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Catholic Temples Built on Teocallis Give Account of Prehispanic Urban Planning
Architect Saul Pérez. Photo: DMC INAH/M. Tapia.

MEXICO CITY.- During the Conquest period between 1524 and 1529, Spaniards constructed 68 churches on sacred Prehispanic buildings of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco. 20 of these structures raised to develop the evangelization work among Mexica people, are still standing, while 5 are partially on foot.

In Tlatelolco, those dedicated to San Francisco Mecamalinco, Santa Ana Atenantitch, Santa Clara Acozac (Nuestra Señora de los Angeles), San Miguel Nonoalco and La Concepcion Atenantitlan remain.

In what once was Tenochtitlan, today Historical Center of Mexico City, are the temples of Santa Cruz Soledad Guaucontzinco, San Jeronimo Atlixco, Candelaria de los Patos, Magdalena Mixhuca, Santa Cruz Acatlan, San Lucas Quescontitlan, San Pablo Teopan, Santa Maria Tlaquechiuhca, San Sebastian Atzacalco, San Antonio Tomatlan, San Cristobal Aztacalco, Soledad Campo Florido Amanalco, Niño Jesús Tepetitlan y Concepcion Xoloco.

Architect Saul Perez from the Institute of Historical Investigations of the National University of Mexico (IIH-UNAM) informed this during his participation at the lectures organized by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) to commemorate 33 years of the discovery of Coyolxauhqui Monolith on February 21st, 1978.

The specialist from the Seminar of Indigenous Historiography at UNAM remarked that “such Colonial constructions present an outlook of how neighborhoods were integrated, the architectural crossbreeding and the reuse made by Spaniards of these areas for the Catholic cult, which remains until now”.

Saul Perez mentioned that from the 68 referred constructions, 50 were edified in Tenochtitlan and 18 in Tlatelolco, representing the beginning of current Mexican religious architecture.

He mentioned that the evangelization process was gradual and its first stage took place at the teocallis, temples dedicated to Mexica deities, reused by the friars to teach Catholicism, according to documents by Pedro de Gante.

Later, these Mexica constructions –which occupied a privileged space at the Prehispanic neighborhoods - were destroyed to build the new architectural spaces of evangelization.

“In this sense, it is important to remark that Catholic invocations of churches did not correspond to specific Prehispanic deities, since in that period friars had little knowledge of the Mexica pantheon, and their intention was only to convert naturals to their religion”, pointed out the architect.

Regarding architectural styles of churches constructed during the first years after the Conquest, Saul Perez mentioned that the single nave without vault outstands, as well as the atrium, element originated parting from the teocalli plaza, squared most of the time.

These features account for the architectural crossbreeding in Mexico, since the nave of the church is from Europe, while the atrium is Prehispanic, “revealing the fusion between both cultures”.

Other peculiarity of these constructions is that they were created reusing the rocks that integrated Prehispanic temples. Almost all these churches were approximately 25 meters long and 8 to 10 meters wide.

Architect Saul Perez commented that his study has the objective of knowing the organizational scheme that Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco had, as well as identifying where roadways, irrigation ditches and teocallis, “with the aim of understanding the urban context of Prehispanic cities”.

This way, the researcher achieved to consult diverse Colonial maps and locate the churches built between 1524 and 1529.

Among consulted drafts are : Juan Alzate’s (1789), Joubert’s (1772), one of the ancient Mexico City (1861), and those from architect Luis Gonzalez Aparicio (1968) part of his work Plano Reconstructivo de la region de Tenochtitlan al comienzo de la Conquista (Reconstructive Draft of the Tenochtitlan Region at the beginning of the Conquest).

“This research has been fruitful, since it has provided the location of teocallis and the rising of churches on them, some of them still standing, which explains the process of evangelization during the first years after the Conquest, one o the most interesting periods in Mexico”, concluded the specialist.

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