Querétaro was one of the most opulent and important cities in New Spain (Mexico) during the first decades of the colonial period, since it marked the limit of the so-called civilized world.
To the colonialists from Spain, the territory north of this city was full of barbarians and that is why they decided to establish churches and convents where the spirits of laymen and priests could be strengthened. Franciscans, barefoot Carmelites, Jesuits, and Dominicans quickly came to Querétaro to start the spiritual conquest of the region. Most of the city’s churches and convents date from that time and today tell us of their glorious past.
The Church of San Agustín is on the corner of Allende and Pino Suárez. The church was designed during the years 1731-1743 by a local architect in Querétaro, Don Ignacio Mariano de las Casas and his teacher, Fray Luis Martinez Lucio O.S.A. The church and monastery are great examples of the Baroque style in Latin America. Very richly adorned, the convent is one of the most representative examples of Baroque architecture in Latin America. The open areas and courtyard are enormous, and their combination of color and form are impressive as well.
The main feature of the sober façade is an image of a crucified Christ. It is surrounded by niches of Saint Joseph, the Virgin of Sorrows, Saint Monica, Saint Rita, Saint Francis, and Saint Augustine. The dome, one of the most beautiful of its kind in Mexico, has images of life size angels; the tower of the church was never finished.
Members of the Order of Saint Augustine began to live in the building (convento) in 1743, but work on the building continued up to the middle of the eighteenth century. The cloister (clausura, patio) of the convento is a masterpiece in the Americas and is one of the best examples of baroque work anywhere in the world. Its fame is due to the elaborate decoration of the arches and columns in the cloister (patio). The columns have strange figures that seem to be staring at visitors.
The fierce faces carved in the bottom floor somehow seem to fascinate and attract. The effigies on the top floor are all alike and their expressions seem to be more serene. Over the arches there is a series of intertwined figures that form a chain that imprisons these creatures.
Since 1988 the former convent of Saint Augustine has been the home of the wonderful Querétaro Art Museum, which has a permanent exhibit of European and Mexican works of the sixteenth century, as well as a unique collection of religious paintings from New Spain. This art museum is one of the most significant attractions that Querétaro offers. Although the Order is no longer there, a monastery (convento) that it built there is still winning great acclaim.
The city of Santiago de Querétaro - to use its full name - is the capital of the State of Querétaro de Arteaga. It was one of the most opulent and important cities in New Spain (Mexico) during the first decades of the colonial period, since it marked the limit of the so-called civilized world. To the colonialists from Spain, the territory north of this city was full of barbarians and that is why they decided to establish churches and convents where the spirits of laymen and priests could be strengthened.
Franciscans, Discalced ("barefoot") Carmelites, Jesuits, and Dominicans quickly came to Querétaro to start the spiritual conquest of the region. By the eighteenth century it was the third most important colonial city in Mexico. Querétaro is located in the centre of Mexico on the major highway from north to south connecting Mexico and the United States of America. The city is 200 km (125 miles) north of Mexico City, and 350 km (220 miles) east of Guadalajara.
It has a current population of 850,000 people. It was founded in 1531, and placed under the patronage of Saint James (Santiago). It was a city of some wealth, especially by the eighteenth century when the Order of Saint Augustine and a number of other religious orders were among the later arrivals in Queretaro. At this time also a local citizen, Don Juan Antonio Urrutia, financed for twelve years the building of an aqueduct to supply water to the city. Reminiscent of something built in the earlier times of Julius Ceasar, this amazing structure was 8 km (five miles) in length, and had seventy four arches; it still can be seen today.
The beautiful and historic centre of Queretaro has been preserved. In 1998, UNESCO named the Historic Monuments Zone of Querétaro as one of its World Heritage sites. When the time came for the Order of Saint Augustine to build in Querétaro in 1731, the Order had already been constructing monasteries and churches in Mexico for almost two hundred years. Such places as Cuitzeo, Acoplmanm, Yuriria, and Ixmiquilopan are good examples of this. In those places, however, Augustinian churches had been of medieval design, and also had very pragmatic needs in mind.
On the other hand, the Augustinian monastery at Querétaro was intended to be a Baroque work of art in stone. It most famous feature was the cloister (clausura, patio) of the monastery. It is the most extraordinary baroque cloister in Latin America. It was featured on the 20 pesos banknote of Mexico from 21st April 1937 until 22nd July 1970. (See the image below. Compare it with the photograph on the previous page.)
The Province of Michoacán of the Order of Saint Augustine in Querétaro - one of the two Augustinian Provinces in Mexico - began discussing the building of a monastery (convento) in Querétaro in 1721. The leaders of this discussion were Juan de Burgoa O.S.A. (Provincial), and two of his definitors (advisors), Luis Martinez Lucio O.S.A. and Carlos Butrón Mojoica O.S.A.
A decision was made about a suitable location, and sections of the land were bought as they became available for purchase during the following ten years. Augustinians took up residence there in 1728, and the foundation was placed under the patronage of Nostra Senora de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows). Construction of the monastery (convento) began on 2 February 1731.
The architect was Mariano de las Casas, and the member of the Order of Saint Augustine who ordered its construction was Luis Martinez Lucio O.S.A. (already mentioned above). Credit for creative ideas is given to Lucio as much as to the architect, who was young at the time and who became famous only in later years. Luis Martinez Lucio O.S.A. was a gifted artist and a scholar. He was a teacher of theology, an efficient administrator, and one who produced excellent drawings. He was determined to build the most admired convento and church of the Order in Mexico, and succeeded in doing so. The basic construction took until 1736, but the decorative Baroque art work and altars were not finished until 1745, fourteen years after construction began.
The porch of the church has wonderful sculptures of Christ and of Augustinian saints such as Augustine, Monica and Rita. The main altar and the side altars in the church were magnificent works of art. Unfortunately, like many altars in Mexico, they were destroyed in the nineteenth century. But why build such a large monastery? The Province of Michoacán of the Order of Saint Augustine constructed such a large monastery in Querétaro for the purpose of using it as a house of study for candidates to the Order. The resulting building then served that purpose for about one hundred years, from 1750 to 1850. Soon afterwards, there was a great political change that brought about the Mexican Constitution of 1857, a bloody civil war and the confiscation of much property that belonged to the church and to the religious orders. After this, the monastery then stood unused for a number of years. The government then moved in its officers in May 1889. The building became known as the Federal Palace.
For the next hundred years, departments of the government that dealt with property and commerce operated there. Another section of the building became the general post office for the city. On 22nd September 1988 about 3,000 square metres of the building became the Museum of Art of Querétaro. One advantage of this step was that this extensive area of the building was restored. Practical additions and changes made to the building by departments of the government during the past century were removed. Distributed through eighteen rooms, the museum has a permanent collection of art, which now numbers over 360 pieces. It houses a collection of paintings from New Spain with works by Baltasar Echave and Francisco Antonio Vallejo, with a hall devoted to the famous painter Cristóbal de Villalpando.
Since 1988 it has also conducted 175 temporary exhibitions. In its first ten years, the museum attracted over one million visitors. Although the Order of Saint Augustine no longer possesses this famous monastery that it built, three of its members live nearby and conduct the church, which still operates.LinkChurch and Convento (monastery): Templo y Ex Convento de San Agustín (Santiago de Querétaro) Queretaro, México. Excellent photographs, and a thorough coverage by both interioir and exterior photographs. http://flickriver.com/photos/eltb/sets/72157616693414943
Video Animacion del Templo de San Agustín – Querétar. Computer-generated architectural "flyover" the church. (You Tube: 50 seconds) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rj5Xc6Fcxh4 AN4253