The Santa Cruz Jerusalem church in Santa Cruz Atoyac puts to rest that all of center city Mexico City is new and shiny. The church dates from 1563, and the surrounding neighborhood of Atoyac is also quite ancient.
Home today to the Benito Juárez government buildings, the people of the ancient village are known to have settled in nearby Letrán del Valle, Del Valle itself, General Anaya and Portales Sur. In ancient times, they paid tribute to Coyoacán, and controlled a road that survives today as the Calle Juarez. The Nahuatl name, Atoyac, means simply “on the river.”
The Franciscans built the church and later added the bell tower in the 17th century. The remarkable Plateresque façade has details in pink and gray quarried stone. It bears the date 1564. The semicircular arch over the main entranceway contains rows of chalchihuites, the concentric circles symbolizing that they are precious in the deepest historical sense. These appear also on the door jambs.
Inside the church, the presbytery is slightly higher than the main floor. The wide atrium is home to some very old olive trees and a stone cross with a crown of thorns in the transept. This is characteristic of the 16th century. According to legend, the cross is carved from an idol found during the church excavations.
The holy water font is also carved with indigenous reliefs. Two 17th-century sculptures depict Saint Elias and the Virgin. The Christ figure is of corn-paste, in nearly life-size. It’s black paint is possibly from Esquipulas in Guatemala, known for such sculptural works. It’s likely a 16th-century work. There’s also a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe dating from the early 17th century.
The church is often visited in combination with the government buildings and surrounding gardens to the immediate north. It’s roughly equidistant between Metros Zapata and Parque de los Venados. The park of the same name is nearby too.