Appreciating Mexican Church Architecture

For hundreds of years, the Catholic Church has been a strong presence in Mexican culture. During these past centuries, ornate churches have been constructed, visually displaying Biblical themes, diverse architectural styles and region-specific craftsmanship. These buildings were so well constructed that many of them still stand today and welcome visitors.

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Most of these older churches are located in Southern Oaxaca. Their designs are based on a combination of Egyptian, Greek and Roman influences which formed the basis for European Medieval and Renaissance style cathedrals and monastic institutions. In Mexico, these trusted and standard designs were further refined to accommodate available resources and landscape requirements. Local craftspeople were resourceful and used native materials to construct churches. In addition, they were able to implement many important cultural aspects into the church’s overall presentation. Geometric facades, floral motifs and ever-important animal renderings are still visible in many older churches.

Structural elements visually reveal local materials and design purposes. Church walls are easily recognized by their hues of yellow, green and gray; which are representative of the area’s naturally-occurring, volcanic stone. Churches were also constructed based on geographical challenges. When visiting, note the thickly-constructed walls which were meant to withstand seismologic activity.

In order to appreciate all of Oaxaca’s varying styles of churches, you will need to visit at least three; one representing a different type of architectural presentation and purpose. A monastery or convent church was used as a worship location for monks and nuns. These churches tended to be basic, as the lives cloistered clergy were simplistic yet structured. The second type of church is a parish church. This is a village church were local people would gather. It would also serve as a church-operated, missionary school. These types of churches were not fancy and varied in sized based on local populations. For the most extravagantly designed church, visit a cathedral. This church was home to the region’s bishop and was the showpiece of the area. Since travel was more limited because of the region’s remoteness, most people attended churches within walking distance.  

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