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Colonial Chiapas update...

Despite the background of political unrest that continues to dominate the headlines from this turbulent southern Mexican state, constructive work has nevertheless gone forward on the restoration and renovation of the region's colonial monuments. With the cooperation of the state authorities, the Mexican federal agency, La Dirección General de Sitios y Monumentos del Patrimonio Cultural, del Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, has undertaken 26 projects of church restoration and conservation in Chiapas.

San Cristobal de Las Casas

In addition to the renovation of the Cathedral, which included the repainting of the facade in its brilliant original colors, work is also under way on the church of Santo Domingo, where re-surfacing of the nave vaulting and domes, and renovation and cleaning of the Rosary chapel and its wall retablos has been completed.

A new roof has been installed on the church of El Carmen, tragically burned out shortly after its earlier restoration in 1993. Although most its colonial art treasures were lost in the conflagration, local citizens rallied to assist with the redecoration of the blackened interior.



Renovation of this former Dominican monastery, a colonial jewel located in tropical sugar country beside the Grijalva River, is now also complete. Stabilization of the roofless church and its foundations as well as the restoration of the Plateresque facade to its former magnificence have rekindled civic pride in this formerly abandoned village in the tierra caliente, now the burgeoning agricultural community of La Candelaria.

See also our new page on the missions of the Camino Real de Chiapas


The newly whitewashed church facade greets visitors to this highland Maya village on the road to Copanaguastla. Inside the church, beneath a beautiful new beamed roof with overhanging eaves in traditional Chiapas style, the local santos have resumed their places in the imposing raised apse, now restored to its original size and appearance.


A handsome new roof now graces the great highland church of Santo Tomás.

Beneath newly decorated artesonado ceilings, hand-painted wooden beams span the nave, and in the sanctuary now stands a fine new wooden retablo crafted in colonial style by local artisans.

The old posa chapels in the churchyard were also renovated. During restoration of the interior early stonework came to light, some of which was carved with pre-hispanic spiral motifs thought to represent the placename of the ancient village.




During the 1993 re-roofing of the church of San Agustín, the grand main retablo was disassembled and removed during construction.

Now cleaned and re-assembled, this magnificent gilded altarpiece - one of the finest in the region with its refined figure sculpture and paintings - has been restored gleaming to its place of honor in the sanctuary.

Not to be missed by passing travelers, this retablo is undoubtedly the finest colonial work of art to be seen in rural Chiapas.



Chiapa de Corzo

Aside from its famous 16th century brick fountain,the imposing Dominican priory of Santo Domingo, known as the Cathedral, is the most notable colonial monument in Chiapa de Corzo.

Since our last report, much of the rambling riverside convento attached to the basilican church has been rebuilt, incorporating sections of the original brick fabric of both cloisters including the stairway and arcades. The renovated buildings now serve as a spacious community arts center and gallery.


For many years the elegant 16th century Dominican church of Copainalá, located in the Zoque region of northern Chiapas was open to the elements. At last, a new masonry roof covers the nave, ensuring the integrity of the structure and allowing this beautiful church to once more function as the focus of the religious life of the community.

Work has begun on the restoration and roofing of the great Dominican priory at Tecpatán, the crown jewel of the Zoque missions.

  • Check out our page on Chapultenango, another early Zoque mission.
  • See also our new page on the lost Zoque church of Quechula
  • Map of Zoque missions
  • See also our feature on the Camino Real missions of southern Chiapas
  • Mission map of Chiapas
  • Text and illustrations©1998 by Richard D. Perry

    This report, based on communications from recent visitors and published reports from various regional and national agencies, updates selected projects under way and completed since publication of our Chiapas guidebook More Maya Missions