In this post we revisit the northeastern highlands of Chiapas, a region known in colonial times as Los Zendales—a corruption of Tzeltal—one of two Maya languages spoken by the inhabitants, the other being the related Tzotzil.
Most of the churches in the area have colonial origins and although invariable altered, much of their fabric dates back centuries.
The best known church in the region is that at San Juan Chamula, but in this post we look at San Miguel Huixtán.
Like Chamula, Huixtán is a village of Tzotzil-speaking Maya. The settlement is perched on the side of a narrow ridge, overlooking the scenic valley below. The women of the village dress in white huipiles with floral embroidery and the men wear homespun wool ponchos against the highland chill.
The mission of San Miguel was founded as a visita of the Dominican priory of Santo Domingo some time late in the 16th century, although it was later subject to the nearby mission at Ocosingo.
As in all Maya villages, the church is the religious and social center of the community. It faces a large terraced plaza, undoubtedly the former mission atrium. At the far end of this plaza is mounted a traditional green tree cross, gaily bedecked with flowers and pine branches on feast days.
The modest church is built in the 16th century pueblo-de-indios style, with rubblestone walls and a pitched tile roof. Recently renovated, the powerful west front is similar to San Juan Chamula, with a conspicuous arched entry flanked by wall niches. Above the doorway, however, Huistan has a more clearly defined retablo facade, divided by prominent pilasters and cornices.
Massive buttresses flare out on either side, visually integrated into the facade by inset niches and extension of the cornices. Giant merlons, set on high pedestals and surmounted by enormous cannonball finials, flank the upper facade.
Curving, scrolled cornices sweep up in front of the merlons, anchoring the upper pediment and supporting a freestanding espadaña. The crowning parapet is perforated by open brickwork—a decorative mudéjar touch in this otherwise rather austere folk-baroque facade.
The box-like nave contains a few altars, including a shrine to the Archangel Michael (San Miguel), the patron saint of the village, whose fiesta is celebrated in late September.
text ©1994 & 2021 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and from online sources