Complejo Histórico Santa Felicitas

Over the years, the story of Felicitas Guerrero became a legend, a symbol and a great example of what one must pay, sometimes, for having the freedom to choose the path to one's own happiness, above all, for the time in which the events took place. In Barracas, where she died on January 30, 1872, a temple is named after her, although it refers to a Saint of the 2nd century. On the bars of the temple there are knotted white ribbons of the faithful to ask for or preserve the arrival of love, an issue that turns Felicitas into a miraculous pagan saint. Curiously, behind that imposing and emblematic building that surrounds Plaza Colombia, another one is hidden, with a little-known history. A treasure that deserves to be explored and that lies on the same property where the Álzaga Guerrero family lived. A school, a hidden temple (with no exit to the street and that never fulfilled its function), and an old workers' dining room, make up an enigmatic space where history and architecture merge into legends. All of this can be visited in the “Santa Felicitas Historical Complex”.


On this property, located in what is now the block delimited by Pinzón, Azara, Brandsen and Isabel la Católica, the Álzaga Guerrero family's rest mansion was built, which, due to the yellow fever epidemic, became the refuge and permanent family housing. "The church that stands today on Plaza Colombia was built in honor of Felicitas and was within the property of the house. This speaks of the fortune of this family. In fact, the materials for construction were brought from outside. In those times, this place was located on the outskirts of the city and the house was used for the family's weekend rest, since people did not usually take vacations," explains Norma Demicheli, History teacher and person in charge of the guided tours of the place. It was the second half of the 1800s when the Álzaga family enjoyed this mansion away from the urban center of Buenos Aires, which today is part of the heart of Barracas.


The cloisters, the temple and the old dining room are connected by underground tunnels from 1893 that are a relic of the city's original architecture and can be explored on guided tours that take place on the last weekend of each month. Accessing the “Santa Felicitas Historical Complex” is an experience that becomes a journey through time. In the active investigation of the recesses of history and its mysterious secrets, those bricks from the 19th century testify and frame this walk in which the aura of Felicitas Guerrero seems to invite and accompany the visitor.


The premature death of Felicitas prompted her parents to undertake a task of solidarity and to pursue a destiny different from the great domain in which their daughter lived: "A congregation of Lourdist priests, who had arrived in these lands, contacted Felicitas' parents. , who donated this land to them to build a school and asked them, in return, to provide scholarships for children who did not have the resources to study," says Demicheli. In addition to this study house, a dining room was built to be used by the workers of the thriving area in which, at the end of the 19th century, numerous industries were established given the proximity to the port and quick access to the south of the province.


Today, there is no shortage of those who even get excited about watching the shadow of Felicitas wander around to confirm the old ghostly myth that haunts the place, recovering that tradition of the neighbors of the last century who, sitting on a bench on the threshold, would sit and wait to see the passing angelic spectrum. Well, it is said that: "once Felicitas died, her nanny observed a white shadow crossing the place. Scared, she ran away, causing an accident that cost her her life. That's where the myth was born," explains the guide Demicheli. Some claim that on January 30, 1972, one hundred years after Felicitas' death, the Church bells rang without anyone ringing them. Others adhere to that legend that confirms that on January 30, a woman dressed as a bride wanders crying through the temple gardens.


What happened around the death of Felicitas Guerrero is, to a large extent, an enigma. The truth is that she was considered, in her time, the most beautiful woman in the country. Wealthy and elegant, she had it all. However, her life took care of everything from love to her children. She was segregated by her aristocratic environment that did not forgive her for the freedom exercised over her emotional decisions. Her death is one of the most intriguing events in Argentine history, with indications that today would link her to a femicide but, at that time, no one knew, or wanted to, interpret.


Felicitas married on June 2, 1864 with Martín Gregorio de Álzaga and Pérez Llorente. It was an imposition from her father due to the wealth of her future husband, who had a fortune in land and money. The gentleman in question had plenty of wealth and years. She was a young woman of eighteen and he had already been around for five decades. They had two sons: Félix and Martín, both of whom died, it is said, as a result of the yellow fever epidemic that was ravaging the city. The youngest would die shortly after being born, and hours after his mother was widowed, in March 1870. A true tragedy with two inexplicable deaths. "Martín de Álzaga already had four children with María Caminos, a Brazilian woman with whom he was not married under the sacrament of the Church. Therefore, when he died, already married to Felicitas, nothing would correspond to those children. The curious thing is that Felicitas' will is still in court. At that time, everything from the clothes to the furniture of the person who died was specified," explains Ellen Hendi, architect responsible for the preservation of the heritage of the Santa Felicitas Museum and one of the promoters of convert this space into a center for historical study.


Felicitas was a very coveted young woman: beautiful and a millionaire. She was widowed and with her children dead, she did not comply with the social mandate of prolonged mourning that lasted years, which cost her much gossip and even her own life. A certain Enrique Ocampo had set his eyes on her. Felicitas would have excited him about a shared future. Everything indicated that they would form a politically correct marriage. However, upon returning from the field, Felicitas's carriage, in the middle of a storm, gets bogged down, and she is helped by Samuel Sáenz Valiente, owner of the nearby ranch, who gives shelter to both her and her traveling companion friends. There the love would have arisen between Felicitas and Samuel. And the beginning of a new tragedy in her life. "When Felicitas meets Sáenz Valiente, she falls in love with him, leaving aside Enrique, who, victim of her jealousy, on January 29, 1872, shoots her fatally. In any case, there is much of a novel in the story that It survived to this day because, for sure, we don't really know what happened," explains the guide of the place.


After her widowhood, Felicitas once again took the reins of her life, abandoning, to a certain extent, the guardianship of her father. "At that time people went from mourning to semi-mourning and this whole process took years. As she spent very little time mourning, society judged her harshly. When the femicide happened, the press suggested that this happened to flirts. To widow, it was not easy to live in society again," says Demicheli. Around that gruesome destiny, the buildings that today make up the “Santa Felicitas Historical Complex” were built. These donations from the young woman's parents forever captured the memory of her daughter, offering the city a space for the education of children, the faith of the neighbors and assistance to the workers who worked in the area. When Felicitas' tragedy occurred, her parents searched in the Santoral for the virgin to whom the temple to be built in honor of their daughter would be dedicated and in the gardens of the family mansion where the young woman was murdered and where Enrique Ocampo committed suicide. once the crime was committed using the same gun. This is how Felicitas appeared, a saint of the 2nd century, mother of many children, all martyred for being Christians. The temple, which dates back to 1876 and was private at the time of its completion, has very particular characteristics: no one gets married there and it does not have a central hallway to access the altar. Only mass is celebrated and you can see, among other works of art, the statues of Martín de Álzaga and Felicitas. The building is in the German eclectic style, designed by architect Ernesto Bunge.


But in that property, there is also a hidden Temple and a tragedy that attests to it in its history. Few residents know this neo-Gothic relic built in 1893 with similar characteristics, on a smaller scale, to the Lourdes sanctuary in France. It is a temple built within the current Santa Felicitas Institute of San Vicente de Paul, but it never functioned as such and was never consecrated as a sacred space.


Entering it is a surprising experience. It has 28 stained glass windows of great heritage value made by the Frenchman Gustave Pierre Dagrant. "His workshop was responsible for the stained glass windows of the Basilica of Luján. In France, his works are considered Historical Heritage," says Ellen Hendi. The reasons why the temple never fulfilled its function have to do with another tragedy that happened there. "Father Alexius Rouseaud, in charge of the place, had asked for a loan from the bank to build the school. To pay the fees, he gave the money to an employee to pay regularly, but the employee kept the money and He gave the priest a false receipt. When the scam is discovered, this entire building goes up for auction and Father Rouseaud commits suicide. That's when the ladies of Saint Vincent de Paul appear and begin to run the place. , since then, this place belongs to the Conference of Saint Vincent de Paul," details Demicheli.


Another space to explore in the complex is the room that was used as the workers' dining room. It can be entered from the street through a tiny door just over a meter high that connects with one of the tunnels and the old dining room. It had capacity for a thousand workers who paid a symbolic value of 20, 10, and 5 cents. And, if they didn't have that money, they were given free lunch. The Ladies of Beneficence were the ones who worked together with the nuns to support the initiative.


At the end of the 19th century, this area, today known as the Barracas neighborhood, was a thriving place where dozens of industries were installed on the banks of the Riachuelo and on the central road, today called Av. Montes de Oca, which was a large road to connect this suburban area with the city center. The proximity to the port made it become a very important commercial hub where thousands of workers worked piecework for long hours of the day. According to the guide Norma Demicheli, "when Bartolomé Mitre, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and Nicolás Avellaneda began to organize the Argentine State, factories began to settle here. At that time it was a place where the aroma of chocolate was mixed (nearby were the chocolate factories). Bagley and Águila) and the nauseating smells of the barracks. Without a doubt, it was a place open to immigration. Everyone was looking for work in these companies that did not have a dining room. That is why the nuns who were already installed here opened it. Those who were in charge were Saint Vincent de Paul, Jesus Mary, and the Holy Guardian Angels. In the current guided tours, you can tour these spaces. Observe the original tableware, the kitchen machines, the objects from the industrial laundry and period photographs where you can see the workers having lunch there. Tiles on the floor and original brick walls invite you to recreate those scenes of inevitable bustle given that the dining room had capacity for a thousand people. In general, caloric stews were served that served to cushion the cold and give diners enough energy to continue with the hard work in the factories.


The tunnels connect the thematic rooms that are dedicated to Industries and Crafts, Immigrants, the Port, the City, neighborhood archeology, the Site Museum and the Cinema space. One of the rooms is entirely dedicated to Felicitas with costumes that evoke those used at the time. It is also possible to find objects of great heritage value such as the Recumbent Christ, an unconsecrated Spanish tabernacle, and even the chandeliers that hung in the burning chapel of Eva Perón.


Ourdist monks built this building in 1893. In 1901 it was inaugurated as a boys' school. Food was originally stored in these tunnels. Between 1905 and 1945 the dining room operated. From 1945 to 1970 the Santa Felicitas laundry. And, since 2002, the space became a museum thanks to the initiative of Ellen Hendi.


The tunnels are extensive, covering more than 150 meters each. Originally, they connected with the current Plaza Colombia, so it is possible that by removing these lands, hidden sections could be found in this area classified as Historical Protection.


Guided tours take place on the last weekend of each month at 3, 4 and 5 p.m. On the last Saturday of each month, at 8 p.m., there is a nighttime visit that includes dinner where you can taste the traditional workers' stew and wine, while enjoying a musical show at the Hidden Temple. In addition, guided tours are organized for women where the story is told in perspective with the gender issue and includes a tour of the girls' bedroom, liquor tasting and period corset fitting. Reservations, inquiries and reports: Address: Pinzón 1480, Barracas.