Restoration of Mexico City Cathedral reveals time capsules hidden during construction | Culture

Restoration of Mexico City Cathedral reveals time capsules hidden during construction | Culture

Workers during the restoration of the Mexico City Cathedral.SECRETARÍA DE CULTURA

One day in late December, just after 10 a.m., a clay tile broke away from the main dome of Mexico City Cathedral, revealing the first find: a lead can with an inscription in Latin, small enough to fit in the palm of the hand of the restorer. Inside was a color painting on parchment depicting a passage from the Bible. Workers spent eight hours removing tiles, exposing another 22 opaque metal boxes worn with age and bearing white spots similar to the first. The discovery came during the restoration of the cathedral, which suffered “moderate” damage during the 2017 earthquake and now requires constant renovations. When all the boxes were uncovered, the workers knew they had valuable items on their hands.

Arturo Balandros, director of the Department of Cultural Heritage Sites and Monuments at Mexico’s Secretariat of Culture, announced the discoveries last Friday. “It’s very exciting,” he said. Balandros said this type of discovery is “common” when working on monuments with such a long history. According to Balandros, 1,579 temples and places of worship have been restored since the 2017 earthquake. “According to the hypothesis of researchers and cathedral theologians, these boxes contain images of the protector saints spreading a cloak over our city’s cathedral complex,” he added.

Some of the items found in the hidden chests in the dome of the Cathedral.SECRETARÍA DE CULTURA

The boxes appeared in small rectangular, shallow niches in the cathedral’s lantern: the tubular space that tops the building’s central dome and lets in light and air. Maricarmen Castro, restoration coordinator at the National Institute of Anthropology and History, tells EL PAÍS that her department worked “at full speed” for 10 days to analyze the objects. “It was a unique opportunity,” adds the restorer. Although experts cannot determine with certainty who placed the boxes there and when, they estimate it may have been in the 17th or 18th centuries, in a ritual to protect the building. When the boxes were removed from the niches to be examined, Castro ordered that a cross and a religious image be put in place of each one to “proceed with protection.”

Some of the 23 boxes bear Latin inscriptions alluding to saints or divine beings. For example, one of them carries a prayer to Jesus of Nazareth asking for protection and mercy. Others, on the other hand, contain no indication or indication of what is contained within. Upon opening, the experts found paintings, crosses made of wood or palm trees, or fragments that “probably” represented clay or wax medallions. Some were in a good state of preservation, others were damaged by moisture or are incomplete or broken, as can be seen in the images published by the Kultursekretariat. One of the boxes had been ransacked and emptied.

A note from 1810 found in one of the boxes.SECRETARÍA DE CULTURA

Balandros says these discoveries reflect the “final phase of construction of the cathedral.” Located in the capital’s main square, the Zócalo, Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral was built over the course of 240 years, between 1573 and 1813. The architect who started the project was Claudio de Arciniega, who based his design on the new Salamanca Cathedral in Spain. When the cathedral was finished, the architect in charge of the works was Manuel Tolsá, who finished the façade, towers and dome. One of the painters then working on the cathedral, who may have been part of Tolsá’s team, found one of the boxes dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.

The researchers who discovered the boxes last December were able to confirm this, since one of them contained a piece of paper, dated 1810, with the following inscription: “Severo Arceo and Nicolás Serrano, painters, and José Félix, José Sicilia and Juan García, bricklayers, and Juan Flores, carpenters found these relics of His Holiness John the Baptist when this dome was being painted in 1810. Pray to God for their souls. Archbishop Don Francisco Xavier de Lizana y Beaumont was viceroy, Fernando VII reigned in Spain and Napoleon Bonaparte in France.” The conservators believe that this chest “was the only one found and opened that year”.

When the analysis by experts at the National Institute of Anthropology and History is complete, authorities have said the boxes will be returned “to their original position” in the central dome’s lantern. They are reinforced with protective packaging to help their preservation. The restoration work on the cathedral, which began in 2019, is nearing completion. During these efforts, attention was paid to the pillars that maintain the stability of the building, which was built on soft ground that has caused it to continually subside. The flora growing in the stone joints has been removed and the electrical system and lightning rod have also been renovated.

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