Por Laura Cristina Revilla Sánchez
Nowadays, museums and churches have acquired diverse function within society; What is more, there is a complexity when defining museums in our contemporary setting. In fact, churches, even though, are places of worship and spirituality practised amongst Christianism, its practicality has been modified due to new values, habits, and appreciation such as the varied learning and research opportunities making the museum-church a new space of contemplation and fulfilment.
Museums have been set in important buildings since ancient times such as temples and sacred grounds as a means of collecting precious objects to be kept as treasures and in a certain way, offer uniqueness to a group of people. Moreover, churches safeguarded relevant religious objects that emerged in order to provoke and implement faith to a community by exhibiting artefacts and art pieces; therefore, becoming a place of learning and for worship. Mexico has an extensive history where churches have played an important role since the arrival of the Spanish and establishing the territory of New Spain. Part of their objectives was to bring the word of God of to the ingenious and implementing the new Christian faith by the iconographical elements to facilitate comprehension.
Documentation in museum-churches is an essential tool to establish adequate management by the staff and stakeholders involved. Inventorying and cataloguing a collection in this particular setting can aid in the preservation and conservation processes; for instance, to avoid any looting or misplacement as has happened in many religious complexes in Mexico. Several documentations procedures have been established in the country; however, certain segments can still be improved such as in-depth research and partnerships between institutions and universities, as shown by, the Parish of San Francisco in Comonfort, Guanajuato, where the potential museum-church has acquired a special significance to the local community by means of cultural, traditional, and historical involvement enhancing their identity.
The task of collecting objects for the sake of knowledge and understanding, has been one of the main purposes of churches throughout history. The sense of temples that protected and housed works of art, seen as curiosities became part of educating and instructing groups of people; therefore, the ideas behind the church became what can be understood as one of the functions of a museum seen as such by the society. The church becomes the museum that functions as a means of collecting relevant pieces with the objective of guarding, educating, and storing for people that find this place an opportunity for learning (Leonard, n/d, p. 6).
As far as the function and description of a museums is concerned, the foremost purpose of the museum is to collect, exhibit, and present to the audience in an enduring or even temporal exposure to the objects placed in the building (Krakowiak and Latonsinska, 2009, p. 48). This point is also shared by Casson (1973, p. 53) expressing that this is considered the one and only objective of the museum.
Communities grow and change in different ways where the need of protecting their identity and values becomes an important matter and an ongoing task. Crooke (p. 5) discusses the relevance of how museums can encourage awareness amongst the individuals related to it. In such situations, the museum can simultaneously function as a religious building and have an impact in preserving particular groups’ identities.
Documentation is a major topic within museums and historic buildings that have in custody art pieces inside its walls. First of all, documentation requires special attention and handling to develop and update all the interventions the object may have had in the matters of preservation and conservation. In order to have a correct series of actions, the documentation texts have to present a certain methodology that will allow people in charge and researchers to understand the circumstances offered by the account. The two main parts of a museum documentation are the inventory and the catalogue; thus, having a unique objective of description of all the collection (Herrera, 1980, pp.239-240).
The central congregation point for the evangelization process was the Parish of San Francisco, also known as the Four Altars Temple in Comonfort Guanajuato, Mexico (Franco Suaste, 2015, p. 55). The religious complex had quite a long period of construction from the late sixteenth to the mid seventeenth century. The compound consists of three bodies divided in the church, convent, and atrium—together forming a Latin Cross architecture. The church is roofed with a barrel vault, and a dome located above the transept. Furthermore, the materials implemented for the construction are stone quarry, and wood. Inside the complex, there are four unique Baroque altars that represent scenes from the Bible, for instance, passages of Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint Nicholas, and one representing major Saints of the New Spain (Serrano, 2004. pp. 197-215).
Since the Parish is part of the identity of the community of Comonfort and the country, it is important to widen the knowledge about the treasures the Parish has, by involving all the stakeholders and creating methods of protection and conservation by the own people. By dissemination of information such as the catalogue, the Parish becomes more significant and acknowledged by many, to the point, that the Parish enhances the title of museum-church. As a result, a management system has to be implemented, which is still missing, and it is a requirement for future conservation measures. For this, the first step is to introduce a management plan that will involve the local community. As part of the heritage properties, they have a right for knowledge that can aid in the protection process.
A museum-church aims to safeguard its collection, and a key for achieving this task is to implement documentation processes, since updated information equals protection of a memory that can be captured on paper in the need and use of a community as a means of conserving their heritage. Museum-churches can be difficult settings to assure such measures due to the duality they hold as a place for worshipers, yet also for visitors who seek an education experience. Therefore, it is important to determine catalogues that will guarantee a successful management of the collection to avoid any losses due to misplacements or looting—a recurrent and complicated situation in Mexican religious compounds over many years. However, by comprehending what is kept and placed in such as setting, a closer approach and development of a catalogue can impact in the communication and knowledge of the objects of a collection as a means of safeguarding.
The San Francisco Parish is a potential museum-church that will have a positive effect in the developing town of Comonfort. First of all, the local community has become aware of the importance of the building due to the history and art safeguarded inside its stone walls. Second, the art collection kept presents a majestic Baroque style that is highly aesthetic and represents all types of this artistic style. Third, as an emerging town, a museum can create new opportunities of well-being and research that will have an encouraging side to the educational options and growth of the present and future generations. Fourth, the setting has acquired a detailed documentation system that will enable the staff and academics involved to attain a management plan that will take many elements into consideration such as the community involvement and the protection of their heritage.
Figure 1. Altar of Saint Nicholas. (Own photograph).
Figure 2. Page from de Catalogue of The Parish of San Francisco, Comonfort. (Own photograph)
Casson, L. (1973). The World’s First Museums. Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society, 5(1), 2137. Retrieved from
Crooke, E. (2008). Museums and community: ideas, issues and challenges. Routledge. Retrieved from
Leonard, G. M. Antiquites, Curiosities, and Latter-day Saint Museums.
Herrera, A. H. (1980). Archivística: inventarios y catálogos. Boletín de la Anabad, 30(2), 239-242.
Krakowiak, B., & Latosińska, J. (2009). Museums in former residences: castles, palaces and manor houses. Tourism, 19(1-2), 43-50.
Serrano Espinoza, L. (2004). El retablo barroco en Guanajuato: interpretación y catálogo. Ediciones La Rana, Guanajuato.
Suaste, F. (2015). Molcajeatando. La Historia de Chamacuero. Comonfort, Guanajuato. Mexico.
Sobre la autora:
Estudiante de doctorado en Estudios de Patrimonio Cultural (PhD) en la Universidad Tecnológica de Brandeburgo (BTU) desde noviembre de 2020. Presento este articulo sobre mi tesis de maestría en Patrimonio Cultural y Gestión y Manejo de Sitios, sobre una nueva tipología del museo que se puede denominar “museo-iglesia” de los cuales encontramos mucho en mi país natal: México. Sobre estos nuevos museos, es necesario llevar a cabo una documentación que incluya un catálogo y un inventario para el resguardo de las piezas tanto sagradas como artísticas que vas más allá de lo material al ser un parteaguas en la identificación de un pueblo con su patrimonio histórico. Mi pasión por las nociones de patrimonio cultural inició desde mis estudios de licenciatura en Historia del Arte en el Centro Cultural Casa Lamm (CDMX, México) y que me llevó a estudiar la maestría en un programa doble impartido por la Universidad Tecnológica de Brandeburgo (Cottbus, Alemania) y por la Universidad de Helwan (Cairo, Egipto). He tenido el gusto de colaborar en diversas organizaciones culturales de fomentación e investigación del patrimonio cultural como lo son: la UNESCO, el Ministerio de Antigüedades en Egipto y en mi país, en el INAH. Actualmente mi tesis de doctorado tiene un enfoque crítico y “de-colonial” de lo que es nuestro patrimonio cultural en México y su función dentro de la sociedad.
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