Much is said about the mysterious church of San Juan Chamula without doing justice to its mystical atmosphere because, in reality, little is known about what really goes on inside. This truly special place is located only ten kilometers from San Cristobal de las Casas in the highlands of Chiapas in a small indigenous village of the Tzotzil community.
Its population fiercely defended its independence in the past against the Spanish and continues to do so more recently against the Mexican government as it lives according to its own system of customs and traditions. In the main square, the church of San Juan Chamula, the most sacred temple of this ethnic group, stands as a symbol of the syncretisms resulting from these confrontations. Inside, a Christianity mixed with ancestral Mayan beliefs is celebrated.
A look inside the mysterious church of San Juan Chamula
Those who have already visited the church have many memories and incredible words to describe what they saw and felt inside. And that’s a good thing, because the stories are the only thing those who have not yet been to this intriguing Chiapas town will have to imagine it. In fact, cameras and their use are strictly forbidden inside the church. It is said that is because the Chamulas fear that their souls will be trapped in the clichés.
Inside, only the thousands of candles arranged as ornaments and offerings break the darkness. They illuminate the dry leaves and thorns of pine trees that cover the floor and spread out like a gigantic vegetable carpet. Their brightness also allows us to perceive the immense clouds of smoke given off by the incense, which gives the atmosphere a mystical character in addition to the intense smell.
You can hear, in an echo, the indecipherable murmurs of the shamans in the Mayan language during their ceremonies and feel the great religious fervor of the indigenous people sitting directly on the ground invoking prayers. It is also common to see soda bottles, eggs and chickens sacrificed on the altar. The atmosphere here is truly unique in the state of Chiapas but also in the whole country and is usually what leaves travelers with the best and most authentic memories.
The cemetery of San Juan Chamula, as intriguing as its church
Aside from its incredible church, the rest of the town is equally special and worth a visit. However, remember that it is best to go during the day and avoid sleeping there. Among other places of interest in the town, the cemetery is the first thing you encounter upon arriving in San Juan Chamula and is a good introduction to the mix of cultures so typical of the town.
In front of the ruins of the old church, the cemetery is not classic either. The tombs are dug into the ground and covered with mounds of earth, but there are no tombstones. As decorations, large crosses of different colors are used, which also serve to identify the deceased according to their age. A white cross indicates the burial of a child, a green one that of an adult and a black one that of an elderly person. We also find, as in the church, the thorns of the pine trees that have a particular meaning for the Chamulas in their relationship with the afterlife.
Besides, San Juan Chamula is known for the incomparable beauty of its handmade weavings and embroidery and for the wool work especially famous in this site.
Although it is necessary to respect certain recommendations and rules to go to San Juan Chamula with tranquility, in reality it is only a matter of being respectful and discreet. Thus, it is possible to enjoy a unique and incredible immersion in the habits and customs of a community proud of its culture, a true mixture of its different origins.