|Top: Photo by George P. Thresher circa
1900 titled "Theatre at Guanajuato". Malcolm Lubliner
Collection. All rights reserved.
|Bottom: The Teatro Juárez as it looks
today. Photo by Bob Mrotek 2005.
tell the story of G.P. Thresher’s photo “Theatre at Guanajuato” or
what is more commonly known as “Teatro Juárez” one must first tell
the story of what came before. The site of the theatre is actually
two sites in tangent, one secular, and one religious, and they march
through history together like inseparable twins. The religious site
was born first.
About 100 years after the city of Guanajuato was founded it was
still without a local “convento” or what we would normally call a
monastery. For this reason, in the year 1663 a small group of Franciscan
Friars came to Guanajuato and on the 22nd of January celebrated mass
for the first time in a tiny chapel improvised from tree branches.
They didn’t receive permission from the Spanish government to found
their mission, however, until the 29th of March in 1677 but by then
they had gotten into a squabble over real estate with one of their
neighbors. That issue wasn’t resolved until 1679. From that date
begins the real story of the church of San Pedro Alcantará and the
convento of San Diego Alcalá.
San Diego Alcalá was a favorite patron saint of the branch of the
Franciscan order known as Dieguinos. He was born in the year 1400
and died in 1463. San Diego, California is named after this saint
primarily because the city was founded as a mission by Padre Junipero
Serra who was also a Franciscan. San Pedro Alcantará was the founder
of the Dieguino branch of the Franciscan Order and San Pedro Alcantará
and San Diego Alcalá are often confused with one another but I really
don’t think they would mind. The order is sometimes also called the
Alcantarinos or the Franciscans “Descalzados” or “Barefoot Franciscans.”
Suffice to say, their regimen was very strict and they were very
dedicated holy men.
|The church of San Pedro Alcantará.
On the inside the name is given as San Pedro Alcantará but
on the outside the sign says it is San Diego Alcalá as it is
known locally. The two saints are frequently confused with
one another. They would probably find that amusing. Photo by
Bob Mrotek 2005.
The site of the Convento of San Diego Alcalá which at one time sat
alongside the present church of San Pedro de Alcantará is now the
site of the Teatro Juárez. At the time that the church and convent
were built it was a very poor place to put a structure. No doubt
it was put there in part because the Dieguinos themselves were a
very poor order. The canyon in which the city of Guanajuato is located
is formed by two separate chains of hills which run parallel to each
other and in places their bases are separated by only a few dozen
yards. It was in exactly such a spot that the Dieguinos located their
church and convent. Originally the Guanajuato river flowed leisurely
through the canyon between the ranges. Most of the time it was a
tranquil little stream but on certain occasions it turned into a
raging torrent. The years 1760, 1772, and 1780 were some of those
In those days, before the drainage tunnels
were built under the city of Guanajuato, there were various bridges
that crossed the bed of the river that flowed along what is now known
as Juárez Street. The original site of the Diegan monastery sat in
a little bowl formed at the center of four hills through which flowed
the river. Every time that there was a flood this little bowl would
fill up with water and the result was nearly always destruction and
death. After three such episodes in a twenty year period it was determined
that something had to be done. The city fathers decided to raise
the level of the church and the monastery. The decision to raise
the level of the church of San Pedro Alcantará and the adjoining
monastery was one of the most striking enterprises in the history
of the development of the city of Guanajuato. It must have been a
herculean task. Over one half of the cost was paid by the Conde de
Valeciano, Antonio de Obregón y Alcocer. He was the owner of the
fabulous nearby silver mine and at that time he was the richest man
in New Spain. The floors, the walls, and the roofs were raised about
15 to 20 feet and the church received a completely new façade. The
amazing thing is that except for the finishing touches the project
took only two years to accomplish. It is interesting to note that
construction of the Alhóndiga was begun just a few years later.
Now let us fast forward to the year 1861. Times had changed quite
a bit in Mexico. The battle for independence from Spain had been
fought and won and it was now the era of reform. Church property
had been confiscated by the state. The city fathers who so obligingly
raised the church were no longer living. The new crop of city fathers
decided that they wanted a plaza where the courtyard of San Pedro
Alcantará was currently located. In order to accomplish their desire
they had to tear down the chapel of the Third order of Saint Francis
which was part of the church. That was also very significant political
act. The “Tercer Orden” or Third Order of Saint Frances was made
up of Catholics who did not take the vows of Holy Orders but who
followed the strict penitential rules of the Order of Saint Francis
in their regular secular lives. The chapel of the Tercer Orden had
been reserved exclusively for their use. In those days there was
a fierce power struggle going on between the Catholic Conservatives
and the Liberals of the Reforma. The Liberal government at the time
may have perceived a threat in the presence of the Tercer Orden and
fearing that it might become a political club of the religious right
they took advantage of the opportunity to tear down the “club house”.
|General Florencio Antillón, the Governor
of Guanajuato who initiated the construction of the Teatro
Juárez. Illustration from the book “Our Sister Republic” by
Colonel Albert S. Evans. Columbian Book Company, Hartford Connecticut,
For a time the other parts of
the closed down monastery served as a hotel and a stage coach station.
In the year 1867, after the execution of Emperor Maximilian, a man
named General Florencio Antillón became the governor of the State
of Guanajuato. He was a loyal native son, a hero of the army, and
last but not least an associate of President Benito Juárez. On the
3rd of August, 1872 it was he who announced that a new theatre was
to be built on the site of the old monastery and that it would be
a theatre of the first class and serve as a “proof of civilization”.
The first stone was laid on may 5th, 1873. The theatre as he envisioned
it is not the same edifice that we see today. The first architect
was a man named José Noriega who was an associate of General Antillón
and collaborated with him on several projects including in that same
year the construction in nearby Marfil of the Church of Santa Maria
de la Asuncion. This church has a definite gothic look to it and
features a clock tower that looks more like a belvedere than a tower
and contains a clock made in Germany. Noriega also designed another
theatre called the Teatro de la Paz in San Luis Potosí. In 1877 Governor
Antillón was unseated by followers of President Porfirio Diaz Mori
and the Teatro Juárez project languished until 1891 when it was revamped
by an architect named Antonio Rivas Mercado, who by the way, was
also the architect who designed the famous Column of Independence
in Mexico City. By this time during the Diaz Administration money
for opulent public works was flowing like water and the Teatro Juárez
final design reflects it.
|Diagram showing the relationship between
the Church of San Pedro Alcantará, the Convento San Diego Alcalá
and the Capilla Tecer Orden, and the Teatro Juárez. Drawing
composite by Bob Mrotek 2005.
curious to note that the theatre is just about the same size as the
church beside it and not only that but the theatre is shaped like
the church with an apse, or rounded end at the back. It has no transept,
however. A transept is the part of a church that is perpendicular
to the nave and forms the arm of a cross when looking down at the
floor plan from above. You might say that one was a church built
for God and the other a church built for Mammon. When the workers
began the foundation for the theatre they stumbled across the original
foundation level of the old monastery from 1679 and came up shouting,
“Hey, there is a little Pompey down here”. Portions of the old monastery
still exist below the street level between the church and the theatre
and can be seen today. One of the items pictured with this article
is the old well that can also be located in the composite drawing
of the monastery perimeter. It is in the center of the square of
dots just to the left of the nave of the church. The theatre was
more or less completed in 1897 but wasn’t inaugurated until the 27th
of October, 1903 when none other than Porfirio Diaz himself came
to watch the opening performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida in a theatre
named for Diaz’s greatest political rival. That is quite an irony.
He could have just as easily had the theatre named after himself,
or maybe he thought that it would be one day anyway.
|The Greek statues that were displayed
atop the Machinery Building of the Columbian Exposition of
1893 in Chicago, Illinois. They appear to be very similar to
the Teatro Juárez statues and came from the same workshop of
the W.H. Mullins Company of Salem, Ohio. Photo from “The Dream
City – A Portfolio of Photographic Views of the World’s Columbian
Exposition”, N.D. Thompson Publishing, St. Louis, Missouri,
1893. Courtesy Paul V. Galvin Library, Illinois Institute of
Other than its magnificent columns and bronze
lions flanking the front steps one of the most striking features
of the theatre are the bronze statues that line the portico reminiscent
of St. Peter’s in Rome or Mary Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal.
Instead of being statues of saints as in the aforementioned structures
the Teatro Juárez statues bear likeness to Greek mythological figures.
They are reported to be the Greek muses, Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe,
Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsicore, Thalia, and Urania. There is only
one problem. The Teatro Juárez has only eight statues and there were
nine muses. Some people say that Erato was left out and others say
it was Euterpe. The statues were made by W.H. Mullins of Salem, Ohio
who began making architectural accoutrements in 1882. Among many
other things he is famous for his statues of the deer which came
to symbolize the John Deere Tractor Company. The statues on the Teatro
Juárez are made of pieces stamped from sheet bronze and soldered
together. It just so happens that in 1892 Mr. Mullins made some very
similar statues for the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago.
They were supposed to represent the sciences. Perhaps the statues
on the theatre are sisters of those statues. That is something that
still needs to be checked out. In any case Mr. Mullins must have
been quite a guy. He died in 1932 after a very full and fruitful
One more thing. Whatever became of the Dieguinos? Well, by the last
half of the 19th century there was a proliferation of Franciscan
missionaries under banners such as the Capuchins, the Riformati,
the Recollects, and our own beloved Alcanterines or “Dieguinos”,
all marching to the sound of a different drummer. On the feast day
of Saint Francis of Assisi, October 4th, 1897, Pope Leo the XIII
published a papal bull uniting the various branches under one order
called the Order of the Friars Minor. So, you see, the Dieguinos
didn’t die out. Like good soldiers everywhere they just faded away.
Their spirit is still alive and doing the Lord’s work wherever it
needs to be done. The next time you see a Franciscan Friar in his
brown robes and sandals remember the story San Diego Alcalá, San
Pedro Alcantará, and the barefoot Dieguinos of Guanajuato and say
a little prayer for all of the followers of St. Francis. As for the
Teatro Juárez, it is a truly a rewarding place to visit and hopefully
it will stand out as a “proof of civilization” for the people of
Guanajuato for years and years to come.
Bob Mrotek can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com.
|From above and to the rear the two edifices
look as strange as companions as they do from the front. From
the perspective of Heaven above the church appears as a little
jewel box and the theatre appears to have a plain wrapper. Nevertheless
they are historical bedfellows permanently joined at the hip.
Photos and composite by Bob Mrotek 2005.
||One of the bronze lions that flanks the entrance steps of the
Teatro Juárez. Photo by Bob Mrotek 2004
|Main auditorium, Teatro Juárez. Photo by Bob Mrotek
||Smoking salon, Teatro Juárez.
Photo by Bob Mrotek 2004
|Below street level between
the church and the theatre can still be found the old well
in what was formerly the patio of the old monastery. Photo
by Bob Mrotek 2005.
||Typical style of the interior
statuary, Teatro Juárez.
Photo by Bob Mrotek 2005.