Mexican archbishop cancels cathedral for not looking like a cathedral

The Archbishop of Tijuana in Mexico has cancelled his own new cathedral project – 11 years after work began – saying its modernist style meant that it did not look like a cathedral.

Archbishop Francisco Moreno Barrón has now launched a new design competition, dealing another blow to the scheme’s original architect, disgraced Eugenio Velazquez, who was jailed in 2012 for smuggling cocaine into the US.

Barrón took over the Tijuana diocese in August 2016 to find the project stalled, short of cash, and the priestly community unenthusiastic about the strikingly modern design.

"In its eagerness to be modern, the project does not resemble a Catholic temple, much less a cathedral," he wrote in a statement on the project website.

He also said there had not been enough consultation with members of the church or the people of Tijuana, that his priests did not support the design, and that it had attracted "very limited" donations.

The work was partly financed by the sale of crypts (Diocese of Tijuana)

The project had also ground to a halt, with the construction board overseeing the works having not been called for "several years", the archbishop said.

Barrón added that he had taken "professional opinions" on the project’s architecture, and had analysed it "with the help of some experts in liturgy". As a result he had decided to call a fresh design competition, in which the existing project would be a candidate. This call was made on 16 May.

The new plan

The competition is restricted to Mexican architects, although foreign architects can team up with Mexican ones.

The deadline for entries is 16 August, and the decision will be made by an international jury and announced at the beginning of September.

He added: "We hope that the New Cathedral will be a place of encounter with God and with the brothers to celebrate our faith, study the word of God and collaborate in the overcoming of our society, committed above all to exercising charity to the poor."

The website for the discarded design gives a number of justifications for the non-traditional approach to the project. It said it was based on seven merged "boxes" that are "interconnected by rings of light from contemporary stained glass windows that bathe the interior with turquoise from the mantle of the Virgin of Guadalupe". 

The existing cathedral dates from 1909 and is in the Spanish renaissance style (Juan Osunacastro)

By 2015, the foundations, crypts and atrium of the new cathedral had been largely completed. The work was partly financed by the sale of crypts at $600 a time to those wishing to be buried beneath the new building.

Marred by drugs

The land for the cathedral was obtained as long ago as 1978, however construction did not begin until 1996. It was delayed in part by the 1993 assassination of a previous archbishop, Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, who died along with six other people in the parking lot of Guadalajara International Airport after being mistaken for a drug lord.

The architect who designed the cathedral, Eugenio Velazquez, was convicted in 2012 of smuggling 6kg of cocaine into the US after the car he was driving was inspected by a drug-sniffing dog.

Velazquez was later sentences to six months in prison, rather than the mandatory minimum of 10 years, after a San Diego court accepted his plea that he had only carried the drugs because of death threats from one of his clients, who demanded that he pay $40,000 or act as a drug mule.

Velazquez’ story can be read here.

A video in Spanish exploring the "old" new design can be seen here.

Top image: The strikingly modern design was judged insufficiently ecclesiastical (Diocese of Tijuana)

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  1. I suppose it’s probably common knowledge, but I wish the article had mentioned what was supposed to be wrong with the cathedral they had, which was only built a century ago. That’s almost brand new by cathedral standards.

  2. Very good point from Claude

  3. Looks are more important than contents?

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