Refreshing faces of Mexico City churches

When experiencing Mexico City’s yin and yang – opposite, yet harmonious – the activity on the streets can take all the attention. Fun for a while, but after only a short time adjusting to the city’s intensity, Bill and I were ready to seek out some quiet. We found it in neighborhood churches.

No need to wait for Sunday to appreciate a day of rest.

One evening in Colonia Roma, local resident Yasén Vilchis showed us around the tiny community of La Romita, at the heart of which is Santa María de la Natividad Aztacalco.

In La Romita, you'll find Santa María de la Natividad Aztacalco at one end of the square; this pre-Hispanic village is where Colonia Roma, Mexico City, began.

The three of us sat in the little square facing the church, built in 1530. Here, Yasén encouraged us to “feel the city.” And so, in the lavender light and the lovely silence, we did, and could relax for the first time since coming to Mexico City.

A few weeks later, Bill and I noticed Iglesia de la Candelaria Tacubaya, on Calle José María Vigil, when we arrived in Colonia Escandón. Each time we walked past the church compound on the way to the Soriana Súper, we tried to guess at the age of the impressive buildings and garden space surrounded by high walls and, on Mondays, secured by a formidable iron gate.

Iglesia de la Candelaria Tacubaya in Colonia Escandón, Mexico City.

One day, when our plastic grocery sacks weren’t too heavy, we went inside.

Those stone and stucco walls are not just high, but also quite thick, and serve to mute the endless vehicle traffic on six-lane Avenida Revolución right out front. It’s cooler, too, as soon as you step out of the sun and into the shade of the various evergreen, hardwood, and palm trees that grow there, seemingly in no particular arrangement.

The garden of Iglesia de la Candelaria Tacubaya in Colonia Escandón, Mexico City; looking towards Avenida Revolución.

We never could figure out why all the tree bark is painted white for the first three or four feet up the trunk. However, the paint serves as a nice backdrop for the many plants, including a healthy group of cactuses, and flowers arranged in scattered gardens in between the trees.

We spent some time strolling around the perimeter of the garden on a uneven path that took us by four display cases with religious icons. By the looks of the icons, they’re quite old, although the vases of cut flowers in front of them are fresh.

Eventually, we got around to going inside the church. Compared to the rough exterior, we found the interior surprisingly ornate, with gold and crystal everywhere.

The main alter in Iglesia de la Candelaria Tacubaya in Colonia Escandón, Mexico City.

For the middle of the week, the place was hopping, with staff walking to and fro tending to the potted plants and the artifacts, as well as several people seated in the pews. We even encountered a few visitors like us who seemed to be doing nothing more than wandering around respectfully, just appreciating the serenity.

We learned that a Dominican friar founded the church in 1556. The building is larger than it looks, with four chapels, including an elaborate one dedicated to the Virgin of Rosario.

To the right, we passed through a wide entryway, and into an atrium with even more well-manicured plants and flowers.

Atrium in Iglesia de la Candelaria Tacubaya in Colonia Escandón, Mexico City.

By the time we emerged, we realized that we had spent over an hour in that peaceful place. And we felt the opposite of rushed and anxious.

After that experience, we paid more attention to the many churches that we realized were all around us.

On Union, at the corner of José Martí, we discovered Parroquia del Espíritu Santo y Señor Mueve Corazones (which translates to “Parish of the Holy Spirit and Lord Moves Hearts”).

Parroquia del Espíritu Santo y Señor Mueve Corazones (“Parish of the Holy Spirit and Lord Moves Hearts”) in Colonia Escandón, Mexico City.

Although its gate was closed, we enjoyed gazing at the soothing green courtyard and appreciated the amazing architecture, such as the bells under triple brick arches on the roof. The building’s solid structure provided a calming contrast to the frenetic sidewalk world of lunchtime street vendors and their ravenous customers.

On another day, above the apartment buildings and many commercial establishments that line the streets, even though we were many blocks away, we noticed distinctive blue-and-gold onion domes. We wondered, Maybe Russian influence?

At Patriotismo and Benjamin Franklin, we found stunning Iglesia San José de la Montaña.

Iglesia San José de la Montaña in Colonia Escandón, Mexico City.

Three or four homeless people sat on the steps of the structure, but they didn’t seem to mind sharing their space with a couple of tourists looking to find an alternative to the hustle.

Unlike Iglesia de la Candelaria Tacubaya, with its tranquil gardens, this church fronts an anything-but-tranquil intersection. Still, such a dependable presence eases the tension that would typically plague a corner with such density and demands.

When it all starts to feel a bit draining, that’s when we really appreciate these restful places that wouldn’t exist without the city’s tumult.

Where are your quiet spots in the city?