Buried Chapel: A window on religious history of colonial Mexico
By Gabriela Garcia Guzman
Puebla, Mexico, Jul 16 (EFE).- Volunteers are hard at work saving “La capilla enterrada” (Buried Chapel), a structure of uncertain origin that appears to combine elements of indigenous Mexican religion and the Catholic faith introduced by the Spanish conquistadors.
Located outside Zapotitlan Salinas, a town in the central state of Puebla, the sanctuary is thought to date from the 16th century, but the presence of a painting reflecting pre-Columbian beliefs has raised questions.
Before it suffered serious damage from an earthquake in the 1970s, the chapel was a common destination for religious processions during Holy Week and on other Catholic holy days, while residents told Efe that the building also served as a storehouse for salt from the salt pans in the area.
The temblor left the structure unsafe and decades of disuse and neglect took a toll.
People in Zapotitlan Salinas shared with Efe stories passed down from older relatives about foreigners looting the chapel, citing as evidence marks on the walls that seem to indicate spaces once occupied by paintings.
During a tour of the chapel, Efe glimpsed an image of Jesus surrounded by angels next to the outline of what could have been an immense stone crucifix.
In late May, a team of archaeologists, restorers, architects, historians and other specialists operating under the auspices of the civic association Yo Restauro Patrimonio (I Restore Heritage) embarked on a project to bring the chapel back to what it was before the earthquake.
“The idea of the restorers is to keep it identical. They already began seeking very old photographs and people are responding, sending photos,” Primitivo Pablo Cortes, a representative of Zapotitlan Salinas, told Efe.
One of the volunteers, Miguel Martinez Mendoza, recounted creating a girder to bolster a damaged wall through which rain was seeping into the chapel and making a repair to the main entrance.
The director of the Puebla Center of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), Manuel Villarruel Vazquez, said that despite “severe structural damage,” the chapel “is stable, protected and sheltered.”
“We are waiting for the involved associations to be able to obtain resources to present to INAH their project for the next stage and give them the corresponding authorization to continue,” the official told Efe.
Yo Restauro Patrimonio, under the leadership of restorer Norma Garcia Huerta, relies on donations to pay for the materials and equipment the volunteers use. EFE ggg/dr