Prayer, although by an unknown author. It can also be seen, an icon of the seventeenth century of notorious artistic quality, it is a Christ Chimabue style that without being a sculpture highlights the Lord’s anatomy in wood. In addition, there is a crucified Christ, Guatemalan sculpture from the 17th century, and wood carved furniture from the same period. In the corridor, you can see three pictures of the apostles and one of Jesus crucified representing the seven sacraments of the Church.
In the room, next to the staircase that leads to the chapter hall, there are several works by anonymous authors dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. San Emilio, a painting of the Sagrada Familia, the oil of San Onofre and the reproduction of the portrait of Paulo III that is in the national museum of Naples. In the chapter room, already incorporated into the San Nicolás museum, the gallery of the bishops of Chiapas, from Fray Bartolome de Las Casas to Mr. Villalvazo. It is of documentary interest because of the biographical data that it contributes and of what they did during his mandate, in the civil, spiritual and material order. Educational institutions, arts, reformatories, temples, chapels, street arrangements, introduction of drinking water, transport and even provision of groceries in times of scarcity. The exact date they were completed is unknown, possibly in the mid-nineteenth century, Higinio Antonio Liévano, artist from San Cristobalence; Except for two, Mr. Colina and Mr. Vilialvazo, from Anselmo Rodas, also a local artist.
According to connoisseurs, the latter stands out for the cloth cloth technique. On the Perdón altar there is a collection of dated and autographed pictures by the Duranguense painter of the colonial era, Juan Correa. In the Guadalupe chapel there is a painting of San Pedro and another by Maria Magdalena, signed by the San Cristobal artist Jerónimo Aguilar, as well as the great oil painting of the Virgen del Refugio in the midst of the souls in purgatory, the work of also local painter Don Eusebio Aguilar. Tradition says that among souls Don Eusebio himself stands out, easy to distinguish because it is the only one that has the scapular of Carmen.
The altarpiece of San Juan Nepomuceno shows the stewed figure of the saint, very well made, all of fine carving; The canvases that illustrate passages of his life bear the surname Solórzano, originally from the city, which can be seen in one of its angles. On the altar of San José you can admire the sculpture of the saint, stewed and well made, as well as that of San Ignacio de Loyola and several other works by anonymous authors. In the altarpiece of the Kings you can see works by Don Eusebic Aguilar, whose brush also left the paintings of the altar of the Virgin of the Miraculous Medal. There is the life-size sculpture of San Cristóbal Mártir; it was discovered by chance and after many years, that the back concealed with a sliding door was hollow, where the data regarding its manufacture remained.
There is also the image of a bundle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, made in Barcelona, Spain and brought by Bishop Luque in 1899. As well as the Virgin of the Assumption, stewed, except that by a rash act the folly of oil painting was committed. Finally, it is worth mentioning a painting of the Virgen de la Merced, in silver thread cloth with gold decorations, the author of which is unknown. In the central plaza, you can enjoy a beautiful sunset, enjoying the typical sweets of the Chiapas mountains, always accompanied by the beautiful image of the cathedral church, its mountains and the magic of its people.
Today in front of the Cathedral Church is the Plaza de la Paz where various cultural exhibitions are held and is an important meeting point.
The Cathedral of San Cristóbal de las Casas remains besieged two years after the earthquakes of September 2017. A barrier of plates with samples of urban art prevent access to the site that had structural damage and remains pending Fund resources of Natural Disasters.
The earthquake of September 7, 2017, considered the strongest in the last century, damaged heritage that same night, and the following day, amid the people’s fear of aftershocks, access to people was prevented by the damage that the space presented, because its columns had many damages, in addition to presenting cracks and stones at the top of the facade, which fell on the choir and destroyed an ancient organ.
The wounds to the Cathedral also made it impossible to use its bell tower. Weeks after the telluric movement, spaces were adapted to venerate the images and continue with their religious activities, although the community still maintains the hope of the restoration of the temples.
Although the faithful of the Chiapas community expect the restoration work to be completed soon, personnel who work in the offices of the main temple of San Cristóbal assured that with the resources they have received from insurance, they have managed to cover small cracks and attend to the facade of the temple, but they need the Fonden to continue with the most important works.
Some resources that had been allocated and hopefully soon the work can be resumed to keep the door open, as has been done with the other churches.