The San Gabriel Convent dates to 1520 and was built by the Spanish on a site that previously had a temple dedicated to a pre-Columbian deity. The convent was designed in the Plateresque style, a design popular in Spain and its colonies in the 15th and 16th centuries whose name derives from the Spanish word for silver (plata) and meant to evoke the fine, delicate work of silversmiths. Natural disasters, including fire and earthquakes, including the major 1999 tremor, had damaged the convent. In addition, the Pilgrim’s Portal, a long, arcaded structure facing the central courtyard, had been filled in with concrete.
How We Helped
In 2001 WMF, through the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage, supported the repair and conservation of the Pilgrim’s Portal. The exterior arcade was restored and sealed with glass to create an enclosure for the restored rare books. New marble and wood floors were installed. New electrical and mechanical systems were put in place, including exterior lighting, and a fence was erected. Mural paintings in corridors, reading rooms, and in what is now a small museum for sacred art were conserved.
Why It Matters
The Franciscan church of San Gabriel is one of the oldest of the religious sites in the Americas and is a fine example of Spanish colonial architecture in Mexico. Cholula played an important role in the early colonial history of the area as the site of Cortez’s Massacre of Cholula, part of his campaign that ultimately toppled the Aztec Empire. The diverse uses of the structure help to outline the history of the region, including its new use as an archive center, which will offer a comprehensive collection of the numerous written materials used by the Franciscans in the region.