Cuernavaca’s cathedral, Templo de la Asunción de María is plain and solid with an unembellished facade. It stands in a large high-walled recinto (compound), built in a grand, fortress-like style in an effort to impress, intimidate and defend against the local people. Franciscans started work on what was one of Mexico’s earliest Christian missions in 1526, using indigenous labor and stones from the rubble of Cuauhnáhuac (now Cuernavaca). The compound entrance is on Hidalgo.
As you enter the cathedral compound there are two smaller churches. On the right is the pink Templo de la Tercera Orden de San Francisco. Its exterior was carved in 18th-century baroque style by indigenous artisans and its interior has ornate, gilded decorations. On the left is the yellow 19th-century Capilla del Carmen, where believers seek cures for illness.
Walking straight ahead upon entering the compound entrance is the cathedral side door (currently the main entryway), which shows a mixture of indigenous and European features – the skull and crossbones above it is a symbol of the Franciscan order. Inside are frescoes rediscovered early in the 20th century. Cuernavaca was a center for Franciscan missionary activities in Asia and the frescoes – said to show the persecution of Christian missionaries in Japan – were supposedly painted in the 17th century by a Japanese convert to Christianity.
In the left section of the cathedral is Museo de Arte Sacro, a small museum (opened in 2018) displaying 92 pieces of religious paintings, ornaments and sculptures from the 16th to 20th centuries.
To the right of the cathedral lies an open chapel, the Capilla Abierta de San José, the compound's first structure (inaccessible at the time of writing, due to earthquake damage in 2017).