The Old Parish Church of the Indians (Antigua Parrochia de Indios) is the oldest surviving building within the entire Basilica complex. Today it’s administered by the Capuchins of the Parish of Santa María de Guadalupe. Their main church is almost in front of this one. They also administer the Capilla de Juramentos, in their old convent building building immediately to the left when you approach this very old hermitage.
The church is also said to have been where Juan Diego lived during the last part of his life between 1531 and 1548. According to tradition, the church housed the original and sacred image of the Virgin of Guadalupe from 1695 to 1709. It was then transferred to the Old Basilica building.
Built in about 1649, the church came about at the request of the vicar of the then independent town of Guadalupe. The same vicar had printed the Nican Mopohua, that is, a Nahuatl narration of the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe written by Antonio Valerian. The same vicar used the church to provide religious and evangelization services for the considerable indigenous population. A brotherhood of all indigenous people was established here later in 1679.
The church is also famous for having housed the banner with which Miguel Hidalgo led the earliest part of the War for Mexican Independence. That artifact was kept here from 1853 through 1896. Soon after, the church fell into serious disrepair and stood roofless until 1998. On the 450th anniversary of the death of Juan Diego it was reopened.
The church’s sacristy, to the right of the altar, bears remnants of two earlier hermitages. One was built by Bishop Zumárraga in 1531. Bishop Montúfar replaced it with another in 1556. A third church, from 1622, is sometimes called “the church of the coffered ceiling” for the richly decorated wooden ceiling. No part of that church remains.
Today the Old Parish Church of the Indians is a well-loved part of the Parish of Santa Maria. It’s often used for special masses, sermons, and events of pertinence to the extensive parish its community. Daily mass is said at 8 a.m. Sunday through Friday.