Monthly Archives: January 2023

OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY: Santo Domingo Church, Oaxaca, Oaxaca



Tourists flock to the city of Oaxaca, a “charming, colonial gem” which boasts of a superb climate. It is a five-hour drive southeast of Mexico City and is located in a valley surrounded by the towering Sierra Madre Del Sur mountains. Oaxaca’s historical centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The city was conquered by the Spanish in 1533 and was originally a  Zapotec and Mixtec settlement.

There are more than twenty-seven churches in the city and the enormous Church of Santo Domingo (named after the Spanish founder of the Dominican Order, Dominic Guzman) is one of the most prized. “None can equal the splendor of this one’s interior,” says one guidebook. Another says: “Of the many churches in the city, this is the one most likely to take your breath away.” It was begun in 1572 by the Dominican Order and is considered one of the finest Baroque churches in the western world. We are told not to be misled by the simple façade! It hides “an interior that dazzles with gilded plaster and coloured stucco in a sublime combination of Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque and Moorish styles.”

The “remarkable” Capilla del Rosario is exceptional and is considered the most stunning of the church’s twelve side altars. This is only fitting given the central role of the Rosary in the Dominican Order! They spared no expense in building this outstanding chapel. It was constructed in 1731 and at its centre is the “white-robed virgin” flanked by four golden, spiral columns. She was brought from Italy in 1725. Its chapel is considered the most “rococo” (Baroque) altar in the country!

The church functioned as a convent from 1608 until 1857. During the wars of independence it was used as a barracks for the soldiers. As a result of the Reform Laws it was abandoned by the Dominicans, only to be occupied by the army. From 1866 to 1902 it was closed for worship, and was “looted and wrecked.” During those tumultuous times the treasured statue of Our Lady of the Rosary (and many others) was hidden in private homes, safe from the marauding mobs. In 1938 the church was given back to the clergy.

The members of the Dominican Order were missionaries from the beginning. The Order was founded by Spanish Dominic de Guzman in 1215 and was sanctioned by Pope Innocent lll. The Dominicans arrived in America in the 16th century in answer to a call from Hernan Cortez,. The first Dominicans arrived in Mexico in 1526, two years after the arrival of the first evangelizers, the Franciscans, who arrived after the Spanish Conquest in 1521.

In 1529, Fray Domingo de Betanzos, the first Dominican Provincial of New Spain, ordered his community to establish a Dominican presence in Oaxaca. In 1552 twelve friars were sent to oversee the construction of the first monastery. The church was damaged by several earthquakes over the centuries (Oaxaca is an earthquake-prone state) and in 1902 Archbishop Gillow began the work of restoration. Through wars and earthquakes and looting and sabotage, Our Lady of the Rosary has always protected the magnificent church of Santo Domingo and her flock in Oaxaca!