Yuriria is located in the south of Guanajuato State, on a plateau 40 kilometres (25 miles) southwest of Celaya in central Mexico. It lies in a valley to which the Augustinians were assigned in the sixteenth century to introduce the Catholic Faith and to improve agriculture and animal husbandry. The district has an elevation of 1,733 m (5,688 feet).
The origins of the local people goes back to pre-Hispanic times. The original name of the area was Yuririapúndaro, which in the Tarasco language means “blood lake.” Perhaps this was a reference to the legend, which apparently had a real foundation, that into the crater lake of an extinct neighbouring volcano were thrown the bodies of prisoners sacrificed to the gods.
One of the early Augustinians sent to the area was Diego Chávez y Alvarado. He was a relative of the conquistador Pedro Diego Chávez. He succeeded spectacularly in both church-building and in improving the productivity of the valley. Chávez created Lake Cuizleo in 1548 by damming the Lerma River. Seventeen kilometres in length, this lake was the first-ever major hydraulic project in the New World. To it Chávez also introduced small fish and canoes.
The extraordinary convento (a public church and a residence Augustinian community) dedicated to Saint Paul the Apostle was built between 1550 and 1559 by Diego Chávez O.S.A., along with the Spanish architect Diego Toro. Most unusually for Mexico in the 16th century, the transept of the church is built in the manner of the earlier medieval Gothic tradition. The exterior is distinguished by a solid tower with open bell-cage, crenellated roof and massive flying buttresses.
The main façade, clearly copied from the Spanish-Plateresque façade of Acolman, is an inspired example of imaginative Indian adaptation of the Plateresque style, the latter's strong lines being softened here by a complicated pattern of flowers and foliage. It was in the decoration of this convento at Yuriria that a truly Mexican Plateresque style was created.
At the side of the church tower are statues of St Peter and St Paul. The side elevation with the doorway takes the form of a scaled-down version of the main façade. At that point is located a statue of St Nicholás of Tolentino, the Augustinian patron saint of the local Mexican Augustinian Province, above the cornice. (There were two Augustinian Mexican Provinces, and both still exist.) The interior of the church was partially damaged by fire in the 19th century, but later restored. The first Mass was celebrated in the church on the feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) in 1559.
The convento served for 300 years as the house of studies for local candidates to the Order of Saint Augustine. The monastery's superb two-storey cloister with its magnificent flight of steps consists of a series of Gothic arcades. The entrance to the Augustinian cloister (internal courtyard, clausuro) of the convento is through the Porch of the racionero formed by four arcs of average point with leaned pillars and pillars. The portería has a simple cover of plateresco style, like other Mexican monastic buildings of the sixteenth century.
Photos (at right): Picture 1: Facade, including main door to the church. Picture 2: A rear view of the massive building. Picture 3: Part of the two-level cloister. The cloister itself is developed around a square patio with a covered walkway (veranda) at its perimeter on two levels (stories).(See picture 3 at right). By these walkways the rooms of the ground floor can be entered, as well as the cells (rooms for sleeping) of the top storey. On the top floor (storey) the columns are of dóric style.
Since the time when the Augustinians were forced out during the political changes in Mexico during the nineteenth century, the church has been served by local diocesan priests, and the former Augustinian residence came into the possession of the government.In 1921 the convento was assigned to the National Historical and Artistic Monument General Inspectorate. On 13th January 1933 it was declared a national monument for conservation, and developed as the Colonial Museum of Yuriria, under the charge of the National Institute of Anthropology and History. An extensive collection of pre-Hispanic, Hispanic and colonial Mexican cultural items are now on permanent display there.
Images of the convento at Yuriria. Wikipedia.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuriria
Yuriria ex-Augustinian Convento of the 16th century. (You Tube: 5 minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvymZDPlCrw You Tube: Yuriria. Amateur video. (1 minute 44 seconds)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sI5dDPGnooI Yuriria: church and monastery. A photo. http://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/photos/4167910
Afternoon in Yuriria: a 16th century convent in Guanajuato. Travel descriptions and Yuriria history from Darian Day and Michael Fitzpatrick. http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/3606-afternoon-in-yuriria-a-16th-century-convent-in-guanajuato
Yuriria: The former monastery (Convent) of the Augustinians. A photo. San Agustín de Yuriria Convent, founded by the Augustinians in 1550, Yuriria, Guanajuato, Mexico. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Convento_san_agustin_1.jpg