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Atrium Crosses of the XVI century in Mexico

After the spanish conquest of Mexico, at the beginnings of the XVI th. century, groups of friars (Franciscans, Dominicans and Agustinians) arrived into our territory, sent by the Catholic Kings with the purpose of evangelization of the local native indians.

The friars were established at the central plains and built many conventual structures, each composed of a temple, a convent and an atrium. The atrium was the place were the natives were called to congregate at the same time the temple and the convent were being built. According to the evangelization needs, the atrium acquired its own specific physiognomy, becoming an integral part of the conventual facility by surrounding it with a wall that defines it's limits and by, incorporating four "posas" chapels in the corners and one open chapel that was either isolated or joint to the convent. Therefore, the atrium's functions were as an open air temple.

Since all evangelization's main activities took place within the atrium, it surged the need to create a central element, a focal point of reference that, because of it's christian content could give sense and unity to both, the architectonic space and the religious activities that took place there. What could be better than the christianism universal emblem to undertake this function. Since then, the cross stood majestously at the center of the atriums.

Atrium crosses were sculptured in many different types of stone, they are in form of latin cross and measure from 1 to 3 meters high (3.3 to 9.8 ft). The main body is found in squared, octogonal, elliptical or tubular shapes. Most of the crosses are erected over a large octogonal or squared base.


XVI th Century.
Parish´s atrium at
Barrio de los Reyes,
Tultitlán, Estado de México,


XVI th Century.
Old Chapel at the
San José Cementery,
Cuautitlán de Romero Rubio
Cuautitlán, Estado de México,


Nevertheless, the originality and value that the atrium crosses possess is due to three specific characteristics:

  • First, it's spatial location. By being the cross at the atrium's center, as the axis of a sacred space and as the organizing entity of christian reality, it was a material testimony of the missionaries’ desire to found in this land a primitive christianism that will be based on Christ's figure and teachings.
  • Secondly, it's peculiar decorations which go along it's didactic purpose. Christ's presence through the cross was enriched by embossing in the cross, not just his image but the symbols that represent his passion, death and resurrection.It is very important to point out that there is no single atrium cross that is equal or the same as any other. The engraved symbols always vary as well as their placement within the cross and, in some cases, representations of flowers or vegetables and spherical termination may be present.
  • Finally, the third and most relevant characteristic is that atrium crosses are a live sample of the cultural syncretism that took place upon the spanish conquest. Even though the friars were in charge, mostly all atrium crosses were actually crafted by the native indians and this allowed them to imprint in the cross their own sensibility and feelings therefore preserving their sculpturing tradition. The charm that XVI th. century atrium crosses posses is largely due to the plastic characteristics that the native indian hand gave to them.

This work is a research project to preserve atrium crosses across Mexico and Latin America. It started in 1995 as a thesis work and has evolved into a major research project.

Many atrium crosses have been moved from the original locations to many countries around the world, We are interested in knowing more about atrium crosses around the world either originally built in that place or… "imported".

A catalog of crosses is being built, so, to enhance this information base and our research, we are permanently looking for any type of information regarding XVI century or older atrium crosses that may exist anywhere in the world but, most importantly, crosses originally made in Mexico, Central or South America or the Caribbean.

If photographs, historic data, factual data or any information can be provided on any crosses you may know within your location, please submit it to us at:


Article abstract of the book:


("Conceptual and plastic value of atrium crosses in XVIth century conventual structures of New Spain")


Lic. María Claudia Ollivier.
Lic. Marina Martínez.

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Translation to English: Felipe E. Barousse Boué. (fbarousse@piensa.com)



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