In 1564, Dominican missionaries chose present-day Tecpatán, then a small Zoque village with a rudimentary church, to serve as the region’s primary mission and convent. Construction of the massive church and convent lasted nearly 50 years and required the work of thousands of Zoque laborers, drawn from all over the region.
Many settled here permanently along with their families, turning the modest village into a veritable indigenous city; even today Tecpatán dubs itself the Capital of the Zoque Empire.
As in Copainalá, the church and convent fell into disrepair during the liberal reform period of the late 1800s, and reopened in 1951. The church is a highlight of the Ruta Zoque, and Tecpatán itself is a friendly and mellow place, built in the foothills connecting the hot Río Grijalva valley and the mountains of northwest Chiapas.
Templo y Ex-Convento Santo Domingo de Guzmán
Santo Domingo de Guzmán Church and Convent (Calle Central at 1a Calle Nte., 9 a.m.–2 p.m. and 4–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–noon Sun., free) is one of Chiapas’s finest colonial structures, combining elements of Mudejar, medieval, and Renaissance design. It is a huge complex, including the ruined church, a lovely convent, and ornate facade and bell tower facing a large grassy esplanade used by local schools for soccer practice.
A low arched passageway serves as the complex’s main entrance; it leads into the courtyard of the former convent—the only colonial-era cloister in Chiapas whose original structure is still standing. (In fact, it’s in much better shape than the church, thanks to extensive restoration.) The atrium is encircled by two floors of open-air corridors, with colonnades and ornate vaulted ceilings, and connected by a distinctive spiral staircase.
A doorway in the convent’s south arcade leads into the remains of the once-grandiose main church. The roof has long since collapsed, but a series of brick arches span the deep gaping nave, including a double arch at the west end that would have supported a choir loft, and are covered in moss and leafy vines. A large pretty archway and partial dome cover the remains of the curiously modest altar space.
Santo Domingo’s facade and bell tower must have been truly arresting in their heyday—even now, much deteriorated, they remain an impressive sight. The facade is fairly austere—sturdy Tuscan pilasters frame the arched main and upper doorways, with relatively little adornment—but rises imperiously from its raised esplanade, and was originally covered in stucco. The bell tower climbs even higher, with cylindrical and polygonal towers at its corners and a vaulted medieval-style belfry on top. A spiral staircase in the center of the main tower is typically locked, but the padre has the key and might be convinced to let you up for a peek.
Hospedaje Helachos (Calle 1a Nte. at Calle Central, tel. 968/653-3191, US$12 s/d with shared bathroom, US$15 s/d) has extremely simple rooms and furnishings, including cold-water bathrooms and not much natural light. Small TVs, friendly service, and a good location—just a half block from Santo Domingo—are some consolation.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition