Episode 387 – Mérida’s Second Oldest Church

It’s all about just looking at our surroundings that allows us to find so much beauty wherever we travel in the world. Admittedly, it’s harder to “look at our surroundings” in Mérida’s historic Centro district, given the treacherous conditions of the sidewalks and needing to look down ALL THE TIME, but we still somehow manage to notice the (sometimes faded) glory around us.

One of the places we pass often on our evening walks to the Plaza Grande is La iglesia del Jesús de la Tercera Orden, the church of Jesus of the Third Order, and its rectory – a complex simply referred to locally as “el Jesús”. It is common to see opulent evening weddings there, with not only the bridal party but all of the guests in glittering formal wear of the kind rarely seen any more at North American weddings outside of Mexico (which is, after all, North America too!)

This week, on a morning walk past el Jesús, we were invited to go in by a young man representing Turismo México, the Mexican Tourist Board. He explained that while the church was not quite as old, nor as big, as San Ildefonso Cathedral, it was much more beautifully decorated inside.

Look up. Where the sunlight shines in, the gold paint shimmers.

Built around 1618 (by comparison the cathedral, the second oldest in the entire western hemisphere, dates to 1562), the original church was quite small, but that is explained largely by the fact that its adjunct school and university (established via a papal bull from Pius IV in 1561) were the real focus of the Jesuits, who taught here until their expulsion in 1767.

Today’s beautiful building was constructed at the end of the 17th century, and it is the city’s largest church after the cathedral. After the Jesuit’s expulsion it was given to the Third Order of St. Francis (“the browns”, as the Franciscans were called here). In 1915, near the end of the almost 50 year long Caste War of Yucatan, the church was seized and its altarpieces destroyed, but the church returned to use for worship in 1920, and repairs were largely completed in that decade.

Approaching the main altar, we had a great view of the windowed cupola above that allows so much natural light into the space.
The 4 side chapels, each unique.

Mérida is not as filled with churches as some European cities we’ve visited, many are closed except during masses, and even more are unrestored, but we’ll continue to explore those we can. We’ve learned that in addition to shedding light on countries’ religions,they are also repositories of art and history – well worth visiting.


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