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Espadañas of Yucatán

Many readers ask us what espadaña signifies. Throughout Mexico, this architectural term refers to a wall belfry erected beside or atop a church (from the old Spanish word, espadañar, meaning "to spread the tail feathers") Freestanding belfries are usually called campanarios. These relatively simple structures often served in place of more elaborate and expensive towers, especially in earthquake prone areas.

Originating in Spain, espadañas are seen throughout Mexico, but it is in Yucatán that the form has developed its greatest variety. Across the peninsula, dozens of country churches carry these imaginative, often fantastical belfries, some dating back to the 1600s and others still being built today in the same vernacular tradition.

One of the most original examples, which we illustrate above, is that of Tixcuytún, near Tekax in northwestern Yucatán, where its function as a belfry has been lost in the decorative design, pierced with star-shaped openings reminiscent of a dovecote or the roofcrest of an ancient Maya building.

Some other Yucatan espadañas: (click to enlarge)

 Cuzama  Tibolón  Tekantó


Text & illustrations © 2000 Richard D. Perry

For more on the espadañas of Yucatan, consult our guidebook Maya Missions

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