Santo Domingo Church, Mexico City, Mexico

Santo Domingo in Mexico City refers to the Church of Santo Domingo and its Plaza, also called Santo Domingo. Both are located three blocks north of the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral following Republica de Brasil Street with Belisario Dominguez Street separating the two.

The Church of Santo Domingo is a temple baroque of the XVIII century and is all that remains of what was the important convent of the Order of Santo Domingo, in Mexico City. It is located in the historic center of the city, in the Plaza 23 de Mayo, and in front of the north side of the Plaza de Santo Domingo, quite close to the cathedral.

It is buried Tlacahuepantzin Yohualicahuacatzin, better known as Pedro de Moctezuma, one of the sons of Moctezuma II, who died in 1570.

The Church
Officially known as the Señor de la Expiración Chapel, the church is located on the north side of Belisario Dominguez and faces the plaza. It is all that is left from one of the first monasteries to be established in New Spain. This monastery was established soon after the Dominicans arrived to New Spain in 1526. They moved into houses that were donated to them by the Guerrero family, where later the Palace of the Inquisition would be built. The initially replaced the houses to found a church, living quarters and a jail for those found guilty of religious crimes. (The Dominicans were in charge of the Inquisition.)

A couple of decades later, it was decided that expansion was needed and the first church on the Santo Domingo site was consecrated in 1590. Around it was built the monastery, funded by Philip II of Spain, with four patios which divided the monks and laypeople associated with the monastery by rank as well as a main hall, a rectory, a library and an infirmary. However, poor construction, the soft soil and earthquakes made rebuilding a necessity. The second church was built between 1556 and 1571. The current church the third to be built on this site. It is Baroque architecture made of pink stone, begun in 1717 and finished in 1736. The monastery and atrium that the church used to be part of was destroyed in 1861 during anti-clerical movement, destroying the chapel of Del Rosario and Tercera Orden as well. This opened up what is now Leandro Valle Street on the church’s west side.

Due to its style, the church is attributed to Pedro de Arrieta. The general style is considered to be Mexican Baroque but before the introduction of the common “estipite” column with its signature inverted truncated pyramids. The front facade is covered in tezontle, a blood-colored volcanic stone and the portal is made mostly of cantera, a white/grey stone. It has twelve columns around the main entrance, with Saint Francis and Saint Augustine on the first floor. On the second floor, a stone relief depicts Saint Dominic kneeling as he receives the keys of heaven from Saint Peter and the Epistles from Saint Paul as the Holy Spirit rises above the group. In the center at the top is a bas relief of the Assumption located between two windows that light the choir area. It is decorated on the east side with stone figures of Saint Dominic and Saint Francis. Their arms are intertwined and shown to be literally holding up the Church of Letrán.

Inside, the floor plan of the church is that of a Latin cross. The main altarpiece is neoclassical and the work of Manuel Tolsá, which was created to replace the original Baroque one done by Pedro Patiño Ixtolinque. The altar to the left of the transept is dedicated to the Virgin of Covadonga. On a wall in the wide central area, there is a large niche containing the image of the Virgin Mary. Above this is a sculpture depicting the scene at the Calvary. Higher still is an oil painting of the Coronation of Mary and at the crest is the cross of the Battle of Covandonga between two windows.

Each of the lateral windows has two oil paintings decorating them and finished with the coat-of-arms of Castile as well as the emblem of the Dominican order. This area is completed with the reliefs of saints and the carvings of cherubs. At the right of the transept, there is the Virgin del Camino altarpiece created by Alonso López de Herrera. The altarpiece contains figures called the “Descent,” “Saint Dominic in Soriano,” and gilded statues of the martyrs Saint Peter and Vicente Ferrer. The church also has a choir in the shape of a horseshoe with 32 seats made of cedar, each with an image of a different saint carved in relief into the backs.

Next to it is the neo-Baroque Rosario Chapel which dates from 1946.

The construction of a simple and small temple began shortly after the conquest of the city, around 1527, to be completed around 1530. It was rebuilt for the first time between 1556 and 1571, to expand the dependencies of the convent and chapels around the main temple. That second church was severely damaged during a flood of the city, and it was decided to rebuild it, in a lavish baroque style designed by Pedro de Arrieta, during the first half of the 18th century, when it took on its current appearance. At the end of the 18th century changes were introduced in the interior with neoclassical decorations.

The conventual complex suffered irreparable damage with the confiscation of the Church’s assets. When opening the street of Leandro Valle, that happens right next to the temple, the monastery and the chapels that surrounded the church were destroyed; of these, only the Chapel of the Lord of the Expiration is preserved, to the southwest of the temple of Santo Domingo. The atrium fence was demolished and the atrium became the Plaza 23 de Mayo. He suffered damage with the earthquake of September 19, 2017.

The temple of Santo Domingo is a baroque construction built with gray quarry and tezontle coatings. The main facade, on the south side, consists of a single cover and a slender tower with two bell towers. The cover is Baroque and has three bodies. In the first body, flanking the door, the sculptures of Saint Augustine and Saint Francis of Assisi; on this body, in the center, a stone board with a relief of Santo Domingo receiving, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, the pilgrim’s staff from Saint Peter (on the left) and theepistles of St. Paul (on the right); in the third body, in the middle of two windows, a board with the motive of the Assumption of Mary. In the first and second bodies we can see 6 tritillary columns in each one.

On the front cover of the eastern facade, on the door there is a relief of Saint Dominic and Saint Francis of Assisi holding the basilica of San Juan de Letrán.

The arches that are visible to the left of the temple are not original, they were built during the restoration works of the area on the occasion of the 1968 Olympiad for aesthetic reasons, to hide the entrance of the street of Leandro Valle and harmonize the whole. These arches house a multipurpose room and an elevator.

The choir that, located on the entrance of the temple, is shaped like a horseshoe with stands that are projected on the ship and is, together, one of the most beautiful parts of the temple because of the balance it shows. The carved wood chairs are from the 18th century and in the central part of the painting attached to the wall, the Trinity is located, from top to bottom, in the middle of the Virgin Mary and below Jesus crucified, geographical center of the complex.

The temple has a Latin cross plan and a single longitudinal nave cut in the north by a transept. The vault is made of a canyon, was built with tezontle and is based on the magnificent quarry arches. Both the nave and the transept have semicircular apses at their ends, with huge altarpieces. The two golden altarpieces of the transept are baroque works of the 18th century. The one in the west arm was finished in 1754 and is dedicated to the Virgin of Covadonga and the one in the east arm to the Virgin of the Way.

The huge main altarpiece is an outstanding neoclassical work by Manuel Tolsá, divided into 2 bodies with 18 scalloped columns; 2 oil paintings adorn it, several sculptures with golden medallions and canvases that stage passages from the life of the Virgin Mary. The Christ of the main altar is the oldest image of the church, dating from the 16th century, is made from corn cane paste and is popularly known as The Christ of the Novitiate; According to legend, it was donated by a couple of angels. On the sides of the ship, there are eleven chapels, dedicated to St. Peter of Verona, the Virgin of Sorrows, Divine Providence, the Virgin of the Rosary, Saint Catherine of Siena, the Lord of the Rebozo, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Virgin of the Light, Saint Joseph, the Virgin of Guadalupe and Saint Martin of Porres. The Lord of the Rebozo is a rare invocation very revered in this church, and the faithful offer him a rebozo when his request has been fulfilled. Other important venerations are those of the Virgen del Rosario and San Martín de Porres.

The sacristy, on the right side of the presbytery, houses important pictorial works of the Baroque Novohispano, such as the imposition of the chasuble to San Ildefonso, attributed to the Dominican friar Alonso López de Herrera, and La lactación de Santo Domingo, by Cristóbal de Villalpando.

The most important chapel of the convent was the Chapel of the Rosary, which was built by the architect Lorenzo Rodríguez (the builder of the tabernacle) and was considered one of the most beautiful in the city. It was demolished during the renovation by opening Leandro Valle Street. On the west side of the church you can see on the wall the place where this chapel was located. The only element that remains of this chapel is the fence, which is in the chapel of the current rosary.

Conventual complex, in addition to the church, the chapel of the Expiration, located on the west side of the temple, and remains of the space known as “The Courtyard of the Generals” that is part of the Cultural Center of contemporary Mexico that is located in the street of Leandro Valle.

In popular culture
The architectural complex as well as the square that is located in front of what was previously the atrium of this temple, was one of the locations used in the filming of the Ungovernable series starring Kate del Castillo. Specifically we can see shots outside the enclosure and the main nave of the temple, in addition to the front altarpiece, when the sequence corresponding to the private funeral ceremony of the deceased president “Diego Nava” (Erik Hayser) is performed, in chapter 5 of the political drama

The Plaza
To the south of the church is Plaza San Domingo. It is flanked to the west by the Portal de Evangelistas, which is a Tuscan colonnade with round arches. Scribes with typewriters and antique printing machines work in this Portal. Scribes offer their services to illiterate clients, often offering services similar to that of lawyers, counselors, and financial consultants. A statue of Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, a heroine of the Mexican War of Independence stands in a fountain in the middle of the plaza. It was sculpted by Enrique Alcati.

Unfortunately, this area is also very well known for the falsification of documents. According to the intelligence division of the Policia Judicial of the Distrito Federal, in addition to the 242 print shops that operate legally in this zone, there have noted 614 cases of printers set up to falsify documents in the various apartments and other living quarters that surround this area. Most of these are located on La Plaza 23 de Mayo, República de Cuba, República de Chile an Justo Sierra Streets.

Historic structures near the plaza
A small church called San Lorenzo-Deacon and Martyr, is located at 28 Belisario Dominguez, to the left of the facade of the Santo Domingo Church. This small church is the descendant of a number of chapels that have been on this spot, and that in the 16th century was one of four chapels that were at the corners of the monastery property. One of the oldest structures that was at this spot was called the “Chapel of the “Morenos”” (dark-skinned), named so because here is where the Dominican friars evangelized to the indigenous population.

The church currently at the spot originally had 4 altars, dedicated to the crucified Christ, the rosary, Saint Joseph and Saint Dismas respectively. However, these have long since been replaced with one simple altar. The portal of the church is from the 19th century with a simple arch on posts decorated with sculpted vegetation. Above this is a monogram of Christ’s name. This church has serious structural problems. It is thought that its cupola could collapse at any moment. There was one case where a stone almost a meter across fell, destroying pews, but this happened at a time when no one was in the church.

At 97 Republica de Cuba is the house on property that once belonged to Juan Jaramillo, husband of La Malinche. The current structure only dates from the 18th century, but it rests on much older foundations.

At 92 Republica de Cuba is a building that dates from the Porfirio Diaz presidency at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. Today the building houses a music school.

At 37 Republica de Brasil is the house where Leona Vicario, a heroine of the Mexican War of Independence died. Today it is a private museum.