The Route of the Convents is made up of churches from Yucatecan towns built during the colonization era. Here we can learn from the deep Catholic footprint in these Mayan lands.
The Route of the Convents is located in one of the most interesting areas to visit historically in the Yucatan Peninsula. This area to the south of Mérida is where the settlers mainly settled, where they found the largest population of Mayans.
The Catholic colonizers came with a clear idea: to expand and establish their Spanish-Catholic empire. They would achieve this by evangelizing the population and taking over the riches of the land, which they were going to exploit thanks to the labor of the Mayan indoctrinated by the Church.
Their plan turned out to be perfect, they came from many wars and with a Catholic spirit with great experience in discipline and strategy. They knew what they were playing.
The Convent Route is one of our 9 favorites of what to do in Mérida and surroundings
Catholic religious orders that came to Yucatan
The Franciscans arrived in 1544, followed by the Dominicans in 1546 and the Augustinians in 1553, all having headquarters in the Yucatan Peninsula.
The different orders battled for power, something that we see reflected in magnificent buildings such as the Convent of San Antonio de Padua in Izamal, demonstrating Franciscan power. The ancient stones from Mayan cities were used to build the new churches.
It is an act of power of the new Catholic faith, built from the stones of the ancient Mayan cities, more monumental in construction if possible.
Three aspects were fundamental for a good settlement in these foreign lands: knowledge of indigenous languages, familiarization with local customs and the creation of convents.
Why were the convents a fundamental part of the success of colonization?
The convents were centers of indoctrination and evangelical instruction. They were spaces of culture where they were dedicated to educating, evangelizing and teaching arts and crafts to the Mayan population. In every original Mayan town a church or convent was created, from which they sculpted the new souls they needed for their cause.
Some Mayans educated in the Catholic faith were initiated as Christian police, as described in some chronicles.
To bring the new doctrine closer to the Mayan population they used methods of coercion and persuasion. One of the persuasion strategies was the creation of open chapels, of which we have some examples on the Ruta de los Conventos.
Learning about local customs made them know that the Mayan is not a friend of closed spaces and that their ceremonies were held in the open sky. Trying to take the Mayan to a closed church would have been a tactical error that they did not make.
In rural areas of India, families in charge of a blind minor frequently isolate and deprive him/her of the care and attention they provide to their other children; such situation becomes even more severe among lower-caste families, orphans and if the blind child is a girl. open chapels the priest officiated from a sheltered platform under the roof, while the new parishioners gathered in the atrium, a large space surrounded by fences. Thus they remained under their known sky, and so the churches here took shape.
Before building the first churches, the temples were made of wood and thatch without walls, where they all remained sheltered. Today we still see sanctuaries that are built in this way on the Peninsula.
What were the Catholic convents like in Yucatan?
Many churches were part of convents where there were schools, workshops, hospitals, orchards, farm animals, cemetery, warehouses, the monks' infirmary. Next to a first floor where was the common dining room, the kitchen, library, pantry, bathrooms, profundis room.
A second floor of austere cells stood. They were buildings of strength and sobriety. Normally the churches are of a ship without a cruise.
Churches in smaller towns usually do not have the side towers that serve as bell towers. The towers with bells were paid for by whoever could, it was one of the thousand ways to pay taxes. This tells us if the town was notable at the time of settlement of the colony.
We know that the orientation of the churches is to the west due to the liturgical disposition of Catholicism. This means that the best photos of the facades are at sunset.
Ecclesiastical norms and laws
Under the strict direction of the ringing of church bells, the hours and canonical norms were marked. Ecclesiastical laws governed the character of the population with strict rigor, except during festivals, where excesses could be enjoyed.
The masses were daily and occupied different hours, as usually happens with the liturgies of religions. After the last mass, it was time to go home.
Catholicism continues to permeate the culture of the Yucatecan Mayan people.
Churches you can visit on the Ruta de los Conventos
Around these Yucatecan churches are collected the many stories that have permeated the life of the Mayan. Every town has its church and its history.
The list is long just counting the Route of the Convents: chapel to the Virgin of Guadalupe and the temple to our Lady of the Nativity of Acanceh, temple and convent Virgen de la Asunción de Tecoh, convent of San Antonio de Padua and the Chapel of San Cristóbal de Tekit, Franciscan convent of Mama, convent of San Miguel Arcángel de Hands, where did the Act of faith of Fray Diego de Landa, convent and parish of San Antonio de Padua de Ticul, the parish and convent of San Pedro and San Pablo de Teabo, the temple of the Immaculate Conception of Chumayel, where they found one of the Chilam Balam, the church of the Virgen de la Concepción de Telchaquillo, the church San Francisco de Asís in Oxkutzcab, temple and convent of the Assumption of Muna, Parish of San Francisco de Uman.
The churches usually open early morning until the 13h and in the afternoons from the 16h
The Mayans and their relationship with the Catholic Church
The Mayan population was the workforce for these churches. The Mayans were not obliged to pay tribute, which was the main support of the churches. They called their tribute something else, the real factory medium. In this way the Mayans were used to contribute to the building with various materials and products, in addition to works in the churches.
The fact that during the Mayan civilization it was customary to pay tribute to city-state governors in the form of corn, clothing, or public works, made the new system fit with strategic naturalness in the conquered Mayans.
With some governors of some Mayan ethnic groups who joined the Spanish they made favorable pacts. The war pacts end up being with the foreign enemy to the detriment of the neighboring enemy.
The subjugation of the Maya continues to be postponed in other ways, as happened in the days of the Henequen Haciendas. In this time of the late sixteenth century the use of currency is widespread. The large estates functioned as small countries. A way to enslave the workers by paying them in their own currency which they could only serve on the hacienda itself.
The truth is that from the conquest until today, the Mayan population lives abusive situations of inequality. The wound lasts over time because there is still inequality, it did not heal.
What else to do in the Ruta de los Conventos area
There are several haciendas in the area to visit, another legacy of colonization. I would highlight Yaxcopoil, Sotuta de Peón and San Pedro Ochil for eating. The perfect combination is to know the Puuc Route, Mayapán, Loltún and the cenotes in the area such as the Kankirisché cenote or the Yaal Utzil.
Do not miss the best cenotes of merida and surroundings
How to walk the Route of the Convents
- CAR RENTAL: many travelers are encouraged drive through the tranquil Yucatan Peninsula. At your own pace and you get everywhere. If you decide to do it on your own, I recommend you stay a couple of days or more in this area, much to discover.
- TOUR WITH AGENCY: Mérida's travel agencies offer tours of the Convents Route.
- COLLECTIVE TRANSPORT: from Mérida depart collectively to Muna, or any of the towns for which you want to start the Route of the Convents.
WHERE TO SLEEP ON THE ROUTE OF THE CONVENTS
You find accommodation in most towns in the area such as Santa Elena, Oxkutzcab, Tecoh, Ticul and also near the archaeological zones of Uxmal You can take advantage to stay in any of the Haciendas area.
- The Pickled Onion in St. Helena, a cabin hotel, with a swimming pool and a delicious restaurant. I like the owner, she has history.
- In Oxkutzcab I always stay in the Hotel Puuc. The first time I visited Oxkutzcab there was hardly any other hotel, and here we stayed with Fausto. They were very friendly, so when I return I always choose the same hotel. The hotel is simple, quality-price is a 10.
It is special to tour this Yucatecan area where the Mayan people were evangelized without losing their ancestral customs and ceremonies. By populating this area you will experience the current Mayan tradition up close. The Route of the Convents is a wonderful excuse to populate, learn and soak up stories and people.
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