I would like to talk to you and invite you to a place that comforted me during my childhood and adolescence. During this time, I lived in a community adjacent to the town where I reside today. This place is called Huejotzingo, here is the former convent of San Miguel Arcángel, for Christians and Catholics San Miguel is one of the seven archangels protectors of the Church, perhaps that is why whenever I visited this place I felt very safe, but as not to feel that way, it is a magical place today! I will describe the place and the sensations that you experience in this space today, after the pain and suffering that our ancestors experienced 500 years ago.

This former convent began construction in 1526 and finished in 1570. It is one of the first convents to be built. In two surrounding areas, there are other convents, the ex-convent of Calpan (which began to be built in 1548) and the ex-convent of Tochimilco (which was built in two stages, the first from 1530 to 1540 and the second stage from 1590 to 1600). I have always had a fascination with traveling to the past, I think it is because I am terrified of the present and the future, in recent years I have learned to enjoy the present, even so, at times I like to enjoy traveling to the past.

Let's travel to the past together, but before starting, I invite you to listen to and play Debussy-Rêverie or Schubert's Ave Maria performed by Violinia Zhanna Stelmakh, to embark on this journey.

Almost 500 years ago, in the year 1524, when 12 Franciscan monks arrived in Veracruz, along with four others who had arrived earlier with Hernán Cortés, they decided to divide into four groups and establish temples in the main indigenous settlements: México, Texcoco and Huejotzingo. After 2 years of planning, work on the Franciscan convent of Huejotzingo began in 1526, directed by Brother Juan de Alameda. The convent has a plateresque style.

The entrance to the convent is preceded by 10 high and wide steps, which surround the main black gate. When this gigantic gate opens, we are dazzled by immense ahuejotes (native trees of the area) that accompany the watercourse, in the four corners of the atrium there is a posa chapel that was used to teach the indigenous people their beliefs, they were outside due to Because the indigenous people performed their ceremonies outdoors, it was a way to make them feel familiar with spiritual practices. Between the entrance to the main chapel (where mass was celebrated) and the chapel in the right corner, there is an entrance, the entrance to the convent. A tall and narrow entrance that takes us to the chapter house, a space where the monks gathered, after mass, to read the scriptures, talk and reflect on the affairs of the monastery.

The monks sat along the walls following a strict order of seniority, ending the meeting with a public confession of the monks who wished to accuse themselves of the faults committed or wished to denounce another companion, omitting his name.

At the back of the room there is an entrance that leads us to the upper and lower cloister (Figure 1), a kind of patio, on its four sides they have beautiful arches that rest on columns, in the center there is a fountain from which emanates an infinite number of melodies coming from of the movement of water. In the gardens there are fruit trees from the region, tejocote, guava, peron and fig trees, home to an immense diversity of birds that sing and dance like dancers in a ballet work. This is a place for reflection, meeting, a space for reading and thinking.

Figure 1. High and low cloister.

On one of these four sides of the patio is the entrance to the Sala De Profundis, it was a kind of dining room, a place where the monks prayed before eating. It is a place with walls decorated with wood and canvases of religious paintings.

To one side of the Sala De Profundis, there is the refactory or dining room (Figure 2), a rectangular space where the tables are aligned along the walls. Meals were eaten in silence, only breaking this silence with the Bible readings they did, the monks fed their bodies with food and also fed their souls with the word of God.

Figure 2. Refectory overlooking the orchard.

On the second floor, there are the rooms, small and minimalist spaces, each room has a window that overlooks the garden, a bed, a chair and prayer table, and a closet (Figure 3). Next door is the infirmary, both the dining room, the bedrooms, the kitchen and the infirmary have access to the garden. The dispensary or infirmary was connected to a part of the garden with external stairs, which was probably where they grew medicinal plants that were harvested and used to make ointments, syrups, medicines, etc.

The monks' rooms had a view of the garden since one of the functions of the viceregal gardens, in addition to providing food, was to be spaces for meditation. When the sun rose, the friars prayed and observed the orchard, before beginning their activities.

Figure 3. Room with view of the orchard.

The main plants, vegetables, fruit trees and medicinal plants that were planted were: onions, leeks, cabbages, spider mite, parsley, shallots, lettuce, garlic, broad beans, peas, lemon trees, tomatoes, beans, strawberries, fig trees, date trees, apricots, basil, lavender, oregano, thyme, mint, rhubarb, nutmeg, chabalonga and many more.

The garden has an area for growing fruit and vegetables, a section for growing medicinal plants and a space for storing water (Figure 4).

For a long time, I felt this place like a home, a place to feel calm, loved and accepted, I imagined that I was a Franciscan monk and I roamed the corridors of the convent, clearly, I was in charge of the garden, I watered the plants, I sang to them, I talked with them and even danced for and with them, I was a happy and free monk, despite being in a cloistered place. I have never felt so free, like being in that place, it is a place that I keep in my heart.

A year ago, I visited it again, I had not done so because since 2017 it was closed due to the damage caused by an earthquake that year. My biggest fear was visiting this place and not finding it like before. Fortunately, it is being renovated and will soon reopen its giant wooden doors to anyone who wants to visit.

I am dying to return and find that feeling of peace, tranquility and freedom, as if I were a ballet dancer flying on stage with the jumps and turns of Basil from Don Quixote or the Corsaire Pas de Deux.

Now I understand that this peace is due to the fact that now it is not a place of oppression and anguish, but of tranquility and freshness, now those who inhabit this convent are the giant trees, plants and birds that roam the place and we are only visitors.

Thanks for reading me!

More information and pictures.