Rebuilding History

February 8, 2023

Back in November, I did a post on the renovation of the 460-year-old Convent of the Nativity in Tepoztlan. The old monastic church, which at times has served as stables, a prison and a storehouse, was badly damaged in the September 2017 earthquake. Some desultory repair work was done between then and the Covid pandemic, but it was only this past autumn that real restoration began.

I ignored the place for some time until I noticed one morning that the damaged towers at the front had been dismantled, to remove cracked stones. Going closer, I was able to see through the open front door inside the church, and was relieved to note that some of the stained glass windows were still intact. The severest damaged happened to the roof and the towers.

The next thing I saw was that rather than just repair damage, the crews had rebuilt an arcade beside the church that must have fallen down two centuries ago. They used brick instead of masonry, but the work is now mostly completed.

The front entrance of the Convent of the Nativity before the 2017 earthquake.

The exterior also received a new coat of cement in several places, so that the building looks deceptively new. I’m not sure if I like this or not, but it’s done now, and the form of the original structure is easier to see than it has been since the early 1800s.

It’s not clear exactly when the place will be opened to visitors again. The church bells need to be replaced in the towers, everything needs to be double-tested, and no doubt there are some things that still need a little shoring up. The connecting entrances from the cloisters to the church were sealed many years ago, so perhaps we’ll find they have been opened up again.

Scaffolding around the front towers as they are dismantled then reassembled by teams of stonemasons.

Whenever the doors are finally unsealed once more, it will be good to see this majestic structure from the inside once more. This as well as the half-dozen other 16th Century monasteries around the Popocatepetl volcano constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it has a unique atmosphere that I’ve often enjoyed in the past.

The arcade at the side of the church, rebuilt in brick. The main church walls are sealed now with a layer of cement.

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