Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Lost Missions of Yucatan - Xlacah/Temul

Xlacah, rear of mission with belfry and window

Moving east across northern Yucatan, the only abandoned early mission located within a Maya site to be rediscovered between Izamal and the east coast (of Quintana Roo,) is that at Xlacah/Temul, located near the town of Panabá, north of Tizimín, a major colonial mission town.

Xlacah and Temul are alternative names for the same place: initially, a still largely overgrown prehispanic Maya site with stone pyramids, known to researchers as Xlacah.

Later, a Spanish encomienda and brief colonial settlement called Temul was established here within the ancient site, with resident population that was later moved to nearby Panabá as part of the Franciscan congregation program.
Xlacah, site plan with mission and atrium
Nevertheless, during this brief period, for about 20 years in the mid-1500s, a frontier style ramada mission of some size was erected among the Maya ruins upon a former temple platform.  The mission was enclosed by a square walled atrium (lower center)

Xlacah, original chapel plan and elevation

The substantial colonial structure consisted of an elevated, arched open chapel with a flanking sacristy and baptistry, much of it constructed with cut stone from the Maya temple which it replaced.

The walls are pierced by doorways and recessed windows, which originally may have been part masonry and part timber, with a thatched roof overhead.
Xlacah, chapel arch
Additional masonry structures, possibly accommodation for the visiting friars, extended to the north of the chapel.

There are other abandoned colonial missions in the area, many of them the victims of pirate attacks, disease and depopulation as well as the 19th century Caste War which devastated eastern Yucatán.

Two other abandoned missions of note near Tizimín, closer to the north coast, are the churches of Kikil, and Loché, formerly an important prehispanic center of the Chikinchel Maya.


The existing ruined church exhibits more than one phase of construction, with the now largely collapsed open chapel with its vestigial belfry at the rear, fronted by a roofless masonry church with low nave walls.

The typical triangular facade formerly fronted the original, steeply pitched, palm thatch roof. Today, the entire structure is overgrown and neglected and in danger of further collapse.


Like Loché, the abandoned church at Kikil is overgrown with vegetation and neglected, its facade riven by enormous cracks and the interior burned out.
Kikil, interior with burned choir loft
Numerous other  "T-plan" mission churches, with formerly thatched masonry naves added to earlier open chapels, can be found all across Yucatan, many still in use and others—like Loché and Kikil— roofless and in ruins since the 19th century Caste War.
Details on many of these can be found in our guidebook Maya Missions, as well as the more extensive two volume illustrated guide The Colonial Churches of Yucatan by Christian Heck et al.
text © 2012 by Richard D. Perry.
Based on the article: "A 16th century church at  Xlacah, Panaba, Yucatan"  by Tomas Gallareta Negron, Anthony P. Andrews & Peter J. Schmidt.     Méxicon 12(2):33-36  1990.  maps & plans by Hope Henderson.   Xlacah photographs by Tony Andrews.


  1. Mr. Perry

    I am grateful to you for making your texts on "lost" early colonial Missions of the Yucatan available to the world public on the internet. Your site has been very useful to me. How would one arrange to visit some to the more remote and undeveloped missions that you describe here, such as the missions of Xzeme/Kinchil; Ecab; Xlakah/Temul, Loche and Kikil; Oxtankah/Tamalcab? Do you do tours of these yourself? Do you have the contacts needed to assist others (such as myself) to arrange to tour these with a local guide? I am an anthro-historian and your advice, guidance, and help in this regard would be greatly appreciated.


    p.s. Your information on these missions is very well done.

    1. Thank you Max
      Almost by definition, many “lost” missions are in remote locations, although some are fairly accessible.
      I wrote these posts some years ago, many of them based on even earlier reports and visits. Some in fact I have not visited in person, so cannot speak to their current state. A few have been further restored while others may have been completely lost by now.

      No tours of these sites as a group are available to my knowledge, and local guides are not generally reliable. My best advice is to take time, a good, detailed map, rent a rugged car and navigate them on your own.
      Some knowledge of Spanish and of course a print out of my posts, as well as my Maya Missions guidebook, would also be of great help.

    2. Hi Richard
      Thank you for taking the time to respond to my email and for the wise counsel. It is appreciated. You mention that you made these posts many years ago. It is strange how the internet allows us to live VERY long influential lives (smile). I am very glad that you still monitor your site for communication. Your site texts advertise the value of your books well and I have already ordered them. I am sure that they will prove worth the investment.

      I imagine that Ecab is one of the missions that you yourself have not yet visited. It is notoriously isolated and difficult to visit. The boat guides need to know the maze of mangrove canals that lead in to where one can come ashore and get to the old site. The few boat guides that know the route consider it an unprofitable waste of time to take anyone there even if they do know the canals.

      I hope, none-the-less, to get to the sites above on my next few voyages into the Yucatan "in search of" (smile).


    3. Hello Richard

      I am now about half way through your book on Missions and enjoying it a great deal. The illustrations that you did for the book are also a remarkable investment of time and patience. I am impressed. I received the second book on the Yucatan and look forward to starting it as soon as I have completed your book on missions.

      Your book on missions will be useful on my next trip south to the Yucatan.