The Temple of San Hipólito and San Casiano can pack a lot of story into its twin towers and surrounding complex. While today it’s the chief meeting place for boisterous followers of San Judas Tadeo (Saint Jude in English), the temple goes back to the conquest and doesn’t stop there.
This is the beginning of the old (super-old) Calzada Mexico-Tacuba, the causeway that led from Tenochtitlan to its neighbor city in Tacuba, then called Tlacopan. As such, there’s almost too much history here to reflect in one page. Here’s an attempt.
The street beginning here, on the way to Tacuba was long called the “Puente de Alvarado.” It was here that the Spanish fled Tenochtitlan on June 30, 1520. Alvarado had been left in charge of the city while Cortés convinced a group of Spaniards sent to arrest him to join him in the plunder. The street name was changed to Calzada Mexico-Tenochtitlan in 2021.
At what is the intersection today, there was a defensive moat. Here the gold-laden Spaniards suffered major losses weighed down by their own loot. It took them a year to regroup, return, and conquer Tenochtitlan in 1521. Further down the causeway, in Popotla, according to legend, Cortés paused and wept at his losses.
It is thought that as soon as the next year, Cortés ordered a temple built here to commemorate the many fallen. The site was to be dedicated to San Hipólito and San Casiano, as their feast-days are commemorated on August 13, the day that Tenochtitlan fell.
Hippolytus was a 3rd century martyr. Casiano, a teacher tortured to death for refusing to worship Roman idols.
Cortés and the Spanish took an interest in the lands emerging on both sides of the elevated causeway. This was to be but one hospice among the many orchards and farms distributed along the way to Tacuba.
The original hermitage was rebuilt as a temple beginning in 1581 and around that time a hospice for the poor, the elderly, and the mentally unfit were added.
The Paseo del Pendón, a sort of loyalty-to-the-crown parade, commemorated the fall of Tenochtitlan each August 13. It was celebrated throughout most of the colonial period. Beginning at today’s National Palace, it ended every year at San Hipólito.
The temple we see today was begun in 1599 and completed only in 1740.
Parts of the foundations date from 1528.
The entire structure is built from tezontle volcanic rock, quarried cantor stone, and lime mortar.
The church has a single nave in the shape of a Latin cross, and the floor is laid in mosaic.
The towers, for their 45 degrees rotation from the facade, are nearly unique in the city.
The towers are decorated with Spanish ajaraca ornamentation.
A relief of San Hipólito takes up the central space above the main entrance.
The other two figures are Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint Anthony of Padua.
The Virgin Mary is in a stained glass window made in the past century.
The Hospital building to the west de San Hipólito has gone through many changes.
In 1843, General Antonio López de Santa Anna used it for a military barracks and sold the bottom floor spaces.
From 1847 to 1850 it housed the Municipal Hospital.
The School of Medicine used it as headquarters from 1850 to 1853 and, after the Reform Laws (1857) it was simply rented out.
Renovations closed the church for a time until 1893.
The doors were famously closed during the Ten Tragic Days of 1913. The church was badly damaged and did not reopen until 1919.
It was declared a National Monument in 1931.
In the 1950s, a chapel was dedicated to San Judas Tadeo.
In 1974, some remains believed to be those of actual conquistadors, were moved within the vaults of the church.
As the saint grew increasingly popular, his image was moved to the main altar in 1982, precisely between images of San Hipólito and San Casiano.
The Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes, his feast day is October 28, but devotees celebrate their devotion to him on the 28th of each month, year round. And vendors selling devotional items related to San Judas Tadeo can be seen out the main entrance on most days.
Like the Church of Santa Veracruz just down the street, the Temple of San Hipólito occupies a complex and controversial place in history. It’s probably not enough to dismiss the entirety of that contradictory and often painful history. Look into it directly and question all that you can.