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off the beaten track... a series highlighting the lesser known colonial buildings of Mexico


Tlayacapan (tlaya-CAH-pahn) is nestled against the scenic cordillera of northern Morelos (El Tepozteco), some 25 kms east of Cuernavaca. The village is best known for its venerable Augustinian fortress monastery of John the Baptist (above), whose recently restored convento is the location of spectacular 16th century religious frescoes, as well as a local museum filled with colonial treasures.

Less well known are the numerous barrio chapels of Tlayacapan. Originally 26 in number, some have disappeared or are in ruins. 18 currently function and more are being gradually restored and coming back into use. While some are simple, even humble structures, several of the chapels are surprisingly elaborate with decorative facades, towers, espadañas and decorative gateways, some dating from colonial times.

Ancient Tlayacapan

In ancient times the village was divided into four calpulli or barrios - north, south, east and west - each with its teocalli, or temple, marking the cardinal directions.

The four principal colonial chapels were founded on these former temple sites and remain in their traditional locations relative to the central plaza and monastery (convento) (see map). They are Santa Ana, towards the sierra on the north; La Exaltación (or Capilla de La Cruz) to the south ­ home of the miracle-working Black Christ, an object of local pilgrimage; Santiago, (or Santiaguito) in the barrio of Los Brujos across a barranca to the east; and El Rosario, a few blocks west of the parish church.

Other notable chapels include Santa Cruz de Altica, between the monastery and Santa Ana, tiny Tlaxcalchica, and the ornate San Martín, near the Rosario chapel.

Chapels on the outskirts, such as San Nicolás, San Pedro, San Lucas, Las Animas and El Tránsito, mark traditional exit points from the village. A number of smaller chapels are known as ermitas , marking ancient topographic or sacred sites, places of private and public devotion. These include San Miguel and the Guadalupe Chapel.

Here are views of some typical chapels:


Although one of the most important chapels, the ermita of Santa Ana is surprisingly modest, although well maintained

La Exaltación - the shrine of the Black Christ of Tlayacapan, and perhaps the most important of the barrio chapels

Santiago - boasting twin towers and a central espadaña

El Rosario - one of the more elaborate chapels, with an elegant retablo facade and large espadaña

San Martín - The grandest of the Tlayacapan chapels, with towers, espadaña and a complex facade with multiple niches of varying size and shape.

Tlaxcalchica - a tiny folk chapel with a strongly accented retablo facade

San Nicolás - a typical boundary ermita, now restored and in use, located beside the main highway

El Tránsito - whose sculpted folk baroque facade has been restored and re-painted in bright colors

La Natividad - currently under reconstruction - the site of a future ceramics museum


In addition to its historic colonial churches & chapels and its creative pottery, Tlayacapan is also famous for its boisterous Carnival celebrations, when distinctively costumed chinelo dancers from the various barrios perform their traditional dances in the village streets.


*For details on the ancient monasteries at Tlayacapan and throughout the state of Morelos see our guidebook Mexico's Fortress Monasteries

*External links on the monastery at Tlayacapan and its museum.

*Map of Tlayacapan and chapels