Santo Domingo in Mexico City refers to the Church of Santo Domingo and its plaza, also called Santo Domingo. Both are located three blocks north of the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral following Republica de Brasil Street, with Belisario Dominguez Street separating the two.
Officially known as the Señor de la Expiración Chapel, the church is located on the north side of Belisario Dominguez and faces the plaza.
It is all that is left of the first monastery to be established in New Spain. This monastery was founded soon after the Dominicans arrived in New Spain in 1526. They moved into houses that were donated to them by the Guerrero family, where later the Palace of the Inquisition would be built. They initially replaced the houses to found a church, living quarters and a jail for those found guilty of religious crimes as the Dominicans were in charge of the Inquisition.
A couple of decades later, it was decided that expansion was needed. However, poor construction, soft soil and earthquakes made complete rebuilding a necessity. The second church was built between 1556 and 1571. The current church is the third to be built on this site. Made of pink stone in the Baroque style, it was begun in 1717 and completed 19 years later.
The monastery that formed the monastic complex alongside the church was destroyed in 1861 during anti-clerical movement. The chapel of Del Rosario and Tercera Orden was demolished as well. This opened up what is now Leandro Valle Street on the church’s west side.
The general style is considered to be Mexican Baroque, albeit before the introduction of the common estipite column with its signature inverted truncated pyramids. Inside, the floor plan of the church is that of a Latin cross. The main altarpiece is a neoclassical work of Manuel Tolsá, designed to replace the original Baroque one.
The front façade is covered in tezontle, a blood-coloured volcanic stone, while the portal is made mostly of cantera, which is grey in colour. The façade has twelve columns around the main entrance, with Saint Francis and Saint Augustine on the first floor. On the second floor, a stone relief depicts Saint Dominic kneeling as he receives the keys of heaven from Saint Peter and the Epistles from Saint Paul as the Holy Spirit rises above the group.
In the centre at the top is a bas relief of the Assumption, located between two windows that light the choir area. It is decorated on the east side with stone figures of Saint Dominic and Saint Francis. Their arms are intertwined and shown to be literally holding up the Church of Letrán.
The altar to the left of the transept is dedicated to the Virgin of Covadonga. On a wall in the wide central area, there is a large niche containing the image of the Virgin Mary. Above it is a sculpture depicting the scene at the Calvary.
Higher still is an oil painting of the Coronation of Mary and at the crest between two windows is the cross of the Battle of Covadonga. Each of the lateral windows has two oil paintings decorating them and finished with the coat-of-arms of Castile as well as the emblem of the Dominican order.
This area is completed with reliefs of saints and carvings of cherubs. At the right of the transept, there is the Virgin del Camino altarpiece created by Alonso López de Herrera. The altarpiece contains figures called the “Descent,” “Saint Dominic in Soriano,” and gilded statues of the martyrs Saint Peter and Vicente Ferrer.
The church also has a choir in the shape of a horseshoe with 32 seats made of cedar, each with an image of a different saint carved in relief into the backs.
Plaza Santo Domingo is situated to the south of the church. A statue of Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, a heroine of the Mexican War of Independence stands in a fountain in the middle of the plaza. It was sculpted by Enrique Alcati. The plaza is flanked to the west by the Portal de Evangelistas, which is a Tuscan colonnade with round arches.
Scribes with typewriters and antique printing machines work in this Portal. They help illiterate clients, often offering services similar to those of lawyers, counsellors, and financial consultants.
This area is also well known as the place to obtain counterfeit documents. According to the intelligence division of the Policia Judicial of the Distrito Federal, in addition to the 242 print shops that operate legally in this zone, 614 cases have been noted of printers set up to falsify documents in various apartments and other living quarters that surround this area. Most are located on La Plaza 23 de Mayo, República de Cuba, República de Chile an Justo Sierra Streets.