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Temple & Convent of San Bernardino de Siena

convent and temple san bernardino
A 2006 photo from Wikimedia Commons

The Spiritual Center of Xochimilco

Begun in the 16th century, the Church and Convent of San Bernardino de Siena was badly damaged in the 2017 earthquake as were several parts of the wall surrounding the complex.

The church remains one of the spiritual centers of Roman Catholic Xochimilco, and an important reference point for everyone who visits. A rare 16th-century altarpiece inside is in the Plateresque style. The only other altarpiece like it is in Huejotzingo Puebla, although the Palacio de Correos in Mexico City is in a related neo-Plateresque style from the 19th century. For nearly two centuries, the complex included a school for the indigenous peoples of the area.

Traditionally many people in Xochimilco have also had a special relationship with the Niñopa child Christ. Created more than 430 years ago as part of the Spanish effort to convert the local people, the figure has been an important part of the religious life of the community ever since. The figure is in the custody of a sponsor or mayordomo, whose family is in charge of the many festivities and traditions associated with the image each year. These can include visits to the sick or attendance at mass. Important dates in the calendar year include Candlemas and the Day of the Child on April 30.


As Xochimilco was the most important town in the southern Valley of Mexico, the construction of this monumental church was actually begun in 1535. Various construction stages lasted over the next 65 years until 1600. The monastery portion was completed by 1538. Residential areas for monks were finished by 1585 as was the main church. The cloister was completely finished in 1604. Most of the money for construction was provided by the indigenous leaders of Xochimilco.

A great deal of the history and social life of Xochimilco has revolved around this church since then. It’s served as a center for social cohesion for the town and the surrounding alcaldia. In 1552, part of the main portal fell and needed to be reconstructed. That was finished in 1590. The school founded at the monastery in 1609, was intended to teach rhetoric, theology, and arts and letters and in fact there was still a primary school on site well into the 1970s. The church and monastery underwent major restoration work in the 1960s on both the building itself and on the paintings, altarpieces, and sculpture within. As mentioned above, the San Bernardino church was badly damaged in the 2017 earthquake and is currently being restored.

The church and former monastery were declared a national monument in 1932.


Phone: +52 (55) 5676 6470


Av. Guadalupe I. Ramírez, Santa Crucita, Xochimilco, 16070 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico