dusk near Cuernavaca

dusk near Cuernavaca

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Mummies in the Basement

In my previous post I wrote about my exploration of the Chimalistac neighborhood.  After a couple of hours of wandering its narrow streets, I headed back across busy Insurgentes Avenue into the neighboring San Angel district, an area that is much better known to tourists.  

It was still early afternoon, so I decided to visit San Angel's major attraction, the Church and former Monastery of El Carmen.  I had visited the monastery twice before.  The first time was way back in the 1970s, and I remember the place as being dark and gloomy.  I visited it again a few years ago.  It was much brighter and better maintained, but part of the museum was closed for restoration work.  I did not realize just how much of the old monastery I had not seen, so I was very glad that I decided to make a return visit. 

The church was built between 1624 and 1626.  It was dedicated to San Angel Mártir.

It was from the church that the neighborhood of San Angel got its name.  For centuries San Angel was a rural village but in the 20th century it was absorbed by the urban sprawl of Mexico City.

The adjoining Carmelite monastery was founded in 1615.  It included a school for theology students and a library of more than 12,000 volumes. In the mid-nineteenth century all monasteries and convents in Mexico were closed and the properties taken over by the government.  Eventually the building became a museum,  and it today houses one of the largest collections of colonial religious art in the nation. 

The main cloister of the monastery

The monastery from the rear garden

The aqueduct which irrigated the extensive orchards which the monastery once owned

The former sacristy houses works of religious art...

...and features a beautiful ceiling with stucco designs covered in gold gilt.

Some of the original paintings still adorn the walls.

The "Domestic Chapel" is where the friars could hear Mass without leaving the confines of the monastery.

The monks' lavatory features an abundance of Talavera tiles from Puebla, Mexico.

In the basement of the monastery is the crypt where the monks were buried.  Its original decoration has been beautifully restored.  I don't remember any of this from my first visit so many decades ago.

Let's get to the title of this post.  When the monastery was closed in the 1850s, the remains of the monks were disinterred and taken to an ossuary.   The crypt then was used as a burial place for the neighborhood residents.  During the Mexican Revolution, soldiers dug up the floor of the crypt thinking that they would find buried Church treasures.  Instead they found the remains of those who had been buried here.  Because of the soil conditions, a number of the bodies had become mummified.  Today there are twelve mummies on display in glass cases.

Many of the tourists who visit the museum, come to see the mummies.  But even if you have no interest in the macabre, the ex-monastery of El  Carmen is definitely worth a visit.

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