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The Martyrs’ Sanctuary: Mexico’s largest temple begins to take form

January 18, 2012

Eight years after its scheduled inauguration, the giant Martyrs’ Sanctuary being built on the outskirts of Guadalajara under the watchful eye of Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iñiguez is steadily nearing completion – or so he says.

The outgoing Archbishop of Guadalajara claims the metallic arc structure that serves as a frame for the roofing will be completed within days.

“Lifting those tons of steel 50, 60 and 70 meters high is the most challenging and difficult aspect of construction,” Sandoval said. “It has been a huge feat, they have had to hire powerful cranes and some have broken down on the way, halting construction, but they have finally managed to finish,” said Sandoval.

The cardinal said a company will be contracted this month to install the roofing and the marble floor. He declined to reveal the amount of money required to complete the work, although a total construction cost approaching two billion pesos had previously been cited.

According to the builders and architects responsible for the work, the construction process involves elaborate feats of engineering. With concrete walls supporting the steel structure, the enormous, hectare-wide temple will have no column in the center.

The structure will be primarily comprised of 100,000 cubic meters of concrete and 26,000 tons of steel. The main assembly of the temple will fit 12,000 people seated, while the tallest of the building’s three domes will reach a height of 65 meters.

“It is like the great basilicas of old, facing the east, where we have the rising sun, which is Jesus Christ. In the back of the main assembly we will have large stained-glass windows that reflect light to the west after sunset. This light will enter and illuminate the entire inside of the hall, creating a mystical atmosphere that is conducive to prayer and reflection,” exlpained Hector Manuel Castellanos Frank, a civil engineer and former president of the Mexican Chamber of the Construction Industry in Jalisco.

Castellanos said construction of the temple is 60 percent complete and that the installation of the roof is expected to be finished by the end of June. Last summer, however, Sandoval announced the entire temple would be ready by February or March of this year. The project has an exceptionally long history of delays. Work began in 2001, with an inauguration planned for 2004 proving hopelessly optimistic.

The brainchild of Sandoval, the temple is being built in honor of the 25 Mexican martyrs canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000, 23 of whom died during the 1926-1929 Cristero rebellion.

Governor Emilio Gonzalez provoked outrage in 2008 when he donated 90 million pesos in government funds toward the construction of the temple. Accused of wasting public money and hammering down the divide between church and state, he was quickly forced to return the funds.

The Martyrs’ Sanctuary is being built on a 16-hectare plot on the Cerro del Tesero hill, a working-class neighborhood near the southern Periferico ring road. Besides the temple, which will have a total capacity of 20,000, the site will boast an atrium with room for 50,000 people, an auditorium, library, museum, 600 bathrooms and 2,300 parking spaces. It will also contain a dining room to feed around 300 people.

When finished, it will be the largest temple in Mexico and among the biggest in Latin America.

Sandoval wants the Martyrs’ Sanctuary to become a pilgrimage center, comparable with the Cristo del Rey temple in Guanajuato and the the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, which together will form a triangle of religious tourism.

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