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Chikindzonot: Sentinel of the Yucatán Frontier

The roofless church of Chikindzonot stands like a sentinel not far from the Yucatán/Quintana Roo frontier, virtually unchanged since its sacking and abandonment during the brutal Caste War of 1847-8.

Built in the late 1700s, during the terminal colonial expansion of frontier settlements across eastern Yucatán, the church is located beside a cenote atop a limestone outcropping ­ possibly the site of a former Maya temple ­ approached by a long stone stairway. (Chikindzonot =eastern cenote in Yucatec)

The building remains remarkable for its late colonial sculpture, notably on the well preserved facade. Rude in design but striking in its vigorous relief, this popular "folk baroque" style is typical of the region and closely related to the religious sculptures at nearby Ichmul and Sabán.

The most interesting element is the west doorway, flanked by complex estípite pilasters carved with primitive figures of Adam and Eve. The pilasters are also adorned with grotesque masks, serpents and dragon-like fish, and surmounted by frontal statues of Saints Peter and Paul.

An ornate niche in the semicircular pediment atop the facade encloses the figure of the Virgin, picked out in sharp relief against an elaborate canopy with censer-swinging angels, ornate candelabra and profuse geometric floral ornament. This niche is strikingly similar to the relief of the Virgin adorning the Santuario at Ichmul, and may be from the hand of the same sculptor, Pascual Estrella.

This master craftsman is believed to have been Mayan, his unusual Spanish name Estrella being a translation of Ek, the Mayan word for star and a common surname in Yucatan)


Angels and primitive lions decorate the sanctuary arch and the massive baptismal font, the latter reminiscent of the shattered basin at neighboring Tihosuco, another wrecked church along the colonial frontier.



Although the church remains roofless, services are still held in the covered sanctuary, where colorful santos and recuerdos adorn the altar.

On the day of our recent visit, January 6, the festival of the Three Kings was being celebrated by village youngsters with the traditional masquerade of Shepherds and Devils.

Text and illustrations ©1998 by Richard D. Perry

For more on the frontier churches of colonial Yucatán, see our guidebook, Maya Missions.