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Ancient History

An Incredible 400-Year-Old Colonial Church Emerges From Waters In Mexico



Every day Leonel Mendoza fishes in a reservoir of water in the mountains of southern Mexico surrounded by a forest.  In this once quiet and remote area in the state of Chiapas something unexpected happened.  The receding waters revealed a 400-year-old colonial-era Church!

Unfortunately, there has been a drought this year that has hit the watershed of the Grijalva River.  The water level in the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir has dropped by around 82 feet! (25 meters)

This is the second time that the water has dropped low enough to see the church since the area was flooded by a dam that was built in 1966.  Back in 2002 the water was actually so low that visitors were able to walk right into the church.

“The people celebrated. They came to eat, to hang out, to do business. I sold them fried fish. They did processions around the church,” said Mendoza.


The church was built by monks lead by Friar Bartolome de la Casas.  They arrived in the region in the mid-16th century which was then inhabited by the Zoque people.

The structure was 183 feet (61 meters) long, 42 feet (14 meters) wide and walls rising 30 feet (10 meters) high. The bell tower alone reaches 48 feet (16 meters) high.


“The church was abandoned due the big plagues of 1773-1776,”

Said architect Carlos Navarete, who worked along with the Mexican authorities to report about the details of the structure.


This church was highly dependent on the nearby monastery of Tecpetan which was founded in 1564.  According to Navarrete because of the architectural similarities the buildings were probably built during the same time period.

The church was once located on the King’s Highway which was originally designed by the Spanish conquistadors and is still in use today.


“At that time we still found the wood from the chorus loft and the roof beams,” Navarrete said. “Also a large ossuary of the victims of the plague that depopulated the area.”


“It was a church built thinking that this could be a great population center, but it never achieved that,” said Navarrete. “It probably never even had a dedicated priest, only receiving visits from those from Tecpatan.”

Image credits: AP / David von Blohn

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