On 13 July 2005 the Augustinian community at Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico celebrated the 450th anniversary of the donation of the statue of Mary in their church.
Called la Virgen del Socorro (literally, the "Virgin of Help"), the statue was given by the Augustinian who as Provincial in Spain in 1533 had first sent Augustinians to the New World – to New Spain (Mexico). The Provincial was the famed Thomas of Villanova O.S.A., who now is a saint of the Catholic Church and the patron of studies within the Order of Saint Augustine.
Photos (at left): Picture 1: Façade of the Morelia church. Picture 2: Nave of the church. Picture 3: Altar, with statue given by (Saint) Thomas of Villanova.
By 1555 when he donated the statue to Morelia, Thomas of Villanova was Archbishop of Valencia, Spain, and only a year away from his death. (Morelia had originally been called Valladolid until its name was changed after the independence of Mexico from Spain.) The church in Morelia was dedicated to Santa Maria de Gracia ("Holy Mary of Grace"). This was one of the particular titles by which the Order of Saint Augustine offers devotion to Mary, the mother of Christ.
Its construction began about the year 1552. A convento (community residence) for up to thirty Augustinians was built beside it. Much progress was made after the year 1566, when Alonso de la Vera Cruz O.S.A. was the provincial superior of the Order in Mexico. This convento at Morelia was the central house for the Augustinians working in the Michoacán region of New Spain (Mexico), and the largest Augustinian house there. It was also the residence for students who were joining the Order of Saint Augustine.
This church of the sixteenth century (see photo at right) features colonial windows and Renaissance effects in it entrance. The window bears the image of Saint Augustine. Its facade has some plateresque (carving into stone surfaces) features, which was the work of local artisans under the direction of Augustinians in the community. This stone carving includes the emblem of the Order of Saint Augustine, a heart and arrows, which is located above the main door. The smaller bell tower on the right side of the building (see photo at top right) was the original bell tower, and at that time was the highest vantage point in Morelia.
More work was undertaken in the decades beginning in 1610 and 1620. During this time a dome was added (just visible at left of second photo), and a side chapel with a vaulted ceiling (see third photo). For these additions is credited the prior (religious superior) of the Augustinian community for some of that time, Diego Basalenque O.S.A.
Photos (at right): Picture 1: Facade of church. Picture 2: Facade and tower. Picture 3: Side chapel (cappella).
Basalenque was born in Salamanca, Spain in 1577, came to Mexico with his parents, and joined the Order of Saint Augustine in 1593. He was an outstanding teacher of grammar, theology, philosophy, dogmatic theology, moral theology, church law, and various Mexican languages. Because of his contribution to the Augustinian church and convento at Morelia he also became known for his skills at architecture. He died in 1651. A number of the writings of Diego Basalenque O.S.A. appeared in print, either during his life or after his death. He wrote the History of the Augustinian Province of San Nicholas Tolentino de Michoacán, published in 1673.
His best-known book on the local Tarascan language of Michoacán was published in 1714. The church was further enlarged in the seventeenth century. The high tower on the left side of the church (see photo at top right) was an addition in the eighteenth century. This tower was designed by a notable Mexican, Francisco Eduardo Tresguerras. Born in born in the city of Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico in 1759, he became successful as an architect, painter and engraver. He died in Celaya in 1833.
The present main altar of neoclassic style also was designed by Francisco Eduardo Tresguerras. It placed the ancient statue of la Virgen del Socorro (the "Virgin of Help") in a prominent central position. The convento features a vaulted ceilings. It is noted for a series of wall paintings, mainly from the second third of the seventeenth century. The present Augustinian community of two friars lives in a small section of the former convento, which now is essentially a student residence for the Nicolaíta University. Link
Ex convento agustino de Santa María de Gracia en Morelia Michoacán. Over thirty photographs of the church and the former convento (monastery). http://vamonosalbable.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/ex-convento-agustino-de-santa-maria-de.html AN4251