The Casa del Mayorazgo de Medina makes up the southern side of the Plaza de Santo Domingo. It’s best known today for hosting a couple of very busy and popular food stands at the street level. But, historically, it was the plot of land granted to Master Diego Pedraza. He was a Spanish surgeon who got to the City at an impossibly early date in 1524. His early arrival entitled him, at least in the Spanish eyes of the time to this property just a year later.
The prominent physician began working with the indigenous people almost as soon he got there. He especially studied the local medicine, the diseases afflicting the region, and the known remedies. Realizing they were an advanced civilization, he began working on rewriting the Badiano Codex, an herbarium written in both Latin and Nahuatl. The original author had been Martin de la Cruz, an indigenous doctor from the Colegio de Santiago de Tlatelolco. The translation into both Nahuatl and Latin was by the Xochimilcan, Juan Badiano, for whom the document is still named. The oldest medical catalog in the Americas, it was given as a gift to the son of the first viceroy, Don Antonio de Mendoza, in 1552. It remained in the Vatican Library until Pope John Paul II returned it to Mexico in 1990.
The doctor maintained a home here through most of his life. The first floor was used as a doctor’s office, apothecary, archive, and offices. Upstairs was his residence. But he’s actually better documented than is the building that came to stand on his lot.
The mansion we see today was built in the 18th century. Its origin is not well-known, but it is still named for the Mayorazgo de Medina. A majorat, a French legal concept, is essentially a land-trust intended to ensure primogeniture and succession in real estate holdings. The more common names in English law are the “entail” or “fee tail.” This one was founded in 1794 by Don Alfonso Picaso and Doña Isabel Picaso de Hinojosa, with a royal license. We might better understand the name as something like the House of the Medina Estate.
With the street level eateries, the Casa del Mayorazgo de Medina is a regular stop for lots of people visiting the Santo Domingo area. Nevertheless, it’s just one of many in a neighborhood rather dense with sites and attractions.