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Temples, Churches and Ex-monasteries
Santo Domingo de Guzmán
The majestic ex-convent of Santo Domingo unites beauty and magnitude. It is larger and more lavish than the Cathedral of Oaxaca, also a Dominican product. To its greatness is added the extraordinary beauty of its retables and decorations. The portal of its temple is a great stone retable framed by two high towers, unusual in Oaxaca, because their height, since they used to be smaller in this seismic zone. The magnificence of the temple can be admired in the choir, the main nave, in its chapels, and in the Main Altar.
The Cloister presents Renaissance characteristics. The semicircular arcades stand out and support vaults of elegant ribbing in the corridors and pilasters with religious paintings. The lower part communicates with the top via a monumental staircase of similar design to that of the Escorial in Madrid. Also notable are the stair cupola, the kitchen and the storeroom (now a restaurant), the Third Order Chapel (now a library), the Capitulatory Room (bookstore), Antechoir (at the end of Room IX, from where the Temple choir can be seen), the Noviciate Oratorio (room IV), and the Pilgrims’ Portal (entrance to the Museum of Oaxacan Cultures), containing paintings of Saints Peter and Paul and iconographic elements of the Order, such as the sun and the moon.
This architectural complex was built between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on what used to be an area of twenty-four lots, extended through purchases until it was more then 40 000 m2. The construction work began in 1552, and lasted until the middle of the next century. Despite it not being finished, it was occupied by the friars from 1608, due to the cave-in caused by an earthquake of Saint Paul’s Convent.
Frays Gonzalo Lucero and Bernardino de Minaya were the first Dominicans to arrive in Oaxaca in 1529. The order grew, and in 1543 had its first vicar. Santo Domingo was the centre of the challenging evangelisation task throughout the state. Said task was performed amid constant struggles with the dioceses and various bishops.
Between 1608 and 1857, the convent functioned as such; it was headquarters of the province of San Hipolito Martir. During the Independence period, troops occasionally took over there. Due to the Reform Laws, the Dominicans had to vacate the premises, which were occupied by the armed forces. For this reason, the temple remained closed to religious services from 1866 until 1902. It was used as a cavalry depot, and its retables were pillaged and destroyed on or about 1869.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the church recuperated the temple and its convent, reopening and dedicating it to worship on January 2, 1902. Some time later, in 1905, they recuperated the sacristy’s courtyard in exchange for the construction of cavalry headquarters, financed by Bishop Gillow. The Dominicans, who did not maintain a good relationship with him, had to wait until 1938 to recuperate the administration of the temple.
The Mexican Army occupied the Ex-convent from 1860 until 1994, although some areas were recuperated slowly at the beginning of this century. Half the convent (the central cloister and the service courtyard) was donated to the Autonomous Benito Juárez University of Oaxaca. Subsequently, on December 19, 1972, the Regional Museum of Oaxaca was created (today Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca), under care of the INAH.
In 1993, by Presidential agreement, and under petition of the Government and the citizens of Oaxaca, the National Defence Secretary returned the structure to be used for cultural purposes. Later, began the works for enlargement and restoration of the Museum, as well as the creation of the Ethno-botanic Garden. The reopening of this marvellous space inaugurates a new historic epoch for the ex-convent.
Dominicans are in charge of the temple, which is kept open to worship. Out of respect there are restrictions during visits: never stroll during liturgical services, keep silent, no smoking or eating, never touch the ornaments, no photographs with flash, and always dress properly.
For the use of video cameras and further information, contact the priest’s office located to back of the altar. The entrance is through the south annex garden, between 9:30 to 13:00 and from 16:30 to 19:00 hours. The temple is closed from 13:00 to 16:00 hours. Telephone: 6-3720 and 4-6184.
The Temple and Ex-convent of Santo Domingo de Guzman is part of a cultural centre that includes the Museum of Oaxacan Cultures, and the Historic Ethno-botanic Garden, as well as the Fray Francisco de Burgoa Library, and the Nestor Sanchez Public Newspaper and Periodicals Collection of Oaxaca. It is located six blocks north of the Central Plaza (Zócalo) in the City of Oaxaca. It is bordered by the Streets of Macedonio Alcala, Berriozabal, Gurrion, and Reforma.
The main facade of the temple is oriented to the west, completely constructed of local quarry stone. Its severity is in contrast with the baroque exuberance of one of the interiors. It includes: the 26 metre high portal, and its two towers soar 35 metres from the ground. The two bell towers possess arcade accesses and four columns in each face, with fluted shafts and crested pinnacles. Its cupolas are covered by tiles, with a lantern inside a small cupola on top.
The most notable element of the facade is the temple portal of three sections and a pediment on which Santo Domingo and Saint Hipolito appear holding a church upon which the Holy Spirit descends. The decoration of the temple, one of the most outstanding examples of Mexican baroque, includes the exceptional genealogical tree of Santo Domingo de Guzman and 36 paintings that are located on the springing, which illustrate passages of the old testament. Those in the upper area, reproduce scenes of the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. The interior is longitudinally composed by the choir and choir loft, nave, cross, and the apse. Throughout the length of the nave we can observe fine carpentry and examples of wrought iron, as well as sculptures, paintings, and reliefs.
The temple has a Latin cross layout, and ten chapels were built in its interior. The nave is covered with barrelled vault with arches. Throughout the entire length, we can observe circles, ovals, and medallions with biblical passages, polychrome Plaster of Paris, wrought iron, paintings, and other decorations barely discernible, in addition to gilded reliefs.
The cross is covered with a groined vault and is decorated with reliefs of saints of the Preachers’ Order, among them, four Popes that are on the pendentives. The entire space is covered by a truly intricate latticework where saints, angels, cherubs, and patriarchs appear.
The groined vault, outstanding for its beauty, is elevated over the barrelled vault of the nave, where we can observe 104 medallions of Dominican martyrs that, from the bottom up, and from greater to smaller, form leaves in the stilted vault, to finally arrive at the representation of the Holy Spirit Dove. In this group the beautiful Chapel of the Rosary, of gadrooned cupola stands out. It rests upon an octagonal tambour. The small image of the Virgin, dressed in white, co-ordinating with the gold radiating around her. Flanking its niche, are four Salomonic columns, beautifully decorated with imitation gilded leaves. In this chapel, there are 24 paintings of saints of various sizes, and in the upper room, we can observe an oil painting of the Virgin giving a rosary to Santo Domingo. At her side are the images of Saint Joaquin, and Saint Ana, the Virgin’s parents, can be seen. On the pendentives of the cupola, there are four evangelists’ busts, who embrace the ashes of the insurgent journalist, Carlos Maria Bustamante.
In the ex-convent, the first courtyard or cloister of processions, delimited by perimetrical aisles covered with vaults of primitive gothic ribbing, has on its walls remains of frescoes, paintings of saints of the seventeenth century. In the upper section, the hallways are covered with semicircular arches over imposts and capitals of imbedded columns. The second courtyard, called the "Lemon Tree Courtyard," does not have covered arcades. In the north wing is the old kitchen and to the west an auditorium expressly designed for meetings and conferences. On this portico, a Dominican shield over the access door stands out.