Palace of the Inquisition (Museum of Mexican Medicine)
The Palace of the Inquisition
The Inquisition, Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis , was the "fight against heretics" by several institutions within the justice-system of the Roman Catholic Church. It started in the 12th century, with the introduction of torture in the persecution of heresy...

stands on the corner of Republica de Brasil and Republica de Venezuela streets in Mexico City
Mexico City
Mexico City is the Federal District , capital of Mexico and seat of the federal powers of the Mexican Union. It is a federal entity within Mexico which is not part of any one of the 31 Mexican states but belongs to the federation as a whole...

, Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

. While neither side of the building faces the Santo Domingo Plaza, the entrance does, as it is placed at the corner, which is canted to allow it to face in that direction. Its long association with the Inquisition
Mexican Inquisition
The Mexican Inquisition was an extension of the Spanish Inquisition into the New World. The Spanish Conquest of Mexico was not only a political event for the Spanish, but a religious event as well. In the early 16th century, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation and the Inquisition were in full...

, which ended during the Mexican War of Independence
Mexican War of Independence
The Mexican War of Independence was an armed conflict between the people of Mexico and the Spanish colonial authorities which started on 16 September 1810. The movement, which became known as the Mexican War of Independence, was led by Mexican-born Spaniards, Mestizos and Amerindians who sought...

, made it difficult to convert to other purposes. However, it eventually became the School of Medicine for the reconstructed National University (now the National Autonomous University of Mexico
National Autonomous University of Mexico
The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México is a university in Mexico. UNAM was founded on 22 September 1910 by Justo Sierra as a liberal alternative to the Roman Catholic-sponsored Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) (National Autonomous...

 (UNAM)). When UNAM moved to the Ciudad Universitaria
Ciudad Universitaria
Ciudad Universitaria , Mexico, is UNAM's main campus, located in Coyoacán borough in the southern part of Mexico City. Designed by architects Mario Pani and Enrique del Moral, it encloses the Olympic Stadium, about 40 faculties and institutes, the Cultural Center, an ecological reserve, the Central...

 in the 1950s, it retained ownership of this building, eventually converting the structure in what is today the Museum of Mexican Medicine.

Inquisition in Nueva España

From nearly the beginning of the colonial period until the Mexican War of Independence, this spot has been the headquarters of the Inquisition in the colony of New Spain
New Spain
New Spain, formally called the Viceroyalty of New Spain , was a viceroyalty of the Spanish colonial empire, comprising primarily territories in what was known then as 'América Septentrional' or North America. Its capital was Mexico City, formerly Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec Empire...

. While the Tribunal of the Holy Inquisition was not fully established here until 1571, the first cleric with inquisitorial duties was Martin de Valencia, who came to the colony in 1524. The Dominicans, in whom the papacy
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

 had invested Inquisition duties, arrived in 1526 and proceeded to build a monastery in the area occupied by both the current Palace and the Church of Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo (Mexico City)
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.-The Church:Officially...

. The first official Inquisitor for the colony, Pedro Moya de Contreras
Pedro Moya de Contreras
Pedro Moya de Contreras , prelate and colonial administrator who held the three highest offices in the Spanish colony of New Spain, namely inquisitor general, Archbishop of Mexico, and Viceroy of Mexico, September 25, 1584 - October 17, 1585...

, worked in the section of the monastery where the later, 18th century Palace would be built.

The Inquisition was officially established here due to a 1566 conspiracy led by Martin Cortes
Martín Cortés, 2nd Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca
Don Martín Cortés y Zúñiga, 2nd Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca was the son of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés by his second wife, Juana de Zúñiga, and was Cortés' designated heir. Don Martín shared his name with an elder half-brother, whose mother was doña Marina....

, son of Hernán Cortés
Hernán Cortés
Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro, 1st Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century...

, threatened to make the new colony independent of Spain. The plot was denounced by Baltazar de Aguilar Cervantes and Inquisition trials of various Creole
Creole peoples
The term Creole and its cognates in other languages — such as crioulo, criollo, créole, kriolu, criol, kreyol, kreol, kriulo, kriol, krio, etc. — have been applied to people in different countries and epochs, with rather different meanings...

s began. The accused were subject to torture and harsh sentences, especially when before a magistrate by the name of Muñoz. The first victims of this series of trials were the brothers Alonso and Gil Gonzalez de Alvila Alvarado. Despite having the sympathy of the local citizens and of the chroniclers, both brothers were convicted. Their punishment was to be decapitated, and their house, located on part of the site of the Templo Mayor, was razed to the ground, and the site sown with salt
Salting the earth
Salting the earth, or sowing with salt, is the ritual of spreading salt on conquered cities to symbolize a curse on its re-inhabitation. It originated as a practice in the ancient Near East and became a well-established folkloric motif in the Middle Ages.-Destroying cities:The custom of purifying...

The Inquisition here heard a number of other famous cases during its time, including the prosecution of the Carbajal family for reversion to Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

, and the case of Martin Villavicencio, alias Martin Garatuza
Martín Garatuza
Martín Garatuza was a famous trickster whose frauds and escapes became legendary in colonial New Spain and whose name has passed into Spanish language, folklore and literature....

, which would inspire one of the best-known 19th century Mexican novels, Vicente Riva Palacio
Vicente Riva Palacio
Vicente Florencio Carlos Riva Palacio Guerrero was a Mexican politician and intellectual....

's Martín Gartuza. Servando Teresa de Mier
Servando Teresa de Mier
Fray Servando Teresa de Mier was a Roman Catholic priest and a preacher and politician in New Spain....

 spent time in the jail here, and this court sentenced Miguel Hidalgo
Miguel Hidalgo
Miguel Gregorio Antonio Ignacio Hidalgo y Costilla y Gallaga Mandarte Villaseñor , more commonly known as Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla or simply Miguel Hidalgo, was a Mexican priest and a leader of the Mexican War of Independence.In 1810 Hidalgo led a group of peasants in a revolt against the dominant...

 to defrocking
To defrock, unfrock, or laicize ministers or priests is to remove their rights to exercise the functions of the ordained ministry. This may be due to criminal convictions, disciplinary matters, or disagreements over doctrine or dogma...

 and excommunication
Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend or limit membership in a religious community. The word means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group...

 before his 1815 execution. Soon after, in 1820, the Inquisition was officially disbanded in Mexico.

Architectural history

The building that stands at the site now was built between 1732 and 1736 by Pedro de Arrieta, who also worked on a number of other significant buildings in the city, including the Metropolitan Cathedral
Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral
The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary of Mexico City is the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas and seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico. It is situated atop the former Aztec sacred precinct near the Templo Mayor on the northern side of the Plaza de la...

 and La Profesa Church
Temple of San Felipe Neri "La Profesa"
The Temple of San Felipe Neri, commonly known as "La Profesa" , is a Roman Catholic parish church that was established by the Society of Jesus late in the 16th century as the church of a community of professed Jesuits...

. Even though Arrieta was famous for his work, he died broke shortly after the completion of the Palace of the Inquisition, for which he received a daily wage of two pesos.

Originally Arrieta constructed a two-story building, with a third floor added in the 19th century. As the headquarters of the Inquisition, this building had hearing rooms, judges chambers, a secret chamber, a jail and accommodations for two inquisitors. The Palace was popularly known as the “Casa Chata” or “Squat-faced House.” This referred to southwest corner, which faces Santo Domingo plaza that is seemingly cut off or pushed in. The Palace jail was known as “Of Perpetuity,” since few left soon after being confined.

Post-Inquistion history

After the end of the Inquisition, in 1838, it was put up for sale by public auction
Public auction
A public auction is an auction held on behalf of a government in which the property to be auctioned is either property owned by the government, or property which is sold under the authority of a court of law or a government agency with similar authority....

, but no one offered the minimum price. It was finally purchased by the archbishopric. Later it served as lottery offices, a primary school and a military barracks. In 1854, it was sold to the School of Medicine, which at the time was offering classes in professors’ homes. After the purchase, a number of changes were made, and a boarding school created here. Eventually, it would become the school of medicine and nursing of the National University (today’s UNAM) In 1873, in despair over an unrequited love, romantic poet Manuel Acuña
Manuel Acuña
Manuel Acuña Narro was a 19th-century Mexican writer. He focused on poetry, but also wrote some novels and plays. Even though he was famous at an early time of his life, he decided to commit suicide...

committed suicide by poison in a room here. In 1879, after modification, the old chapel became the Academy of Medicine and a third floor was added, which resulted in the removal of the crest which held the coat-of-arms of the Inquisition.

When all the faculties of UNAM, including the School of Medicine, moved to the Ciudad Universitaria in the 1950’s, this Palace was is such poor shape that a number of its arches were in danger of crashing to the ground. Restoration work commenced shortly afterwards and was completed in 1980. In 1982, the building that once was the prison was reintegrated into the main complex and since then has been used as a theater and to accommodate the lectures of visiting professors.

Today the building still belongs to UNAM and functions as the Museum of Medicine. This museum was inaugurated on 22 December 1980, and designed as a way to preserve the history of medicine in Mexico as well as promote the values associated with this field. It was also considered to be a way to conserve one of the properties that UNAM still holds in the historic downtown area. The museum has 24 rooms that cover the history of medicine in this country from pre-Hispanic times to the 20th century. Among its collections are a room devoted to indigenous herbal medicine, various rooms devoted to old medical equipment and machines, a room about human development and a collection of wax figures used for the teaching of disease pathologies.


Like many other buildings in the historic downtown, the facade is covered in tezontle (a blood-red porous volcanic stone), with windows and doors framed with chiluca (a grayish-white stone), but the building has two main notable features. This first is that its main portal is located at the southwest corner, which is “cut off” in order to face Santo Domingo Plaza. Arrieta came up with the idea, an innovation in the Viceroyalty of Nueva España. With this design, not only would the building face the plaza, its two side streets would lead to its door. Despite the fact that this very feature would earn the Palace the nickname of “squat-faced,” his idea was initially declared innovative and beautiful. The other feature is the patio. The arches on the four corners do not rest on columns, but seem to hang from the ceiling. In fact, they are crossed arches that are supported by pillars attached to the walls and the first columns on each side.
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