Sights › Churches
It is said that the city of Cholula has 365 churches, either one for each day of the year or one for each pre-Hispanic temple that used to be here. In reality, there are only thirty seven churches; 159, if all the small chapels including those on local haciendas and ranches are counted. One legend states that the first chapel to be built in Cholula was in the San Miguelito neighborhood on what is now the outskirts of the city. It was the first structure with a red tile roof, and it was dedicated to the Archangel Michael. It is said to have contained an image of the angel, which contained inside a small demon tied to a post. As people venerated the image of the archangel, they also acknowledged the demon, in case the angel decided not to hear their pleas. This eventually gave the chapel an evil reputation as more came to ask for favors from the demon that one would not ask of a saint or angel. The demon began to be blamed for misfortunes that would befall the area, as and when they occurred, the demon image would be found untied. Eventually, the image of the archangel with the demon inside was taken away and it eventually disappeared.
The architectural styles of these churches vary from Gothic to Renaissance to Churrigueresque and Neoclassical, with many mixing elements of two or more. A number also have Talavera tile as a decorative feature, which is common in Puebla. A few have intricate stucco work done by indigenous hands. These churches together contain more than 300 works of art from the 16th to 19th centuries, which have a total value of millions of dollars. Increases in the theft of religious art have led to a number of measures being taken to protect them. Over a decade ago, churches were routinely open during the week, but now many are not. When they are open, many have at least one guard on duty, or in the case of the Nuestra Señora de los Remedios church, video surveillance. Some churches put replicas of the works on display, such as in the monastery of San Gabriel. Some do not permit photographs or video of the church interiors.
San Gabriel monastery
The San Gabriel church and monastery was established in 1529 by the Franciscans, on top of the destroyed temple to Quetzalcoatl with evangelization as its initial purpose. The current complex was built in the 1540s, beginning with the Capilla Real in 1540. The main church was begun in 1549, with the first stone laid by Martín de Hojacastro, who would become the third bishop of Puebla. There is also a third chapel by the name of the Capilla de la Tercera Orden and a cloister. The monastery is dedicated to the Archangel Gabriel and is one of the largest Franciscan monasteries in Mexico.
The complex is surrounded by a wall with pointed merlons which separates it from the main plaza of the city. The atrium is very large, with most of the space located in front of the two chapels. There are two portals on the west atrium wall, one that leads into the main atrium space and chapels, probably used for the indigenous and common people in the very early colonial period and the other directly in front of the main church. In three corners of the atrium, there are chapels, called "capillas posas", with pinnacle roofs and simple arches which are closed off by railings. The atrium cross was sculpted in 1668 and is identical to that in the atrium of the Nuestra Señora de los Remedios sanctuary. The façade of the main church is smooth and its corners are reinforced with diagonal buttresses. This façade has been altered over time with the additions of a bell gable and a Baroque tower. The tower contains arched windows, columns and a small dome topped by an iron cross. The main portal is sculpted in sandstone in Renaissance style. The main doors are of wood and contain metal studs with different designs. The north portal has richer ornamentation.
The church has one long nave, which is divided into various sections and covered by Gothic style vaults and cupola. The interior has a Latin cross layout, with Gothic ribs on the vaults and arched window openings. It conserves a number of oil paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries. The altarpieces are Neoclassical, made of wood and plaster, painted white and decorated in gold leaf. The main altar dates from 1897 and is dedicated to the Virgin of the Remedies.
The Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) is also called the Capilla de Naturales (Indigenous Chapel). It is located on the north end of the monastery complex, behind the large atrium area. The chapel never received any kind of royal recognition, but the name, "Capilla Real" is thought to have come from area dedicated to the Virgin of the Remedies, the patron of Cholula. The first chapel here was built in 1540, but the current structure dates from the 17th century, with the interior redone in 1947. The façade has some Baroque elements, with its main entrance marked by a simple arch flanked by Corinthian columns and fluted pilasters The choral window is flanked by Ionic columns. The crest is a pediment with a flutter. What makes this chapel unique is that its construction is similar to a mosque, with forty nine cupolas, supported by twelve columns and twenty four octagonal pilasters. The interior is divided into seven naves, and there are chapels on the two sides with their entrances supported by twelve of the structure's pilasters. This interior is not decorated, with murals or gold leaf like the main church or the Tercera Orden chapel; rather the walls are plain and The main altar is between the center of the structure and the back wall, leaving an area free. This back area contains three large paintings depicting the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The holy water font dates from the 16th century. The base and cup are sculpted from one piece of stone. The base is decorated with acanthus leaves, other flowers and leaves and a simple molding which imitates the cord Franciscans use to tie their habits.
The Capilla de la Tercera Orden (Chapel of the Third Order) is a much smaller chapel and located between the Capilla Real and the main church, also fronted by the large atrium area. The façade has a Baroque portal with Solomonic columns. Inside, there is gold ornamentation and seven large 18th and 19th century paintings. In the pendentives of the cupolas there are more paintings of various important Franciscans. The altars are Neoclassical in white and gold, and two large windows were opened on either side of the main altar to let in more light.
The cloister area of the complex still functions as a monastery and inhabited by about fifteen Franciscan monks. For this reason, it is not open to the public. The cloister contains a number of murals similar to those at the former monastery of Huejotzingo. The upper floor has one called the Mass of Saint Gregory and the ground floor contains frescos with scenes from the life of Francis of Assisi, along with portraits of a number of Franciscan monks. In 1986, part of the cloister area was converted into Franciscan Library in cooperation with the Universidad de las Americas. The monks were originally opposed to the project, as the monastery likely sits on the remains of the Quetzalcoatl Temple, and they were concerned about being forced out. In the end, the Franciscans co-sponsored the library with the university. This library contains more than 25,000 volumes published between the 16th and the 19th centuries.
Most of the rest of the city's churches date from the 17th to the 19th centuries and many of them are parish churches which belong to the various neighborhoods or barrios of the city proper. However, there are also several important churches in the smaller communities of the two municipalities just outside the urban area. The Parish of San Pedro is the parish church for the San Pedro municipality. It was built in the 17th century and is located facing the main square of the city. The style is a mixture of Baroque and Renaissance, with a Churrigueresque cupola. Other important churches of the San Pedro municipality include the parishes of San Miguel Tianguishhahuatl, Jesus Tlatempa, Santiago Mixquitla, San Matias Cocoyotla, San Juan Texpolco, San Cristóbal Tepontla, San Juan Texpolco, Santa Maria Xixitla, La Magdalena Coapa, San Pedro Mexicaltzingo, San Pablo Tecama, Santa Cruz de Jerusalén, Santo Sepulcro and San Miguelito.
The parish church of the San Andrés municipality was begun in the first third of the 16th century and finished in the first half of the 17th. The main façade is made of gray sandstone with three levels which a very large image of the Apostle Andrew, crucified on an X. The first contains the main entrance into the building, which is a simple arch with spandrels decorated with flowers. Just outside the door, there is a holy water font which is probably from the 16th century. The doorway niches contain images of San Bernardino and San Antonio, which was not common during the colonial period. The interior has only one nave as it was constructed in the 16th century. On the left side, there is a chapel of the Virgin of Solitude, which was constructed in the middle of the 18th century. It contains as Churrigueresque altar, with highly decorated pilasters. The decoration on the cupolas were done in the second half of the 18th century and redone at the end of the 19th. This chapel also contains a large number of paintings which date back as far as the 17th century.
Two other significant churches in this part of the city are the Nuestra Señora de los Remedios and the San Francisco Acatepec. Nuestra Señora de los Remedios is the best known as it is the church that is located on top of the Cholula Pyramid. This church was built in 1594 and is home to an image of the Virgin of the Remedies, the patron of Cholula. The first church collapsed in an earthquake in 1854 and rebuilt. The new church was damaged again by an earthquake in 1999 but repaired. The pyramid it is on was a pilgrimage site in pre-Hispanic times, and it remains one now with people coming to visit this Virgin image. The San Francisco church is what is left of a Franciscan monastery dedicated to Diego de Alcalá. The monastery was demolished by the Marquis of Mancera in 1673, under the false impression that it had been built without royal permission. In 1686, the church was restored as a parish by the Count of Monclova. The church was constructed in the early 16th century and finished during the middle of the 18th, when its tabernacle was constructed. It maintains its original Churrigueresque altar, which contains numerous small paintings.
One other important church of the San Andrés municipality is the church of Santa María Tonantzintla, which is valued for its decoration in what is called folk or indigenous Baroque. The church was initially built in the 16th century and developed over four phases until the 19th century. At the end of the 17th century, it had its basic layout, cupola, sacristy and main altar. At this time its intricate stucco work was begun. The first phase of construction began in the 16th century, with a small sanctuary, whose vestiges are located just north of the current church. The first church on this spot was built in the middle of the 16th century with a simple nave and façade, now destroyed. The second phase began at the end of the 17th century and beginning of the 18th, when the bell tower, cupola, basic layout and a small sacristy were built. Decorative stucco work was also done on the apse. The third phase covers most of the 18th century when the structure was completed, expanding the nave, leaving the tower within it, and a new façade. The last phase covers the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the final details were finished. These details include pre-Hispanic elements such as dark skinned angels, niches with headdresses, tropical fruits and ears of corn. This area was sacred to Tonantzin, the mother goddess, and the Spanish replaced her with an image of the Virgin Mary.
Virgen de los Remedios Sanctuary
This church was built in 1594 in top of the pyramidal site. It was once dedicated to “la Virgen de los Remedios” which was the patroness of the famous Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes. It is one of the most famous and important peregrination sites in Mexico, its very common that during September thousands of believers and non-believers around the country come to visit this sanctuary.
The interiors are baroque style, decorated with wooden altars and gypsum decoration, along with the precious gold decorations that cover the walls and ceilings.
The main ceiling vault is decorated with allegoric paintings that represent the four doctors of the Latin church. The exterior is preciously decorated with polychromatic tiling, and the stone cross that stands on the outside its one of the oldest in the city, dating from 1666.
The main stairs that lead to the temple consist of 48 steps, which in total have a length of 260 meters starting at the base of the pyramid.
Located at the very heart of downtown San Pedro lays this monastery dedicated to San Gabriel. The construction is characterized by a large hall divided into several sections, each one covered by gothic style ceilings. The main entrance has been altered during time, mainly by several different artistic and architectural changes like the Espadana and the baroque tower which alters the original XVI century trace.
The Cloister: The wall paintings inside the cloister are very alike the ones located in Huejotzingo’s convent. Walls are covered with different themes like: the mass of San Gregorio, the life of San Francisco, and the portraits of many other monks
Naturals Chapel: Located north from the convent, lays this building, Inspired by the design of the Muslim mosques.
It’s very commonly called Real Chapel or Capilla Real, but this is incorrect because it never received royal distinction.
Its construction is one of a kind, with 7 different areas, and 49 domes, which are very impressive from an areal view.
The baptismal pile dates from the XVI century and it’s completely handcrafted from a single piece. It also has a very exquisite decoration with flowers, leaves, and other themes… all carved in stone.
The stone cross located at the atrium was also sculpted in 1668, it’s very similar to the one located at the atrium of “la Virgen de los Remedios” Sanctuary.
Third Order Chapel: Located between the Franciscan convent and the Naturals Chapel, it’s characterized by its modest dimensions and a baroque entrance with salomonic columns. Its altars are from the neoclassic period mostly decorated with white and golden colors.
Parish of San Pedro
Erected December of 1640 and the main dome rebuilt in 1782, contrasting to the Convent of San Gabriel is located downtown San Pedro.
It has Latin cross plant, covered with vaults of lunettes, its main dome of churrigueresco style accounts with 8 windows adorned of estípites, from the XVIII century. In the niche is the image of the apostle San Pedro.
The tower is of baroque style, of two bodies and of square section, it is highest of Cholula because the cornice is flown more, this is the reason why this tower excels in the panorama of the city.
San Miguel Tianguisháhuatl
Behind the Convent of San Gabriel is where the temple dedicated to San Miguel is located. It has a vestibule to which it is acceded by means of arcs which give to the street. The construction is of the last century, of a single ship, cover with vaults of average tube. The cover is made up of an arc of average point with pilasters. In the inferior part there are two blinded arcs that they perhaps gave to individual chapels. In the interior it has neoclassic altars and ornamentation of the time. A single tower completes the building.
Near San Miguelito the temple dedicated to Jesus Nazareno is located, distinguishable by its high tower, without a doubt one of the highest in Cholula. It is of the XVII century, with a sober cover, arc of average point, pilasters with boards, a window of choir with horizontal closing and pinnacles with balls. Above there is a shield of Calatrava and as an anagram of Christ with the IHS ends. The tower has a robust square base and three bodies: in the first and second there are parts of windows very ornamented, on a flown balcony and third it is ochavado, to give it greater lightness and lucidity. In the interior the two lunette vaults are appraised, these same lunettes cover the ship and like interesting detail, in the sotocoro, there are mercy pelicans, as an allegory of Christ.
Towards the northeast of Cholula this temple is located. It has an ample vestibule and an entrance composed by three arcs and a series of pinnacles that remember the horse armor of the Convent of San Gabriel. The facade is ample and counts on a cover in gray quarry, with a sober and own design from the XVII century, formed by the arc of a semicircular entrance in the middle of two board pilasters; it follows the choir window, containing also a board and two shields: one that is Mexican, made oval, and another one with the shield of Cholula.
Above there is a small niche that has a cross and to the sides the pyramids with its spheres. Its tower has salomonic columns in the corners. The plant of the temple is basilical, of 3 ships, with an ochavada dome and some paintings and altarpieces; also, as a very important remark, there is a sculpture of St. Santiago with its horse threatening a Moor.
San Matías Cocoyotla
It is one of the oldest churches of the region, dating from the XVII century. It has a Renaissance covering with old forge closings. The interior is of three lunette vaults, one for the choir, another one for the ship and another one for the priest. With gypsum decoration gilded.
San Juan Texpolco
Temple dedicated to San Juan Evangelista “in the Calvario”, that is, on the feet of the cross, accompanying the Virgin and Christ the crucified. The building is oriented towards the west; it has a single tower and facade in form of great niche. It accounts with 3 short ships that distinguish it of the other temples. It shows an ochavada dome in the first section of its central ship. Its tower is of simple alignment, the interior has the same type of decoration like most of the temples of the city. It was built in the XVII century.
San Cristóbal Tepontla
It is far from downtown San Pedro. The facade is graceful with fine vegetal trimming by frame. The small tower is the typical one of the region; it has a square section body and another ochavado.
Santa María Xixitla
Towards the South west of the city, is located Santa Maria Xixitla, which has a triple arc entrance to the vestibule, it’s facade is very simple, the outside of the temple, contemplated by the South corner east is impressive, because it seems a castle with its abutments and pinnacles. There is a cross worked in stone with the symbols of the Passion of Christ, and dates from the XVI century, unique in Cholula. The tower has salomonic columns and estípites in its bodies. In the interior it is appraised its basilical plant, with three ships, vaults, lunettes and ochavada domes.
La Magdalena Coapa
The facade of this church is of neoclassic type. Its interior consists of three vaults of lunettes and circular dome. The cypress in the altar was placed at the beginning of this century.
San Pedro Mexicaltzingo
Of all the facades in Cholula, the one of San Pedro Mexicaltzingo is possibly the most severe of all: an arc of average point, with smooth imposts and jambs and the rectilinear window of the boundary. The church seems to be work of the XIX century. An old blessed water pile is conserved, possibly from the XVI century.
San Pablo Tecama
Very peculiar temple dedicated to San Pablo, which counts on two temples. The first, from the XVII century is adapted like sacristy and the other temple dates from the XIX century. In the old church there is a tower that has salomonic pilasters and columns in its two bodies. The church from the XIX century contains several altarpieces of neoclassic taste, as well as several paintings. This temple distinguishes itself from the others by its volume due to the two towers and the volumes of both churches together.
Santa Cruz de Jerusalen
It is a modest temple where the popular taste can be appreciated by its “baroque republican” or “neoclassic abarrocado” which are themes from the last century. It has a cover with an arc of average point very ornamented and Doric columns that flank the door. There is a shield of the holy sepulcher of Jerusalem and a niche with San Francisco. Everything is finished with larges flowerpot or florones with tile of Talavera, it has two towers with square and cylindrical bodies, and corners adorned with the scrolls characteristic of this style. The interior of the church is covered with some gold, white and some paintings.
El Santo Sepulcro
This temple is isolated to the northwest of downtown. Its plant is of universal Latin cross with little deep a cross-sectional ship. The facade is simple with arc of average point and pilasters on its puttings. Two closings in form of pyramids with balls or spheres seem of the herreriano style of the XVII century. The second body of the facade also has a choir window with pilasters, continued with a small niche, also with tiny pilasters, repeating the pinnacles. The tower is unfinished. It has a dome in the cruise and in its interior there are some paintings of interest, thus like several altarpieces.
This small temple is located towards the north. It has an important arc of entrance to the vestibule, on the street. A semicircular arc is flanked by individual pilasters (estípites or churriguerescas). It also has a niche with pilasters of short stature that frames a small niche, finished off by a cross. The brick facade is completed with one short tower with a single body adorned with estipites. The interior has a tube vault and dome that contains several paintings, some of them from popular invoice, and of recognized painters, like: one “Virgin of the light” of Luis Berrueco, from the XVII century.
Santa Maria Tonantzintla
Tonantzintla is located 4 km. to the south of the city of Cholula by the federal highway Mexico 190 (it is a ramification of this highway) and 15 km. to the south of the City of Puebla, by the federal highway to Atlixco.
Santa Maria Tonantzintla is one of the richest jewels of the Mexican baroque; it is characterized by its exuberant degree. Probably one of the most important features of this beautiful temple is the polychromatic stuccos that ornament its interior.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards near the town, the locals venerated Tonantzin, protective deity of the maize.
Soon after the Spanish conquest the cult to that goddess found a logical continuity in the cult to the Virgin Mary.
Imposing therefore the construction of a chapel directed by the Franciscan order. The natives who modeled stuccos did not forget completely Tonantzin or its own universe. Alluding to them in a mexicanist iconography composed by faces of children and indigenous children with eyes bulging, plumes, Mexican fruits such as papayas, tejocotes, zapotes, pumpkins, chili peppers.
This iconography is not the one that dominates. Tonantzintla is the fusion of two religious ideas. On the one hand all an iconography related to the Virgin Mary, but on the other hand an iconography related to the indigenous thought. The construction and decoration of this one church date from end of century XVI and century XVII. And still in century XVIII and XIX they continued decorating.
Its austere facade is decorated in Talavera mosaic and brick having emphasized the tiny sculptures of San Pedro and San Pablo, ending with the Virgin Mary to whom this place is dedicated.
San Francisco Acatepec
Located 5 kilometers to the south of the City of Cholula. Until the 31 of December of 1939 it was the most beautiful church of America. Ironically it underwent a fire, during the last minutes of the same year. All the interiors that were cedar wood hand carved by natives were reduced to ashes. The façade became then the most representative feature of this church, which does not have a space that has remained without decorating in Talavera. It is the greatest expression of the talaveresque baroque.
Its interior was reconstructed thanks to photographs taken by Guillermo Khalo at the beginning of the last century.
It was built during centuries XVII and XVIII.
San Bernardino Tlaxcalancingo
(Place of the venerable maize bread)
It is located to 6 kilometers of the City of Puebla by the federal highway to Atlixco.
Its rich facade is ornamented in talavera mosaic and brick, being this the greatest expression of petatillo Poblano, also called Palafoxiano Baroque.
It was built during centuries XVII and XVIII.