Thursday, June 20, 2024

Historic church needs even more work after weekend fire

Mexico City’s second oldest church was severely damaged in two fires which broke out on Sunday. 

Stained-glass windows, the pipe organ, paintings and the bell tower at the Church of the Santa Veracruz located in the city’s historic center were charred or destroyed in the blaze, authorities report.

The fire is thought to have been started by a homeless person who broke into the church and was living in the bell tower. One homeless man located inside the church was rescued by firefighters.

The first fire started early Sunday morning when wooden scaffolding — installed to prop up the building after it sustained structural damage during the 1985 and 2017 earthquakes — caught on fire. 

The fire was considered under control by 7:10 a.m., but burning embers had fallen into one of the organ’s pipes unbeknownst to firefighters, who were called back to the church to fight a second blaze at 4 p.m.

Fire department personnel were posted at the church to prevent another blaze, and police officers were deployed to keep people away from the church while a barricade was being built around the site. 

The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) deemed the church “a high-risk and uninhabitable property” three years ago and it has been closed since then.

Mexico City Government Secretary Alfonso Suárez del Real has been advocating for the church’s repair since the 2017 earthquake. 

“I hope that these dramatic upheavals that we have had at dawn today and this afternoon will serve to make us all get back on our feet and fully attend to the Santa Veracruz temple and its surroundings,” Suárez said on Sunday.

He said the church is not at risk of collapse, but continuing shifts may occur due to the stone structure’s response to the fire’s heat. 

Father Salvador Barba, liaison between the Archdiocese of Mexico and the Ministry of Culture, said that for three days in a row homeless people had broken into the church to spend the night, and he speculated they may have lit a fire for warmth.

Access points to the building are being bricked up in the interest of public safety. 

The church’s historical archive of documents was not damaged in the fire, nor was a painting by Spanish artist Cristóbal de Villalpando, the archdiocese reports.

Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés founded the church, which was built in 1568. It was reconstructed in the 18th century due to damage sustained by unstable ground, flooding and earthquakes. 

Manuel Tolsá, a noted sculptor and architect in Spain and Mexico, is buried inside the Santa Veracruz church in an undisclosed location.  

The National Institute of Anthropology and History plans to restore the building in conjunction with the archdiocese. Insurance and money from the federal natural disaster fund should allow for reconstruction to be completed in 2021.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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