|Main Plaza, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas|
When visiting Mexican cities and towns, it seems that all are built according to the same plan- the central square (the zocalo) with the main church on one side and streets branching off the square, perpendicular to it. This is not an accident, because the cities of Colonial Mexico were all built according to an ordinance written by the Spanish King Phillip II in the late 16th century. It was his opinion that many cities in Spain had become serpentine mazes of streets and he did not want the cities of the new world to fall into this disarray; they were to be built according to a plan and orderly and to reflect the power of the Spanish empire.
At a city's center was to be the Plaza Mayor (zocalo), a rectangular main plaza of a width-length ratio of 1:1.5. Surrounding the square were to be the government buildings, the cathedral and main churches and shops. The main plaza was not residential, but the homes of the wealthy were built closest to it. Away from the center various neighborhoods, barrios in Spanish, were built to accommodate the working class and indigenous populations that worked in various occupations. San Cristóbal is no exception to these rules.
The centers of colonial cities were meant to be the seat of religious and political power. At the heart of each is the cathedral, the most important church in the city because it is the church of the area's bishop. In San Cristóbal the cathedral, which is dedicated to the Virgin of the Annunciation, has roots that go back to a parish church in the mid-sixteenth century. The present building dates to the late 16th century and is built in the massive heavy "earthquake baroque" style (see April 16, 2013 post for more on this topic), using the Antigua Cathedral in Guatamala as a model. Following an earthquake in 1902 it was further remodeled.
|Cathedral, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas|
|Palace of the Governors, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas|
|San Nicolas Church, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas|
|Santo Domingo Church, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas|
Although the city had initially been hostile to this order, in 1546 the city offered the friars land to build a monastery as well as promising them Indian labor to build it.. The first church, which was small and made of wood and adobe, was damaged in a lighting strike in 1563 and was rebuilt, being completed by the 1580's. The present ornate building dates from the 17th century.
|La Caridad, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas|
In 1712 the miraculous image of an Indian Virgin Mary appeared in the village of Cancuc..
The leaders of the Catholic church did not recognize the cult that grew up around this figure and persecuted its leaders, which led to an Indian uprising and the slaughter of many Spanish. Within six months the Spanish forces had put down the revolt and the citizens gave credit to the Lady of Charity (La Caridad) for saving them. The bishop vowed to built a church in her honor.
|Main Market, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas|
The term barrio basically means neighborhood, the areas that developed around the city's center, the zona central. Each barrio reproduced the structure of the center with a plaza, church and often some sort of market. Very often a barrio is named after the church that is at its center.
In general, colonial cities grew from the center out, but Barrio de La Merced, which is not in the central zone was one of the first inhabited areas of what was to become San Cristóbal. The La Merced monastery was the first monastery in San Cristóbal and was founded by friars of the Mercedarian order from Guatamala in 1537; it later served as a fortress and barracks for soldiers.
|La Merced Church, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas|
|Guadalupe Church, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas|
Guadalupe church is located at the top of a hill that bears the same name. Constructed in 1854 and dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, its image of the Virgin was crowned in 1931.
Pilgrims from all over Chiapas come here on her feast day which is December 12.
|Santa Lucia Church, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas|
There are other churches in San Cristóbal, but it is not possible to cover them all in this
post. Each, in some way, reflects the unique characteristics of the neighborhood in which it is located and has a personality of its own. In a way, the barrio churches are more personal and intimate than the main churches in the cities center which were built to reflect the power of the religious orders to which they belong, as in Santo Domingo with its gold-leafed walls or the stately Cathedral, the seat of religious authority for the city.
Just as each church evolves a personality of its own based on the inhabitants of its congregation, each city evokes its own personality despite the fact that the basic city plans are similar. In the city explored in this post, San Cristóbal de las Casas, what creates its uniqueness is the presence of a large Mayan population with their unique styles of dress and customs.