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CUERNAVACA CATHEDRAL A shrine to San Felipe?

On a recent visit to Cuernavaca, we renewed our acquaintance with the extraordinary cathedral there.

Not everyone knows that Cuernavaca Cathedral, set on a hill overlooking the city, was an important and historic Franciscan monastery. The formidable church is noted for its arcaded 16th century "open" chapel, from which the friars preached to their Indian acolytes.

From here too, numerous Franciscans were trained and set out on their arduous journey to evangelize the orient and found new missions in the Philippines and Asia, a journey from which many never returned.

The most famous of these intrepid friars was Philip of Jesus, the first Mexican martyr and saint. Crucified with 26 other religious by the Japanese Emperor Hideyoshi in 1596, Philip is memorialized in Cuernavaca Cathedral by a spectacular cycle of nave murals, only uncovered during renovation of the cathedral some years ago.

Elegantly drawn and richly colored in a Japanese-inspired style, possibly by an artist from the orient, these gigantic early 17th century frescoes recount in detail the story of St. Philip's capture and his harrowing journey to the place of execution.


The convento also contains many early murals, including a Crucifixion, by the sacristy entrance, and an unusual Spiritual Genealogy of St. Francis in the cloister.

In another corner of the cloister stands a statue of St. Christopher, traditionally honored as the "bringer of Christ" to the New World. In this expressive sculpture, the sinewy saint looks up in awe to the young Christ perched on his shoulder.


Another colonial masterwork here is the gilded 18th century altarpiece in the adjacent Franciscan church of the Third Order.

Restored and in beautiful condition, it is one of the few colonial baroque retablos to survive both the neoclassical vogue that swept through many churches in the region during the late 1700s and early 1800s, and the havoc wrought in Morelos during the Revolutionary wars of the past century.


More colonial treasures await the visitor inside the museum of the Palace of Cortés, downhill from the cathedral, among the best regional museums in the Republic and noted for its spectacular murals by Diego Rivera.

photo of Palacio de Cortés by A & P Giberstein


Text & pictures ©2002 Richard D. Perry

For full details on Cuernavaca cathedral see our guidebook Mexico's Fortress Monasteries