In Tepotzotlán, México

Enormous Colonial Heritage
Splendid Retablos at San Francisco Xavier Temple
The National Institute of History and Anthropology National Museum of Viceroyalty is one of the most important cultural sites in Mexico.  The major collection of New Spain Colonial Art, or Arte Novohispano, is lodged here. It includes Retablos, or altarpieces, that represent the Mexican Baroque style known as Churrigueresco. This building, constructed with different architectural styles, symbolizes the Colonial period.
In this magnificent place we can admire details about the Saint Francis Jesuit College, the daily life of its former inhabitants, as well as their spiritual quest, reflected in the religious art pieces, that reflect the way of thinking and behaving of those who lived between the 16th and 19th Centuries.
Among the National Museum of Viceroyalty collection, we find the Retablo of the Saint Francis Xavier Temple. This altarpiece was designed by the Oaxaca painter Miguel Cabrera, and built by the sculptor Higinio de Chávez, in the 18th Century.
These retablos, cedarwood hand-carved altarpieces, were manufactured with the New Spain techniques. The wood was treated with cola glue, covered with a 23 karat gold-leaf overlay, then polished, and finally painted with oil or tempera. Carpenters, sculptors and painters worked together in their construction.
The church and the former Jesuit College, were built in honor of Saint Francis Xavier, the first missionary, in the 16th century. He belonged to the Society of Jesus, the order known as Jesuits, and devoted his life to Evangelization of the New Spain; he died in Asia.
The devotion displayed by the Society of Jesus to one of its founders, is reflected in the hand-carved sculpture that dominates from the altar, where San Francisco Javier is next to Virgin Mary, Mother of the Society, and her parents, Saints Anne and Joaquim. Saint Joseph and the Holy Child, as well as Saint John the Baptist, are also his companions.
Other two major Retablos, are those dedicated to Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, and Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society. They were created by Miguel Cabrera, according to a contract discovered by the museum’s researchers.
In this former temple, other ten Churrigueresco style hand-carvings can be admired. This Mexican baroque style is characterized by heavily decorated structures, such as the columns, designed to support the structure. The Churrigueresco was the dominant style during the colonial period.
Historical Monument and Site
The National Museum of Viceroyalty has 35 interesting places that can be visited.  The longest route includes a visit to the former San Francisco Javier College, a building  occupied by the Jesuits until they were expelled, from all Spain’s territories, by King Carlos III in 1767.
Beginning at the museum entrance, we find the porter-lodge, the Cloister of the Aljibes, the pharmacy, the former library, the San Francisco Javier Temple and the Domestic Chapel, known also as the Novices Chapel. The mass was celebrated at this church, and so was the daily Holy Rosary prayed, from the first half of the 16th Century to the first one of the 17th.
Over the vault of the Domestic Chapel, we find the Heraldic badges of the catholic orders that came to the New Spain. Those who arrived earlier are represented next to the altar. The Franciscan, Dominic, Augustinian, Jesuit, Carmelita and Mercedian badges were painted.
The places where the daily life went on, like the domestic courtyard, the cellar, the cooling room, the pantry and the refectory, can be visited, and so can be the orchard, the place for distraction and gathering, where healing plants, fruits and vegetables were cultivated.
On the second floor of the building there is a mirador, with a beautiful sight of the Tepotzotlán northern area.  In the cloisters of this storey, those monks dedicated to Theology or teaching, had their cells. The rain capture structure of the Aljibes, is here too.
Permanent Exhibition
The main purpose of the permanent exhibition is to expose the religious, economic and social habits of the 300 years period known as Colonia, Viceroyalty or New Spain. The daily life items, as well as the ceremonial, are arranged along 8 halls:
The Conquest. The Spain Royal Army expedition that ended in the capitulation of the Mexica Emperor, and the following evangelization process, are represented in this hall. The First Viceroyal society development, based in the exploitation of the native people and the trade of goods between the territories of New Spain, is the subject of this hall.
Integration of New Spain is the name of the next hall. The growth of the Creoles influence, in all the major aspects of society, such as trade, religion, and politics, was fast. The Spanish Crown, in order to regain its power among the colonies, decreed the Bourbon Reforms, which were not convenient to the Creoles. The taxes raised and the political affairs where determined by the Crown. The poor conditions of life of the people, and the discontent of the Creoles, finally led to the civil war that would finish the domain of the Spaniards in America.
One of the major economic activities of the New Spain was the maritime trade of goods between Manila and Acapulco. This was the way through which porcelain was known here, as were art techniques, like ivory carving.
The development of art in the New Spain is subdued to the catholic religion. The schools, where the native people learned Carving and Painting, were installed in the convents. This was a way of teaching them both religion and crafts.
The artisans of the New Spain were grouped in Lodges, in order to maintain their interest safe, and the quality standard of the work. They established workshops at convents and, from time to time, brought European Masters to teach the new techniques.
Crowned Nuns
Due to the artistic relevance of these paintings, the Crowned Nuns exhibition is permanent. Only the women of wealth were accepted in the convents as nuns, since they had to pay a dower. In addition to this, they ought be Spaniard or creole. The nuns had influence in the religious and social life during the Colony. The admittance, and the severe rules of the religious orders of the New Spain, as well as the long praying hours, the seclusion, and the rites, are represented in this hall.
There is a small room where computers are available to do searches about the Crowned Nuns, and a brief documentary, about the steps a woman ought follow in order to become Christ’s wife.
The wealth of their families allowed some of the nuns to be painted after their decease. For the families of the New Spain, it was an honor to have a relative in the convent. These paintings had specific symbolisms that gave detailed account of the kind of life the nun had. The placement of a crown over her head meant the long awaited union between her and Christ, while the flowered palm confirmed her faultless religious trajectory and her chastity.  The Holy Child represented her dear husband; the black veil, her dower; the Cross, a life devoted to sacrifice, and the candle, the light of God. The color of her habit let know her congregation.
Brief History
The building, constructed in 1521, that houses the National Museum of Viceroyalty, used to be the Jesuit College of Tepotzotlán. New buildings were added, with the help of benefactors, like churches, chapels, cloisters, libraries, and the refectory, a room where the monks gathered to eat.
The building’s architecture is an example of the New Spain style. Three Jesuit colleges were built here: the Tepotzotlán College, where indigenous languages were taught; the San Martin College, where the noble natives were taught religion and Spanish, and the San Francisco Javier College, dedicated to form Novices of the same religious order.
The National Museum of Viceroyalty opened in 1964, lodging the former Museum of Religious Art’s collection; the building was adapted to house and exhibit it.
The San Francisco Javier Temple was originally built in the 17th Century as a catholic church for the Tepotzotlán people, but it ended being a part of the convent.  The construction of this temple was sponsored by the prominent colonial family Medina y Picaso.
One of its members was the priest Pedro Reales, who taught at the San Francisco Javier College. This devoted monk donated his wealth to construct a temple, but when his money ran out, his mother made another donation.
It was until the 18th century when the Compañía de Jesús counted with money to improve their building. They hired the painter Miguel Cabrera to design the Retablos.
Relevant Works
The National Museum of Viceroyalty holds the most important colonial art collection in Mexico, whose pieces are exhibited in rooms and corridors distributed among the three floors that conform the building.
There are oil and tempera paintings, sculptures made with sugar cane paste, wood, ivory, metal and wax; lacquers, weapons, armors, gold, silver and blacksmith works; ceramic, porcelain and glassware, furniture, musical instruments, such as an organ and a harpsichord, and ancient books about polyphonic music.
Each of these pieces have its own cultural value and history, but some of them outstand for its beauty, craftsmanship, what they teach, or the symbolic importance they had during those days.
The Políptico de la Muerte,  (Death Polyptych) is one of these relevant paintings. The three parts, oil-painted over canvas, anonymously, are located in the New Spain Integration hall. The meaning of Death in the Catholic religion was represented here, as a way to teach the members of the order this concept.
Death is represented as a struggle among the forces of good, represented by angels and priests, and the evil forces, personified by a demon hidden under the bed. The Final Judgment is also described, and so are the destinies souls can have: Heaven, Hell or Purgatory.
Another extraordinary piece is the Relicario de San Pedro y de San Pablo, Saints Peter and Paul Reliquary, made by the Spanish artist Consuegra in the 16th Century. It is a 47 per 15 centimeters repoussé, silversmith sculpture, with golden incrustations.
The Cristo del Árbol, Christ of the Tree, is another large, polychrome, wood-carved sculpture of extraordinary beauty.
The most visited pieces are the tempera paintings of the vaults, and the Retablos of the San Francisco Javier Temple, as well as the hand-carved sculptures made in honor of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Compañía de Jesús, Virgin Mary, Mother of the Society, and Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Barbara, Isidore the Farmer and Fardila.
Other relevant sculptures are the ones that represent the Saints from the Jesuit order, like Francis Borgia, John Nepomuk, and Stanislaus of Kotska.
On-line Catalogue
Nearly 900 paintings, created by 80 colonial artists, conform the catalogue that can be consulted in the World Wide Web, at Searches can be made by title, author, period, technique or theme, clicking The Collections button. More virtual catalogues are under construction.
Those interested in Viceroyal religion, art or history subjects, can broaden their knowledge at the Pablo I. Martínez del Río Public Library, located in the same building. A great number of books about Philosophy, Theology, Education, Architecture, Etching, Education and Painting can be consulted here.
This library also provides services like information by phone, book loaning or photocopies of some volumes, Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 4 pm. For further information, write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries books are loaned only to researchers. Those interested can make an appointment though This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. e-mail address.
Public Services
The National Museum of Viceroyalty is a cultural space where anyone will find something interesting. There are guided tours, music festivals, academic activities, film festivals and educational workshops. Pastorelas, the traditional theater play about the Birth of Jesus, are represented here in December.
There are special guided tours for secondary and high school students; they will know more about the pieces they are more interested on, like the Baroque retablos, the silver and goldsmith pieces, paintings and sculptures.
Bachelor and Postgraduate students will find vast information about Mexico’s Colonial History. For researchers and academics requiring more specific texts, nearly 4,000 ancient volumes and documents are available.
The National Museum of Viceroyalty keeps close contact with Universities like National Autonomous University of Mexico, Polytechnic National Institute, Metropolitan Autonomous University, and Estado de Mexico Autonomous University; students form these universities can do Social Service at the Museum.
Due to the contact with these educational institutions, more than 80 students a year get a job here. In some cases, they collaborate as free-lance with the museum projects.
Children learn through a video that explains them the Colonial period. There are also computer educational interactive games. They can be found at the National Museum of Viceroyalty web page,
Shortsighted people can learn about the Mexican Viceroyal period, because there are explanatory documents in Braille system and paintings with texture.
The academic program consists in lectures, seminaries and temporary exhibitions. There are also learning programs addressed to workers, volunteers and students doing social service at the museum. Thank to the Friends of the National Museum of Viceroyalty Asociation, more Colonial Art and History courses can be offered. They take place on Thursdays, from 10 am to 2 pm. The fee is $500 MXP.
The themes of this courses for the second half of 2007 are: New Spain Evangelization texts; Jesuits, creators of saints, wises and demons; The daily life of New Spain women in Zacatecas; Spiritual training and the Colonial book, and Musical Education for women in New Spain schools and convents.
Twice a year, there is a film festival designed to attract people to the Viceroyal History and Art. There are also New Spain theater plays, like The Tree, Legends of Mexico, and La Mulata de Córdoba.
At the former San Francisco Javier College music festivals, concerts take place at the convent, where 350 people can attend. Musicians look forward for an opportunity to perform here, due to their importance.
Like in other museums, the summer courses improve the knowledge and creativity of those little ones on holiday: oil painting, watercolor and acrylic painting workshops are some of the activities.
Come Along!
The National Museum of Viceroyalty provides audio guide and wheelchair loaning at no cost. There is a cloakroom where schoolbags, tripods, umbrellas and other bulks, are kept during the visit.
The Museum Restaurant offers meals and refreshments, as well as banquets. Flashes or tripods are not allowed, and there is a $30 MXP fee if you are willing to shoot with a video camera. Pictures of families and student groups can be shot at the yards, the orchard and the San Francisco Javier Temple’s façade, by appointment.
The use, other than private, of images taken of the collection or building, requires a written authorization from the National Institute of History and Anthropology.
The National Museum of Viceroyalty is at 99 Hidalgo Square, Downtown, Tepozotlan, Estado de Mexico. The best way from Mexico City is by the Periferico, which becomes the Mexico-Queretaro highway. The kilometer 45 Exit leads to Tepozotlan downtown.
The visiting hours are Tuesday to Sunday, from 9 am to 6 pm. The San Francisco Javier Temple is open every day of the year, same hours. The  $38 MXP fee includes the admission to both sites.
Children under 13, people with disabilities, students, teachers and students with a valid ID card, do not pay. On Sunday the admittance is free for Mexico citizens and residents.
For further information, dial (55) 5876 0245, (55) 5876 2771, (55) 5876 0332 and (55) 5876 2770; write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit