Cathedral De Mexico Analysis Essay

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References

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The Mexico City Cathedral, which stands adjacent to the central downtown Zócalo (public square), is a structure that is rich in history and reflects the many socio-political forces that shaped its construction. (Fig.1) Modeled on the likeness of great Spanish Cathedrals such as the Seville Cathedral (Archdiocese), the structure was highly ambitious in its planning and undertaking. While the beginning structure (envisioned by missionary evangelists and commissioned by Spanish Authorities) was initiated in the mid-16th Century by architect and sculptor Claudio de Arciniega, as well as Alonso Perez de Castañeda, construction and completion took almost three centuries and the resulting structure takes on the juxtaposed qualities of several stylistic variations, from neoclassical to churrigueresco.1

There are unusual beginnings to the initialization of the cathedral’s construction, as the location for the present-day edifice was originally occupied by a pyramid built by the Aztec.2 This pyramid was eventually demolished to make way for a new cathedral - and a small remnant of this original structure was used as a corner stone - in what appeared to be a nod to the importance of the original sacred site.

A primitive, three aisled cathedral also existed before the Metropolitan Cathedral replaced it. This cathedral, which was built in 1526, had a wide nave with side aisles, contained 10 bays of structure approximately 80 yards long, and was built with stone exterior walls and interior columns which supported a flat armadura de media tijera (trabeated wood substructure with a layer of earth over the top). (Fig. 2, 3) There is evidence to suggest that a gabled roof also existed on this original structure (as it was renovated many times), and records that show that at some point, this structure had semicircular pediments at the end facades which were flanked by turrets.3 (Fig. 4,5)

This trabeated style ruled Mexican construction until after 1540 and was derived from early medieval and indian technologies. Early colonists were limited by the structural ideas of pre-conquest technologies. In an effort to exceed known indian architectural achievements, they made the length over 250 feet, and heightened the structure to over 20 yards, which was a gesture intended to inspire conversion of faith through inspirational achievement and to mark a distinction between indoor and outdoor worship.4

In 1528, when Juan de Zumárraga was appointed as archbishop to Mexico City, it was decided by him that a new cathedral should replace the primitive one. (Fig. 6) The cornerstone for the present Cathedral of Mexico was laid in 1573 based upon Claudio de Arciniega’s plans. (Fig. 7) Construction proceeded slowly, with many changes. Although a major portion of the Cathedral was built in the 17th century, the vaulting was not completed until 1667. Additionally, the belfries were not finished until 1791. Furthermore, the façade as of that point remained incomplete and was eventually finished in the early 1800s by Manuel Tolsa, a Spanish architect and proponent of the neoclassic style which was en vogue during this time.5 Therefore, a cumulative effect is represented in several places as far as an ability to stylistically interpret the entire project.

In general, the timing of the cathedral’s primary construction and fundamental structure corresponds to a Mannerist movement in Mexico. These principles coincided with other major episcopal projects during the same period, following some trends established by Merida Cathedral in the Yucatan. However, the Mannerist movement presented contradictions for the design of the Cathedral. The belief that a Cathedral was designed to fulfill specific functions of the bishop was prevalent before the 16th century. Many of the European cathedrals followed this example and were already completed by the onset of the construction of the Mexico Cathedral. Claudio de Arciniega sought to design a structure that would be consistent with both a mannerist creed, as well as prevailing cathedral tradition. He established a Latin Cross plan with a wide central nave, two processional aisles, and two more chapels. The proportions of the spaces were influenced by a Renaissance Ideal of unity, as opposed to a compartmented approach of a Gothic Cathedral. One interpretation of the result is that the plan meets the necessary conditions of a cathedral but it has been further simplified. It avoids a traditional ambulatory headwall, but leaves a semi-octagonal apse to accommodate the major chapel.6

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