The temple was one of the largest in New Spain but was reduced by the Reform Laws (photo: INAH/Media Library)
One would believe that the oldest church in the capital of the country is the Metropolitan Cathedral since it was one of the first buildings that were planned once the Mexica were defeated in the fall of Tenochtitlan. But this is not the case, since its construction began in 1571.
Around the Historic Center of the capital there are numerous temples dating from different eras and that one can see if one takes enough time to walk the streets of the center. The oldest is located on Madero Avenue, one of the busiest streets in the city, and although its façade is not the same as it was originally, it was the place where the first church in Mexico was erected: the temple and ex-convent of San Francisco.
The church began its construction in 1524 and was the first convent in New Spain for the first Franciscans, the first enclosure to offer the trade to the indigenous people of the region. Hernán Cortés himself was involved in making the arrangements to achieve the building by acquiring land from other Spaniards.
Facade of the ex-convent of San Francisco on Madero Avenue (Photo: ProtoplasmaKid / Wikimedia Commons)
The temple of San Francisco was going to be built first in the place of the cathedral, but this did not happen and a provisional one was built on Calle de Relox (República de Argentina) while the Franciscans arrived in Mexican territory. Once established there, it was decided to change places since the location was very within the city that was already inhabited by Spaniards and they wanted to be close to the indigenous people.
According to Manuel Rivera Cambas, the church was built in the place where Moctezuma II had his garden full of exotic animals. Cortés donated the land to the Franciscans before leaving for Las Hibueras. The construction of the temple of San Francisco was completed in 1525, although throughout its history it was rebuilt, enlarged and reduced to what we know today.
The current façade was made in 1766 by the architect Lorenzo Rodríguez in the Churrigueresque style.
It is also believed that one of the first churches was built in the Venustiano Carranza town hall: the Temple and former Hospital of San Lázaro. Despite not being like that, its history is also interesting.
At the end of the war against the Mexicas, the Spaniards commanded by Cortés knew that they needed a base to be able to operate and take shelter in case of a counterattack. So on the shores of the Candelaria lagoon they built the fort of Las Atarazanas in San Lázaro. Inside the fortress they hid the brigantines used to defeat the besieged Tenochtitlan.
Facade of the Temple of San Lázaro (photo: INAH/Media Library)
It is unknown in what precise place the fort was built and it has been considered that it was in the same place that the abandoned temple occupies, being one of the few solid places since the terrain was marshy.
Later, a leper hospital was erected in 1572 by Dr. Don Pedro López until 1596, which was maintained by the descendants of the doctor. In 1721 the place was granted as an enclosure to the religious of San Juan de Dios, time in which the temple was dedicated to the Virgen de la Bala until 1821, patron saint of marriages, pregnant women, as well as protector of those who have professions dangerous or at risk of being hit by a gunshot.
It acquired that name because a cross in the temple was shot by some men who practiced target shooting near the place. It has been abandoned and in a state of advanced deterioration since 1949.
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