The Valvanera Cathedral dates back to 1572. Today it’s best known for the authentic talavera tile on the belfry, one of only two churches in the city thus clad. It’s also known as the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Valvanera, (sometimes spelled “Balvanera”). The word “cathedral” is used here because it is the seat of the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of the Martyrs of Lebanon. Thus, inside you’ll find the much-loved statue of San Charbel, and the church is also referred to as the Chapel of San Charbel. He was the first Lebanese saint, canonized in the 13th century. The statue is credited with some miracles, and even with clairvoyance.
The church originally was part of a convent dedicated to Santo Niño Perdido, founded in 1572. The convent was intended for the salvation of repentant prostitutes. Known first as the Casa de las Recogidas (the Collections House), in time it came to be known as the Casa de Jesús de la Penitencia (House of the Penitent Jesus). Eventually it came to be run by a group of “Conceptionist” sisters. They came to be very well known for their reform work with the women under their care. As their popularity increased, the convent was rededicated to Our Lady of Valvanera. The convent and a simple church stood here for many years. One Doña Beatriz de Miranda, a wealth widow, later contributed the money necessary for the construction of the temple we see today. This property opened on December 7, 1671.
The sanctuary is today more than four centuries old. Due to the Reformation Laws, in 1861 the nuns were forced to vacate the convent and cloister. Soon after, some of the other church-related buildings were demolished. The main altar was practically destroyed at this time but an oil painting of the black Virgin of Valvanera remains. The cloister was demolished in 1929.
Still, the Valvanera Cathedral church is an excellent example of the marriage of Baroque and the Neoclassical only finally reaching Mexico in the mid-18th century. The main entrance on the side of the building is typical of all convents in Mexico. The two Neoclassical doorways were added in the early 19th century. The bell tower is covered in rare talavera tile from Puebla. Only this church and that of La Encarnación have such tile in Mexico. The tezontle facade is divided by five buttresses. Inside, the main altar is of stone in a neoclassical style. A painting of Our Lady of Valvanera remains from the 17th century. This painting and the sculptures were donated by the Maronite church. The sacristy of the Valvanera Cathedral also contains several paintings by Carlos Clemente López dating from 1750.
Our Lady of Valvanera dates as far back as the 9th century in Spain. It's first recorded in 1419 by Rodrigo de Castroviejo, then the Abbot of Valvanera. He translated a 12th century Latin document which is thought to have been written by Gonzalo de Berceo. Berceo tells of a thief named Nuño Oñez. Hearing the prayer of one of his victims, Oñez repented of his crimes and entrusted himself to the Virgin Mary. During his prayers an angel appeared and instructed him to go to Valvanera. There he was to search for an oak tree that stood out from the others. At the foot, a spring appeared and swarms of bees emerged from it. Eventually, he found an image of the Virgin Mary, too. And thus the Monastery at Valvanera in Spain was founded.