A Drought in Mexico Revealed This 400-Year-Old Church in the Middle of a Reservoir

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
October 23, 2015 Updated: October 23, 2015

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Leonel Mendoza fishes every day in a reservoir surrounded by forest and mountains in the southern Mexico state of Chiapas. But in recent days, he also has been ferrying curious passengers out to see the remains of a colonial-era church that has emerged from the receding waters.

A drought this year has hit the watershed of the Grijalva river, dropping the water level in the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir by 25 meters (82 feet).

The remains of a mid-16th century church known as the Temple of Santiago, as well as the Temple of Quechula, is visible from the surface of the Grijalva River, which feeds the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir, due to the lack of rain near the town of Nueva Quechula, in Chiapas state, Mexico, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015. The temple, built by Dominican friars in the region inhabited by the Zoque people, was submerged in 1966 when the Nezahualcoyotl dam was built. (AP Photo/David von Blohn)
(AP Photo/David von Blohn)

It is the second time a drop in the reservoir has revealed the church since it was flooded when the dam was completed in 1966. In 2002, the water was so low visitors could walk inside the church.

“The people celebrated. They came to eat, to hang out, to do business. I sold them fried fish. They did processions around the church,” Mendoza recalled during a telephone interview Friday.

The church in the Quechula locality was built by a group of monks headed by Friar Bartolome de la Casas, who arrived in the region inhabited by the Zoque people in the mid-16th century.

The remains of a mid-16th century church known as the Temple of Santiago, as well as the Temple of Quechula, is visible from the surface of the Grijalva River, which feeds the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir, due to the lack of rain near the town of Nueva Quechula, in Chiapas state, Mexico, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015. The church was abandoned due the big plagues of 1773-1776, said architect Carlos Navarette, who worked with Mexican authorities on a report about the structure that would be flooded in 1966 when the dam was completed. (AP Photo/David von Blohn)
(AP Photo/David von Blohn)

The church is 61 meters (183 feet) long and 14 meters (42 feet) wide, with walls rising 10 meters (30 feet). The bell tower reaches 16 meters (48 feet) above the ground.

“The church was abandoned due the big plagues of 1773-1776,” said architect Carlos Navarete, who worked with Mexican authorities on a report about the structure.

The remains of a mid-16th century church, known as the Temple of Santiago, as well as the Temple of Quechula, is visible from the surface of the Grijalva River, which feeds the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir, due to the lack of rain near the town of Nueva Quechula, in Chiapas state, Mexico, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015. It was a church built thinking that this could be a great population center, but it never achieved that, said architect Carlos Navarete who worked with Mexican authorities on a report about the structure that would be flooded in 1966 when the dam was completed. It probably never even had a dedicated priest, only receiving visits from those from Tecpatan, a nearby monastery. (AP Photo/David von Blohn)
(AP Photo/David von Blohn)


 (AP Photo/David von Blohn)
(AP Photo/David von Blohn)

It depended on the nearby monastery of Tecpatan, founded in 1564. Navarrete believes that based on architectural similarities, it is the work of the same builder at very nearly the same time. Its 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.

“At that time we still found the wood from the chorus loft and the roof beams,” he said. “Also a large ossuary of the victims of the plague that depopulated the area.”

“It was a church built thinking that this could be a great population center, but it never achieved that,” Navarrete said. “It probably never even had a dedicated priest, only receiving visits from those from Tecpatan.”

 (AP Photo/David von Blohn)
(AP Photo/David von Blohn)


(AP Photo/David von Blohn)
(AP Photo/David von Blohn)