Keeping San Ángel’s cultural heritage very much alive with its flower festival as well as the Dolores and Day of the Dead altars, El Carmen Museum is an essential port of call for anyone wishing to discover more about these unique traditions. It is located in the Ex-Colegio de San Ángelo Mártir, formerly a college with stunning, colonial architecture and a history closely interwoven with that of San Ángel—once a town in its own right that used to be on the outskirts of the capital—where the Order of the Barefoot Carmelites was established 400 years ago.
The building was constructed between 1615 and 1617 under the supervision of Fray Andrés de San Miguel. As a seventeenth-century edifice, it was central to the area’s social, cultural and economic development. It ceased to operate as a monastery during the Reform years; it was subdivided and lost much of its land, which used to extend all the way to the area known as Chimalistac. During that period it was used variously as a jail, a storehouse, and an army barracks. In 1921, it became a cultural center and, finally, in 1929, it was converted into a museum of religious art of the vice-regal period, immediately turning into an iconic location that strengthened the community’s identity and cultural roots.
In November 2012, it reopened to the public after nine of its galleries were renovated and its displays brought up to date. The museum is perhaps most invaluable for the building itself: a beautiful and austere construction that endures its frenetic urban surroundings like a serene monk, and its most outstanding feature is the coffered ceiling over the sacristy.
Once inside, visitors are able to reconstruct the life of the Barefoot Carmelites in different spaces distributed around the complex of buildings: the porter’s lodge, cells (each one furnished with a bed, table and bench seat, crucifix and a mural of the Virgin), ante-choir, domestic chapel, sacristy, punishment cell, refectory, sickbay, lookout point, orchard, crypts, library and an aqueduct. The esthetic and stylistic qualities of the artworks can be appreciated during a visit of the different rooms, confirming the building’s influence on the area’s evolution. The museum has around 300 objects on display—a selection from its overall collection of 700—and these include works of religious art, by leading artists of New Spain such as Cristóbal de Villalpando, Luis Juárez, Miguel Cabrera, Juan Becerra and Juan Correa, as well as by anonymous painters. In addition to the paintings, there are sculptures and original furnishings from the former college, which reveal the history and daily life of the Carmelites, including items such as portraits, altarpieces, patrocinios (images of a protective patron saint), reliquaries, handcrafts, documents, choir books, engravings and the remains of frescos, some of them recently discovered—there is also a variety of some remarkable (Dominican, Augustinian, Franciscan) objects as well as exhibits from other museums such as Chapultepec Castle, the Museum of Interventions, and the Museum of Santa Monica. A number of donated and confiscated objects have further enriched the collection.
The museum’s exhibits also safeguard the collective imaginary and memory of the Mexican people, as in the case of the 12 mummies (of monks and local inhabitants buried in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) which were found by revolutionary soldiers, antique photographs, and 50 miniature human figurines made in wax by the artist Carmen Antúnez, which, apart from their extraordinary realism and textile work, constitute a remarkable ethnological record of ritual dances and traditional costumes of Mexico’s indigenous peoples.
Delegación Álvaro Obregón, C.P. 01000,
Ciudad de México, México.
+52 (55) 5616 6622