The Convento Courtyard

Town Square (not a convent)

illustration of convento courtyard illustration of convento courtyard

Left image
An artist's rendering of the convento courtyard

Right image
Tumacácori's convento fragment

aerial photo of mission grounds with outline of original convento complex; kitchens, storeroom, workshops, priest's quarters, and entrance labelled
An archeological excavation in 1934 yielded much of our current knowledge and hypotheses about the different rooms of the convento complex.

Aerial photo by Architectural Conservation Laboratory, Weitzman School of Design, University of Pennsylvania

How It Was

Although commonly confused with the term "convent," Tumacácori's convento had nothing to do with housing for nuns. A convento functioned as a shared, community workspace and governmental center. Rooms for different public functions aligned in a U-shape around a central courtyard. Located in the convento were a kitchen, shared workrooms, as well as the living quarters for the priests.

The structures, built in the late 1700s to the early 1800s, were one story, with flat roofs. They were constructed of sun-dried adobe bricks covered in plaster.

The west side of the convento partially abutted the east side of the church and included a two-story storage building. The north side of the convento had a series of connected rooms that included work areas for functions such as cooking, iron working, and weaving. The east portion of the area was bordered by a wall. The south side of the convento was a series of one-story connected rooms that were the priest’s quarters, rooms for visitors, and rooms for educating the populace. In the center of these rooms was an arched opening topped by a dome, through which carts, wagons, and animals could pass into the convento’s central courtyard.

The south, west, and northern portions of the convento featured a covered walkway lined with arches with built-in benches for people to rest. The arcade would have provided much needed shade, as well as protection for the rooms behind it.

Mission residents would have passed back and forth across the convento grounds as part of their daily activities, and it would have been alive with the sounds and smells of people talking, working, and moving about.


How It Is Now

Many of the convento courtyard's architectural features are missing today, but were replicated in the Visitor Center and Museum. The enclosure of the courtyard garden was designed to prime visitors for the aesthetic of the convento. The covered walkways and built-in seating along the north and south arcades do the same.

What most think of as "the convento" is just a fragment of the original 3-sided complex. This one section survived long enough to be re-used and adapted to multiple purposes after the mission era. The original arched opening was filled in, fireplaces installed, and new roofing materials attempted. In fact, nearly every preservation technique in the book has been attempted at some point to protect the fragile remains of the convento. Some saw better success than others. For example, the herringbone pattern on the floor is a modern replica built on top of the original, for both protective and interpretive effect.

Learn More

Virtual tour - Mission Grounds


Center of Colonial Life

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    Last updated: July 23, 2020

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