Ancient Church Rises Again From Beneath The Water

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A sunken 16th century church has re-emerged – the second time it’s done so since disappearing into a deep lake created by construction of a dam in 1966.

Drought conditions in the Mexican state of Chiapas have dropped the water level in the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir by 82 feet.

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Built about four hundred years ago, the church – known as the Temple of Santiago (or of Quechula) – was abandoned during the plagues that hit the area between 1773 and 1776, says architect Carlos Navarrete, who worked with Mexican authorities on a report about the building.

The church is 183 feet long and 42 feet wide, and its walls are thirty feet high. There’s a 48-foot bell tower. When a similar drought revealed it in 2002, original wood from the choir loft and the roof beams was found.

That time, the water was so low that visitors could walk inside.

“The people celebrated. They came to eat, to hang out, to do business. I sold them fried fish. They did processions around the church,” says resident Leonel Mendoza. Recently, he’s been taking the curious out in his boat to see it.

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Nearby is the monastery of Tecpatan, founded in 1564. Based upon architectural similarities, Navarrete believes it was constructed by the same group of monks under the leadership of Friar Bartolome de las Casas.

Situated on the King’s Highway, a road designed by Spanish conquistadors, “it was a church built thinking that this could be a great population center, but it never achieved that,” Navarrete said. “It probably never even had a dedicated priest, only receiving visits from those from Tecpatan.”

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Bartolome de las Casas was a renowned historian, social reformer and Dominican friar. He became the first resident Bishop of Chiapas and the first officially appointed “Protector of the Indians”. He initially supported the colonization and subjugation of the native Indians of the region. Then, in later years, he had a change of heart and became an advocate for the abolition of slavery.

In 1542, he got new laws passed to end much of the slavery practiced in Peru. They were later severely modified by King Charles of Spain when settlers voiced their strong objection.