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Famous church demolished

Our Lady of Angels Church has survived several major earthquakes, but Tuesday's magnitude 7.1 shake proved to be the final death knell for the Mexico City building's historic cupola.

Violent cracks crisscrossed the dome, and stone from the roof continued to fall onto the church's wooden pews. On Sunday evening, the cupola split and half crashed to the floor.

"Each earthquake has left its mark," said Marco Antonio Fuentes, part of the church's ministry. "This one seems to be the straw that will break the camel's back."

According to the Archdiocese of Mexico, more than 150 religious temples in this deeply Roman Catholic country were damaged by Tuesday's deadly quake. Statues of saints have been left maimed, missing hands and feet. Once towering, celestial church naves now open to the sky. Dust from fallen stone and concrete cover altars.

Many of the battered churches are in the state of Puebla, where the quake's epicenter was located. There in the city of Atzala, a child's baptism turned into tragedy when the roof of a church collapsed, killing 11 family members inside, including the 2-month-old girl being christened.

On the first Sunday since the earthquake, priests no longer able to say Mass inside collapsing churches instead held services outside paying homage to victims and survivors.

"Our religion is more than a building," Colin Noguez, the priest at Our Lady of Angels, told parishioners inside a tent with a table holding a cross and candles from the building.

Many of the collapsed buildings where rescuers have been searching for survivors held offices and apartments, places where people worked and lived. The damage to churches hit a different chord — striking places that in many Mexican cities serve as pillars of strength in times of distress.

"It's our mother," Azalia Ramirez, 60, said of Our Lady of Angels, which sits in a working class neighbourhood. "We come here looking for communion, peace and tranquility."

Our Lady of Angels is believed to be the most heavily damaged church in Mexico City, while the severity of destruction to religious structures is largely concentrated in Puebla.

In Atzala, a town of 1,200 people, little remains of the golden yellow church with a red roof where the 11 people died. The interior where worshippers once prayed from pews is now a mess of twisted metal and fallen stone leading to an altar where the word "merciful" now hangs at a slant.

"Everything happened in the blink of an eye," said Sergio Montiel, the church's sexton.

As the Santiago de Apostol church shifted to recovery mode, a planned wedding instead took place outside under a beige tent with mariachi players standing nearby. The bride and groom exchanged rings and a kiss before being showered with rice and confetti just feet from the destruction.

"I'm very sad for the church," said Aremy Sanchez, the bride. "But we must go on."



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