The Cuernavaca Cathedral is the main church of what was the monastery of the Third Order of the Franciscans, called La Asunción, that dates back to the sixteenth century. It sits on the southeast corner of a large atrium, which also contains a number of other chapels that were built at different times and with different architectural styles. This complex is located at the intersection of Hidalgo and Morelos streets, a few blocks west of the town center.
The cathedral was built by Cortés to double as a fortress, with cannons mounted above the buttresses. Over time, this church underwent a number of transformations, updating its interior. This was undone in the mid-twentieth century, when restoration work removed all the Neoclassical altars and images. These now are stored in the cathedral’s pinacotheca and not available to the public. Restoration work uncovered al fresco murals on the lateral walls, relating to the martyrdom of Philip of Jesus, the first Mexican canonized as a saint. The only other decoration inside this church now is a modern-style crucifix and an image of the Assumption of Mary. This restoration work was carried out by Bishop Sergio Méndz Arceo.
After the Reform Laws in the 1860s, most of the monastery property passed into state, then private hands, leaving only what is now the cathedral and several smaller chapels on a very large atrium. The Revolution Garden was the orchard of the Cathedral, and the cloister with its observatory, is now the Robert Brady Museum. The church became the Cathedral of Cuernavaca in 1891.
Next to the cathedral is the “open chapel” (capilla abierta) of San José, which is an original structure built in the sixteenth century. It also was rescued and restored by Bishop Méndez Arceo and is one of the oldest constructions on the site. The building consists of a vault with three arches that face the atrium. These arches are supported by a pair of flying buttresses. Inside the arches is an altarpiece dating from the seventeenth century.
The main entrance is on Hidalgo street, where one passes between two large chapels called the Chapel of Santa Cruz and the Chapel of the Tercera Orden. The Tercera Orden is considered to be the more valuable artistically of the two, with its highly-sculpted early Baroque main and side portals painted in various colors. Inside, there is a later Churrigueresque main altar. A third chapel, called the Chapel of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores is farther into the atrium and near the Open Chapel of San José.