The Facade of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City
The Facade of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City

Visiting the Most Beautiful Churches in Mexico

The Grand Architecture and Ornate Details of Mexico's Churches

By Mary Luz Mejia | Published on March 14, 2022


Most visit Mexico for sun, surf, and culinary delights, but there's something to be said for the grand architecture found in its cathedrals and churches. You'll find neoclassical, baroque, indigenous, and Spanish colonial influences in these sacred places throughout the country. We look at five of the most beautiful churches in Mexico, each with its own special story for you to visit while on vacation in their local area.

1. Visiting The Center Of It All: La Catedral De Oaxaca, Oaxaca City

In Oaxaca City, one of the oldest, most culturally rich cities in the country, you'll find some of the most beautiful churches in Mexico. Its splendid cathedral, dating back to 1535, is located in the middle of the zocalo (town square) and was built using the state's green cantera stone. Like most churches built over long periods of time, this one has undergone various additions and modifications, one of which came after the earthquake of 1714. Thanks to that, the front features an 18th-century baroque-style entrance with two imposing bell towers flanking either side.

Considered a fine example of Baroque architecture with a Neoclassical interior, once inside, you'll find an impressive art collection, including an Italian-made bronze statue of Our Lady of the Assumption (Nuestra Señora de la Asunción). In the south wing, a clock donated to the city by Spanish King Fernando VII hangs proudly, while the baroque pipe organ, restored in 1997, sits on the west wall of the choir. For archeology buffs, the remains of the Holy Huatulco cross, brought here in 1612 from Santa Cruz Bay, Huatulco, is also on display.

2. The Crowning Glory: Parroquia De Nuestra Señora De Guadalupe, Puerto Vallarta

One of the "newer" churches in the country, with its iconic Baroque crown-topped spire, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Church is a combination of styles, including the Neoclassical main building, Renaissance towers and traditional Mexican folk art details. While it may seem a mishmash, these influences came from the bricklayers, masons, priests and lay people who all felt invested in creating a beautiful church they could call their own.

 

The church got its start in the early 20th century as a temple in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Then, in 1915, Father Francisco Ayala wanted to dedicate the building as a tribute to the original Guadalupe Church in Mexico City. The church's crown, visible throughout Puerto Vallarta, is said to be fashioned after the crown that Empress Carlotta wore in 1864. The truth, however, is that it was designed by Don Rafael Parra Castillo, a priest who also created the church tower. Another artist, Esteban Ávalos Haro, completed the cross and sphere that you see today on top of the crown.

You'll hear the church bells toll on any given day, but especially during festivals honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe that take place during the first 12 days in December. If you like street processions, mariachi music and festive food thrown in with your devotion, this is the perfect time to visit. Should you want to see these marvels first-hand, then take advantage of Royal Caribbean cruise deals and our numerous cruises to Mexico that include Puerto Vallarta as a port of call.

3. Picture Perfect: La Parroquia De San Miguel Arcángel, San Miguel De Allende

As a local favorite for travel photographers, the 17th-century parish church of San Miguel de Allende is a much-photographed pink-hued monolith, making it one of the most beautiful churches in Mexico. Located 170 miles (273.59 km) outside of Mexico City in the UNESCO World Heritage designated city of San Miguel de Allende, this church is recognizable by its iconic neo-Gothic "wedding cake" towers, designed by indigenous bricklayer and self-taught architect Zeferino Gutierrez in the late 19th century. The story goes that he saw similar structures on postcards and lithographs of European Gothic churches and drew inspiration from these.

Inside, the church follows its original layout: Left of the main altar, you'll find the revered "Señor de la Conquista" (Christ of the Conquest) image, made in Pátzcuaro from cornstalk paste and orchid bulbs by the indigenous people of Michoacan. Under the altar, there's a crypt that holds the remains of former church bishops and others, including a former Mexican president. The crypt is open to the public every year on November 2nd, the Day of the Dead.

4. The Biggest Of Them All: Catedral Metropolitana, Mexico City

Mexico City's Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven is bit of a mouthful, and it is also the largest church in all of Latin America. Smack dab in the historic city center in the Plaza de la Constitución, this imposing structure took almost 250 years to complete.

It sits atop a former sacred Aztec neighborhood near the Templo Mayor and was built in sections, starting in 1573, around an original church built there after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan. The style is primarily Gothic as a reflection of the style of Spanish architect Claudio de Arciniega's home country's churches. But as with most churches that took long to complete, several other architectural styles were also incorporated. Apart from Gothic, you'll find Baroque, Neoclassical and Mexican churrigueresque represented.

5. The Maximalist Church: Iglesia De Santa María Tonantzintla, Cholula, Mexico

Located west of Puebla, the stand-out in this church-filled town is the St. Maria Tonantzintla Church for its colorful mix of Christian and indigenous motifs. It's believed that construction started in the late 17th century as an adaptation of the nearby Rosary Chapel (Capilla del Rosario). Both share intricate and ornate interiors, with the St. Maria church taking a maximalist, indigenous Baroque approach.

 

Many traveling to Mexico often visit to see the church's interior as it is covered in gilded gold stucco molding, colorful figures, flowers, fruits, brown-skinned angels, masks, birds, and decorative, abstract designs. An overall regional approach to design exists here that experts say is rarely found in post-Spanish-colonial churches.

 

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