Not long after the first Carmelites came to Mexico City, and built their missions in the center of the center, and then in San Angel, did they feel the need to escape the noise of the metropolis in search of their original calling or vocation, that of the life in hermitages, which impelled them to build the first of these in a large pine forest on the southwest side of the city, in an area known as the Desierto de los Leones.
The domes of the chapels peep out
from the seclusion of the Monastery walls
as we approach the sanctuary hided in the pine
forests of the Desierto de los Leones
Nowadays, residents think of the Desierto de los Leones as a delightful place to visit on the weekend and go out on the many mountain bike trails throughout the park. Others remember this site, and specifically the peak of Cruz Blanca, where at a very early stage of the war of Independence, Morelos and Hidalgo decimated the Spanish Army, that retreated them back into Mexico City.
Washroom of former Monastery
The Carmelites, under the guidance of Fray Angel de San Miguel, their fellow monk and architect, began construction of the first set of hermitages and monastery in the Desierto de los Leones, at the beginning of the 17th Century.
By a Presidential decree in 1917, the Desierto de Los Leones became Mexico's first national park.
Along this corridor, there
were several cells for the
Passageway leading to the
Sacristy in dire need of
On the bottom of the walls, decorative art, typical
of the Carmelites.
Chapel Dome with four windows, different from
typical Octagonal domes in larger chapels and
Kitchen of the Monastery
Refectory of the Monastery
Turntable window connecting kitchen with
refectory. With this device, food could be taken
warm and quickly into the refectory, without
allowing the smoke and noise of the kitchen to
disrupt the silence of the dinner service.
Lectern for reading during
meals. Usually the readings
during meals were not from
Holy Scripture, but rather
lives of the Saints or
books such as the Imitation
of Christ, by Thomas
The only monks still here
are made out of wood.
Fireplace in area of the former monastery now
used as a restaurant for visitors of the museum
Ermita de la Soledad or Hermitage of Loneliness
The Ermitas or Hermitages
are outside the walls of the
Monastery compound, in the
forests, and exposed to abuse
The Hermita de la Trinidad
or Trinity Hermitage is larger
than the Soledad Hermitage,
but more dilapidated.
A balcony on the 2nd floor of the Hermita de la
Hermitage of the Blessed Trinity
Inside courtyard within one of the hermitages
La Capilla de los Secretos or Chapel of Secrets
was a common feature in Carmelite
constructions in la Nueña España
(for example, Chimalistac, San Angel, Mexico City)
Why the name? Desierto de los Leones. Most people believe that years ago there were Lions here in the forest, but the more probably explanation is that the chief that owned this land originally belong to the Leon family, a common surname in Spanish. As per "Desierto", the term didn't necessarily refer to a habitat with sand dunes, oasis and camels, but to any place far from civilization.
A view of the chapel buildings from the former
orchard, now cypress tree garden, with its
Chapel of Secrets.
A Chapel of Secrets? Does this sound mysterious? I apologize if I am giving you the wrong impression. Some of the chapels and other constructions built by the Carmelites had such wonderful acoustics, that everything whispered in one corner, can be heard in the opposite corner. As time went by, fun-loving or mischievous monks would use this as an excuse to talk to each other during periods of obligatory silence.