The 17th-century church in Chiapas. The 17th-century church in Chiapas.

Dropping water levels reveal hidden church

The Nezahualcóyotl reservoir is down 25 meters, revealing 17th-century ruins

Record drought conditions in southeastern Mexico have been affecting farmers for some time now, but the lack of rain has had another effect on a reservoir in Chiapas: an old church has been seen rising from the water.

It is not a religious apparition but the effect of dropping water levels at the Nezahualcóyotl reservoir on the Grijalva River, an area that was flooded with the building of the Nezahualcóyotl dam in the 1960s, covering villages, towns and archaeological sites.

It was the second time since the dam’s completion in 1966 that water levels have dropped enough to reveal the colonial-era ruins of the town formerly known as Quechula.

The town — and part of the territory of the Zoque people— and its church were built by Dominican friars led by Bartolomé de las Casas in the mid-1600s.

The town’s relative importance was derived from its location on the King’s Highway, a road designed by Spanish conquistadors and still in use until the 20th century.

“It was a church built with the thinking that this could be a great population center, but it never achieved that,” said architect Carlos Navarrete, who worked with Mexican authorities on a report about the structure.

“It probably never even had a dedicated priest, only receiving visits from those from larger towns nearby.”

“A plague afflicted the nascent town between 1773 and 1776,” he recalled, after which it was all but abandoned.

The Nezahualcóyotl reservoir has dropped 25 meters this season, making it the second lowest drop since 2002.

That year, water levels were low enough that curious visitors could walk inside the church’s structure.

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Fisherman Leonel Mendoza recalled that people were drawn to the ruins of the church at the time: “They celebrated. They came to eat, to hang out, to do business. I sold them fried fish. They did processions around the church.”

In recent days, besides fishing on the reservoir, Mendoza has been ferrying curious passengers drawn to the rare spectacle of the recently emerged ruins.

Source: SIPSE (sp)

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