left, an arch of the 16 th century chapel. right, part of the "unfinished 17 th century church behind the chapel
The great Maya city of Izamal was the ceremonial focus of northeastern Yucatán in pre-hispanic times. During the Spanish colonial period it became an important Catholic shrine, as it remains today.
However, many of the numerous ancient and colonial communities surrounding Izamal were later depopulated and often abandoned, their religious monuments left to decay. The ancient town of Pixilá, south of Izamal, is but one example, its prominent 17th century church now a roofless semi-ruin.
A few kilometers further to the southeast, hidden in overgrown woodlands attached to the Hacienda de Santa Catalina*, lies the lost town of Chalanté. Once the location of a Maya temple, whose limestone foundations can still be traced, this ancient settlement was chosen by Franciscans from Izamal as the site for a satellitevisita mission.
Cut masonry from the Maya temple was recycled to build an open air Christian chapel framed by an grand stone archway and flanked by a log-beamed sacristy and choir. In the 16th century, an oval pole-and-thatch ramada would have extended out from the chapel front across the old temple precinct to shade the Indian congregation from the fierce tropical sun during services.
In later colonial times, work began on a second mission church behind the original building, again using stone from the Maya ruins as well as cannibalizing the older chapel. Because of depopulation and quite likely the expansion of the hacienda onto village lands, this roofless church was never completed.
Even today, as we saw on a recent visit, both
colonial churches, as well as the nearby remnants of house mounds
of the lost village of Chalanté, stand ruined and abandoned
in the bush, monuments to a past until recently unknown to any
except a few local inhabitants.
Text and pictures ©2000 & 2001 Richard D. Perry
*The Hacienda, which is located 3 kms east of Sudzal, has beenconverted to a hotel and conference center under the name Hacienda San Antonio Chalanté
*This report is based on a personal tour of the site,with information provided by Scott Wormwood, Logan Wagner, and an interview published in El Diario de Yucatán with Luis Millet Cámara, the INAH archaeologist for El Proyecto Izamal.
For more information on the open chapels of Yucatán, consult our guidebook, Maya Missions.