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Early16th century monasteries
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2013-12-20 19:27:34 | Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico
Keywords: church, UNESCO
On the South East of Mexico city, on the corridor between Cuernavaca and Puebla lies a series of monasteries on the slopes of the Popocatepetl volcano. These monasteries were build in very early 16th century. There were more than a hundred of them around year 1600 by the Franciscans, the Dominicans and the Augustinians. Because of the various wars and the people migrations, most of them were destroyed... now only 14 survive and are still in use today, mostly as churches!

I've not visited all 14 of the churches part of the UNESCO site, but I've visited the oldest one. It was established in the town of Cuernavaca by the Franciscans, in 1525. The Franciscans arrived in Mexico two years earlier to begin the conversion of the local natives. Just like the other orders that arrived a few years later (and the general Catholic church as well), the Franciscans began to try to impose the Catholicism by force on the natives.

After a few rebellions and a few blood sheds, the approach was changed to be more collaborative and they tried to find commonalities between the native rites and the Catholic ones. Some native divinities were even associated with the church by placing them either on or in the monastery buildings! But the fact that really made a difference in the architecture of those monasteries was that they kind of opened up the religious space... integrating a large court into the design of the building to allow a mix of both Catholic and native rites to be performed on the same site basically.

Not only that innovative design was repeated throughout all the area, but it also served as a model for the construction of the missions all over the current Southern USA. It's that innovative design and mentality approach that is recognized by the UNESCO... who added these 14 old monasteries on the World Heritage List in 1994. Even today, the buildings now converted in churches have kept this mentality by using that open space to offer public events and exhibitions, to keep a link with their community.

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