In 1853, during the devastating Caste War, Maya rebels burst from the surrounding jungle into the eastern town of Chikindzonot. After massacring the non Maya inhabitants, they sacked and burned the town including the elegant colonial church of La Candelaria.
|Chikindzonot in 2001|
Typical of many frontier Yucatecan churches in style, the handsome stone structure had been built by the secular clergy during the expansion of the colony into eastern Yucatan during the mid 1700s. Set on a lofty limestone outcropping beside a large cenote—which gives the site its name—the imposing twin towered church is approached by a long stone stairway.
However, Candelaria Chikindzonot was set apart from other frontier churches by the quality of its stone carving, executed by the indigenous Maya sculptor Pascual Estrella (a Spanish version of Ek, meaning star—a popular Maya name)
Although Estrella worked on other area churches, notably at Ichmul, Sabán and Tihosuco, the imaginative variety and skill of the stonework at Chikindzonot —much of which survives—is extraordinary.
|Chikindzonot, the west front before restoration (1998)|
Reliefs of masks, serpents and dragon like fish also adorn the doorway.But perhaps the most striking feature of the facade is the complex relief in the crowning pediment. In this virtuosic, stylized composition, the figure of the Virgin of Candelaria is set in an elaborately carved canopy surrounded by a radiant nimbus. Ornate candelabra, censer swinging angels and bands of floral ornament complete the tableau.
Inside the church, naive angels and lions decorate the sanctuary arch and the massive baptismal font, also carved by Estrella, which has miraculously also survived.
|Chikindzonot: the burned out, roofless nave (1998)|
|Reroofing the nave (2001)|
|Chikindzonot, the new facade (2012) © Iglesias de Yucatán|
text and images © 2015 Richard D. Perry