Saturday 1 October 2016

Drought uncovers 400-year-old sunken church in Mexico

David Kearns

Published 20/10/2015 | 11:57

The Temple of Santiago was thought to have been built in the 16th century Photo: AP
The Temple of Santiago was thought to have been built in the 16th century Photo: AP

A 400-year-old Church thought lost has been unearthed thanks to a drought that has been plaguing Mexico.

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The remains of a church built by Spanish colonisers in 1564 have been discovered in the middle  of the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir in southern Mexico were water levels have dropped by almost 25 metres due to a lack of rain.

As the water receded, the remains of the Temple of Santiago came into view.

The building is roofless, over 60 meters in length, and has walls as high as 10 meters in some parts.  

It is understood to have been abandoned due to plague outbreaks in the 18th century.

The remains are visible from the surface of the Grijalva River due to the lack of rain, near the town of Nueva Quechula Credit: David von Blohn (AP)
The remains are visible from the surface of the Grijalva River due to the lack of rain, near the town of Nueva Quechula Credit: David von Blohn (AP)

“The church was abandoned due the big plagues of 1773-1776," said local architect Carlos Navarete, who has written extensively about the structure for Mexican officials.

"It was a church built thinking that this could be a great population centre, but it never achieved that.

The church was abandoned due to plague outbreaks in 1773 - 1776 Photo: AP
The church was abandoned due to plague outbreaks in 1773 - 1776 Photo: AP

“It probably never even had a dedicated priest, only receiving visits from those from Tecpatan," Carlos Navarrete said.

He told the Associated Press that the church was likely built around the same time as a nearby monastery that dates back to 1564.  

“The water didn't start to cover the church until nearly two centuries later, however, as the reservoir flooded the area when the dam was built in 1966.”

The church was originally submerged after a dam was built, which flooded the surrounding area and formed the reservoir.

However, during times of extreme drought, the former place of worship becomes visible, with fishermen even taking interested passengers on their boats to getting a closer glimpse of the ancient relics. 

The church first became briefly visible in 1966, while in 2002, the water level was so low that locals could even 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," local fisherman Leonel Mendoza told AP.

The church is connected with the famous colonial-era figure of Friar Bartolome de las Casas, who came to Mexico in the 16th century, along with a group of monks who built the church.

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