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The Santa Catarina Church faces the plaza of the same name in the famous La Lagunilla neighborhood, just north of Mexico City’s Historical Center. The neighborhood is most famous today for the Sunday antiques market. In truth, multiple marketplaces keep the streets teeming most of the week.
The main parish church for the neighborhood, the Brotherhood of Santa Catarina founded the church in 1568. They’re known to have been in the neighborhood since 1537. The same brotherhood established a hospital in the east of the neighborhood, presuming the original lagoon was not yet quite dry. They dedicated a chapel here to Saint Catharine of Alexandria. Along with a cemetery, the complex is thought to have been supported in some measure by Hernán Cortés.
Historically, the church is also famous for its location at the beginning of the road to the Basilica de Guadalupe and for being directly north of the Cathedral. The Plaza de Santa Catarina, the former atrium, hosted welcome events for new viceroys. Santa Catarina was also the the patron saint of the university and so many events associated with the university occurred here too.
The much smaller chapel was upgraded to a parish church along with the Church of Santa Veracruz due to increasing need in 1568. Rebuilt on a number of occasions, the building we see today dates from the mid-18th century. The façade is mid-17th century. Simple and made entirely of tezontle and quarry, it’s one of the most striking you’ll see. The two bodies surround the portal. With paired and fluted pilasters, the niche of the second body is flanked by a pair of simple stipes. The framed chorus window has oculi on either side.
A great flood in 1629 severely damaged the church. The Virgin of Guadalupe arrived in a procession of boats to comfort the neighborhood residents. Another flood in 1640 necessitated a complete rebuilding and this lasted until 1662. Between 1691 and 1692, the renowned architect Cristóbal de Medina Vargas completed a major remodeling. Both the outstanding Baroque-style side portal and the main chapel date from this period. A 1740 renovation completed most of what we see today.
La Lagunilla can seem a crowded, even overwhelming space. The Church of Santa Catarina has been a continued source of calm and reflection even over these many centuries.