YURIRIA, Mexico – A former Augustinian convent of the 16th century is the absolute gem of Yuriria, one of the Magic Villages of Guanajuato state that has resisted the passing of time and displays the architectural magnificence of the first colonial buildings of central Mexico.
Mexico owes this monumental work to the efforts of Friar Diego de Chavez y Alvarado, whose statue has stood for centuries on the esplanade of this majestic, castle-like architectural complex.
Friar Matias de Escobar, Augustinian chronicler of the 18th century, described Chavez y Alvarado as a native of Badajoz in southwestern Spain, who “took the habit at the convent in Mexico,” adding that he was the prior of “Tacambaro, Tiripitio and Yuririapundaro (Yuriria) and founded their convents.”
Chavez y Alvarado was the nephew of Pedro de Alvarado, one of the conquistadores of Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
According to information at the museum of the ex-convent of Yuriria, chronicles of the time say that before beginning construction of the church and convent in 1550, the people were civilized and the hospital was built.
Entrusted to Friar Diego de Chavez were 6,000 baptized Indians, according to the writings of Friar Nicolas Navarrete.
Yuriria, located some 320 kilometers (200 miles) from Mexico City, became the center for evangelizing local Indians, thanks also to the roads built for the purpose.
Inside the massive structure, the friars’ cells looked out on Lake Yuriria, considered the first hydraulic work of colonial America and which dates back to 1548.
Still visible are the frescoes adorning the monastery walls, including a noteworthy scene of the slaughter of the innocents as described in the Gospel according to St. Matthew.
On the upper part, looking toward the central well and patio, are gargoyles with figures symbolizing the four evangelists: bull, eagle, lion and angel.
At the church entrance, the majestic facade displays religious elements described in material available at the church museum.
Crowning this facade is “St. Augustine with miter, cape and staff, and at his sides two shields: one with an eagle on a prickly pear cactus, and the second with a two-headed eagle, symbols of the fusion of two cultures.”
On the four columns flanking the entrance, with some cherubim nearby, are representations of the pillars of the church, St. Peter and St. Paul.