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The Immaculate Conception Church & Convent (Templo de la Inmaculada Concepción) on calle Belisario Domínguez is one of the oldest, and least understood churches in the Centro Histórico. Enormous by any standards, it was founded in 1540. Subsequent remodelings saw it grow into a fantastic complex. Hard to ignore, it’s not safe to say that most city residents don’t entirely ignore it.
Some of this obliviousness may stem from the long history of the neighborhood of Cuepopan. That had not only been a commoners neighborhood in Tenochtitlan, but one frequently used as a battlefield too. (See the striking, hexagonal Chapel of the Dead, just across the street for more on the topic.)
The first arch-bishop, Juan de Zumárraga is said to have laid the foundations for this, the first convent for training nuns in the Americas in 1540. This was presumably on the orders of Andrés de Tapia, who was awarded most of the area. Charles V then sent the religious personnel to make the place happen.
It was always an institution dedicated to educating indigenous girls. Though it is said to have educated two of the granddaughters of Moctezuma II, it wasn’t quite enough fame to spare the convent from obscurity. Stretching eventually all the way to what is today the Republica de Cuba street. Most of the street to the north was, in its day, a wooded atrium and garden for the church. What remains of this is the Plaza de la Concepción.
The flood of 1629 ruined the place, and it wasn’t reopened until 1655. But one hundred years later, in 1760 it was declared a Royal Convent.
The single nave of the church is laid out east-west. Inside are two chorus and the magnificent bell tower has two bodies. The dome atop is still nicely finished in talavera tile. Twin entryways, both facing north, offer at least some gaping testimony to the church’s former importance, if not a cheery welcome.
The Reform Laws of the mid-19th century saw the entire complex expropriated. Much of it was lost to looting and some simply destroyed or vandalized. It’s widely considered to have been a total loss.
Finally in 1969, the Calderón Brothers, architects, were hired to give the Immaculate Conception Church at least something of a makeover. Today it’s still an awe inspiring place to visit. The high altar dates from the 19th century. A Virgin of the Apocolypse is crowned with ten stars and the moon. That work is particularly well-regarded. Likewise is a 19th oil painting of the Holy Trinity.
Sources cited on this page:
• el centro histórico: Capilla de la Inmaculada Concepción
• Carlos Eduardo Díaz, Mexicanismo.com.mx: Las muchas
metamorfosis del Templo de la inmaculada Concepción