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The Chapel of Santa María Magdalena is almost lost in the shadow of the Pino Suárez Plaza Comercial. Originally, it was part of the Santa María Magdalena shelter. That institution was founded in 1692, but this part, built between 1805 as 1808, was part of a reconstruction project. It’s currently used as a storehouse.
The Santa María Magdalena shelter began as a house in the indigenous neighborhood of San Lucas. It belonged to the Mercedarians of the Merced Monastery. Their order, originally from Barcelona, is traditionally dedicated to the redemption of Christian captives. The institution was thus dedicated to Mary Magdalene.
By the beginning of the 19th century, their hospital was in a ruinous state. Work to restore it was financed by the Holy Inquisition as the government lacked funds. The reconstruction was overseen by José Antonio González Velázquez, director of the Academy of San Carlos. He’d recently completed the nearby (and equally spectacular) Temple of San Pablo el Nuevo.
The women’s retreat then functioned only until 1812, when the Viceroy ordered that it be used to house the inmates working on a project to protect the city. In 1815, when they were moved to the San Antonio Abad Hospital, the shelter buildings were converted into stables. By 1863, during the Second Mexican Empire, the building was transformed into the empire’s military hospital. It was then known as the San Lucas Hospital.
When the Republic was restored in 1867, President Benito Juárez named a new director for the Military Hospital. During this period, the Santa Magdalena Chapel was used as the hospital amphitheater.
Documents from that time note the building’s pristine design and structure. A perfect octagon, the dome is supported by columns. The marble floor remains, and many visitors still like to see the inside. But most will need to be content with photos of the magnificent windows along the base of the dome.