MEXICO CITY — Experts restoring the interior of Mexico City’s Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral said Friday they found 23 lead boxes containing religious inscriptions and relics like small paintings and wood or palm crosses.
The lead containers are about the size of a mint box, and had written inscriptions dedicated to particular saints. A handwritten note found in one suggests they were found previously in 1810, and reburied.
The note said that one of the boxes had been found by a group of masons and painters in 1810, and asked whoever found it to “pray for their souls.”
They were found in niches carved into walls of the base of the cathedral’s lantern, the slender skylight that sits atop the dome. The niches were covered with clay panels and were hidden under plaster.
Experts said Friday they were found Dec. 30 during work to restore the plaster. The National Institute of Anthropology and History said they may have been placed there to provide divine protection for the cathedral or the city.
The institute said that once they were catalogued, the boxes and their contents would be returned to their niches and re-covered with plaster.
The cathedral was built in a centuries-long process between 1573 and 1813. One of the reasons it took so long was that almost as soon as construction started, the massive, heavy building began sinking into the soft subsoil that characterizes the city.
It is not the first time that relics have been found buried within the cathedral’s walls.
In 2008, researchers found a time capsule from 1791 that was placed atop a bell tower in the cathedral, apparently to protect the building from lightning.
The lead box filled with religious artifacts, coins and parchments was placed in a hollow stone ball to mark the celebration on May 14, 1791, when the building’s topmost stone was laid, 218 years after construction began.
A perfectly preserved parchment found in the box described the time capsule’s contents, including 23 medals, 5 coins, and five small crosses made of palms. The parchment says “all are for protection from the storms.”