Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Yucatán then and now: San Cristóbal de Mérida

San Cristóbal de Mérida in 1860
San Cristóbal 
Southeast of the zócalo or main plaza in Mérida, opposite its own expansive park, stands the parish church of San Cristóbal. This monumental church, located in a city ward of the same name, is the last, the most sophisticated, and certainly the most imposing of Mérida's barrio churches.
   The ancient barrio of San Cristóbal was originally settled by native auxiliaries from central Mexico, who accompanied the Montejos on their conquest of Yucatan in the 1540s, and traditionally guarded the southern approaches to the colonial capital. 
Initially the residents of the quarter were served by the Franciscans from their flagship friary of San Francisco de Mérida (now demolished), where a chapel for the use of the residents was built adjacent to this elevated monastery. Located at a distance from the barrio, this arrangement proved increasingly inconvenient, especially after the monastery was fortified in 1667. 
   Following secularization of the monastic church in the 1750s, pressure mounted to establish a new parish church in the heart of San Cristóbal. The foundation stone was laid in 1757 and the church was officially dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe the next year—marking papal recognition of La Guadalupana as the patron saint of Mexico—and completed in December 1796. 
The handsome design of San Cristóbal has been attributed to Juan de Torres, the builder of the grand church at Umán, and is a major Mérida landmark. Although clearly related to Mérida cathedral, it incorporates many late baroque features of scale, appearance and ornament while successfully remaining within the austere tradition of Yucatecan religious architecture.  
   Multi-staged twin towers anchor the lofty facade—a characteristic feature of the cathedral as well as numerous later colonial parish churches across the peninsula.
Elegant pilasters and a frieze carved with foliage embellish the tall, otherwise classical entry, above which is emblazoned the Latin legend, “This is the House of God and the Gate of Heaven.” 
A great shell archway, carved with vines, frames the recessed choir window and is the most striking feature of the upper facade, which is surmounted by an ornamental cross.

text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.   images by the author and Niccolò Brooker
for more on colonial Yucatán see our guidebook:

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