Monks and Mayas


Multiples adventures

Dominicans and Franciscans in Maya land - XVIth century

A trip by Las Casas to Tabasco and Chiapas

Pedro de Barrientos in Chiapa de Corzo

Las Casas against the conquistadores

Fuensalida and Orbita, explorers

Grouping together the Indians


Numerous studies

An ethnologist friar, Diego de Landa

Learning the Maya languages

Two teachers, Juan de Herrera and Juan de Coronel

Two historian monks, Cogolludo and Remesal


A multitude of buildings

A Franciscan turned architect: Friar Juan de Mérida

The Valladolid convent in the Yucatán

The Izamal convent and its miracles

In the Yucatán, a church in every village

A Dominican nurse, Matías de Paz


A difficult task: evangelization

Peace-making in Verapaz

The creation of the monastery of San Cristóbal

The Dominican province of Saint-Vincent

An authoritarian evangelization

Franciscans and the Maya religion

The failure of the Franciscans in Sacalum, the Yucatán

Domingo de Vico, Dominican martyr


The end of the adventure

Return to the monasteries


Additional information

Las Casas and Indian freedom

The Historia Eclesiástica Indiana of Mendieta

The road of Dominican evangelization in Guatemala

The convent of Ticul, as seen by John Lloyd Stephens

The Franciscans in the Colca valley in Peru

The convent route of the Yucatán in the XVIth century

The dominican mission of Copanaguastla, Chiapas


Available upon request:

- general information upon Maya countries,

- numbered texts on the conquest and colonization of Maya countries


Address all correspondence to:













Uman, Yucatan


The Franciscans built hundred of churches in the Yucatán

Transversing the Yucatán peninsula, especially the lesser highways north or south of the motorway between Mérida and Valladolid, one passes through dozens of local churches originally built in the sixteenth century. Many of these structures preserve the original sixteenth-century components.

The amount of work that the Franciscans did was truly prodigious. By the end of the sixteenth century, only seventy years after the Conquest, there were three hundred churches and monasteries, built by the brothers (and above all by the Maya Indians), scattered throughout the Yucatán.

By the end of the century, churches had been built on nearly every former holy site in northwestern Yucatán, forming a network in which no guardiania or visita was more than a day’s walk apart in any radial direction.


All of this came from a strong political will, expressed in numerous texts among which is the following dating back to the period when  the Yucatán was under the rule of the Audiencia de Guatemala (Antigua Guatemala):


They demand that the Indians learn how to build churches

“At the same time, I request and order that all the villages of these provinces and their inhabitants build in the villages good churches in adobe and stones, with elaborate details as required by divine worship, and I request that this should be done in the next two years, and that everyone should work on building the churches and that no one should be exempt from it. And I also request that there should be no more than one church per village for the use of the villagers, for this is good for the peace and ease of the inhabitants. And no cacique, no nobleman no other person should feel free to erect or build a church, a chapel or a hermitage. If this was ever done, the building should be demolished and if anyone dared to do so, he should be whipped one hundred times.  And there should be no more than one principal church where all should gather, and I request that these churches should be well adorned and decorated, always clean and locked so that no animal enter them, and that all have doors and keys, and that no one should dare sleep inside them or store anything in them, or else etc.” In the name of the King, Tomás López, Representative of the Audience of Guatemala, 1552 (Diego López de Cogolludo, Historía de Yucatán, book 4, chapter 17)


The friars developed an organizational form to facilitate their task, the doctrina. The doctrina was a center or school of religious instruction located in the convents of Franciscan order. The missionaries also extended their ministry to pueblos sujetos in which they induced the Indians to construct churches. The larger villages might be provided with a resident priest, but most were pueblos de visita, so called because one of the fathers visited them periodically to catechize, preach, and say mass.


The Motul convent and its three visitas, Ucí, Kiní, Muxupip; farther, Cacalchen to the south, Tixkunchel and Mérida to the west, Dzemul and Telchac to the north (Relaciones histórico geográficas de la Gobernación de Yucatán, 1579)


Diego López de Cogolludo describes this organization and gives a precise and long list of the religious districts in the Yucatán (in the XVIIth century, after the reorganization of 1602):


Thirty-five Franciscan convents in the Yucatán

“Administering the holy sacraments and evangelical preaching to the Indians of this bishopric and Government of the Yucatán are spread out between the clerics and us, the priests of our Father Saint Francis, who belong to the province of San Jose, and where there was never any interventions by priests of a different order. The clergy has twenty-two missions and parish vicarages which are distributed according to the list established under the tutelage of royal patronage in a public adjudication. We priests have thirty-five convents, which tend to the Indians, and have guardians elected in the provincial chapters, and the preaching ministers are nominated and introduced according to the procedure established by royal authority so as to follow the royal patronage: the guardians are at times also ministers, and sometimes, other priests discharge this function, according to how well they speak the language of the Indians. There are also two other missions, in which the heads of the convents do not have the title of guardian, but that of vicar, although they are elected by the chapters, and the Dominican Fathers administer a vicarious in Tabasco. Let us now turn to the list of missions and their annexed villages or visits, which possess baptismal facilities and patron-saints; they are the following.” […]




“The parish of Hocabá was also one of our convents until the year 1602, with Father friar. Francisco de Piña as its last guardian. The church of Hocabá is dedicated to our Father Saint Francis; those of its villages to the Ascension of Our Lady (Tzanlahcat, of which the other villages of Huji and Tixcamahil depend), to San Juan Evangelista (Zabcabá), and San Pedro Apostol (Huji ).” […].



“The parish of Yaxcabá, administered by the convent of Zotuta, has its headquarters in Yaxcabá proper, whose patron saint is our Father San Francisco. Its villages are Mopila (dependent on Saint Mathew Apostle), Tixcacal (Saint John the Baptist) and Tacchebilchen (Exaltation of the Sacred Cross).” […]



“The parish of Petu (Peto) is itself devoted to the Assumption of Our Lady; the dependent villages are Tahdziu, dedicated to our Father Saint Bernard, Tixalatún (our Father San Francisco), Tzucácab (Saint Mary Magdalena) et Calotmul (Saint Peter Apostle).” (Diego López de Cogolludo, Historía de Yucatán, book4, chapter 19)



“The convent of Tikoh, whose church is dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady, was built and baptized convent in 1609. It is responsible for mass in the churches of the Magi in the village of Timucuy and Saint Gregory Pope of Telchaquillo, as well as in the churches of the Nativity of Our Lady of Acanceh, of Xiol and of Chaltun that belong to the same concession.” […]



“The administration of Muna has been managed by a convent since the year 1609; the patron saint of its church is Saint John Evangelist. The visits of Saint Anthony of Padua in the village of Zaclum and of Saint John the Baptist of the Indians of Abalá and Becyá are its dependents and they all belong to the same concession.” […]


Conkal convent


“The convent of Cumkal comes in fourth place in the first custodial chapter of 1549. Our Father Saint Francis is patron of its church.  Its visits are Saint James of the village of Chicxulub (Chhic Xulub), Saint Ursula of Chablé (Chable), Saint Peter Apostle of Chulul, and Saint John the Baptist of Zicipach (Zicil Pach). […]



“The convent situated today in the village of Uayma (it was transferred from the village of Tinum where it was first built in 1681) dedicated its church to our Father Saint Dominique; its visits are the Immaculate Conception of our Lady of the village of Tinum, the Assumption of Kauva and Saint John the Baptist of Cuncunul.” […]


The monastery of Uayma (virtual model) : 1. the church, 2. the cloister, 3. the atrio, 4. the cemetery, 5. the orchard


"Esta este pueblo de Guayma dos leguas de la cabecera de doctrina, que son subjectos al monesterio questa fundado extramuros desta villa de Valladolid, que los doctrinan los dichos Religiosos de San Francisco; tiene este pueblo su yglesia y sacritia y coro y casa para los Religiosos con sus seldas; es de buen tamaño, tiene assi mesmo el ornato nescesario para dezir missa, ques casulla y alba y cáliz y una cruz dorada con su manga de terciopelo carmesi, ay sus cantores y maestro de capilla y su música de flautas y dos campanas, y todo lo demás nescesario para la dicha yglesia y servicio della — ay en este pueblo de Guayma unos cues de piedra hechos a mano, muy altos, de los quales se sacaba piedra para hazer la yglesia y aposentos délos Religiosos." Juan Vellido, alcalde ordinario, Relación de Uayma, Relaciones histórico-geográficas de Yucatán, 1579


299 main churches

Thus, in this bishopric of the Yucatán, there must have been 299 churches dedicated to the glory of God our Master and honoring its saints […]. Our priests of the province built 212 of them, excluding the churches of the village administered by the convents (visits), that I was unable to count. Of this total, we have 151 churches proper, of which 145 parochial churches with baptismal facilities. Moreover, we administer 38 convents, 25 of which we built ourselves.”(Diego López de Cogolludo, Historía de Yucatán, book 4, chapter 20, translated by Chantal Burns)


Parochial Division in 1590: in green, the Franciscan parishes, in Yucatán; in pink, the secular parishes; in yellow, the Dominican parishes, in Chiapas; the dotted line delimits the countries supervised by the Spaniards (after Peter Gerhard, The Southeast Frontier of New Spain, Princeton University Press, 1979)


Friar Julián de Quartas, Franciscan architect and craftsman :

Father Friar Julián de Quartas came with the priests whom the Saint Bishop Landa brought along in our Province. He was born in Almagro and became a priest in the province of Castilla. And we can say that he was one of the religious men the most useful for the good of the Indians, among all religious men present there, because he was extremely kind with the Indigenous people and knew their language so perfectly that no one could speak it better than him. He taught many of us the Mayan grammar and knew how to sum up its many complex rules into some simple ones.  He liked the Indians very much and taught them the crafts of painting, gold leaf, sculpture and all other kinds of crafts; he excelled in that field and when this religious saint did not know a particular technique, he learnt it to teach it later to the Indians. And thanks to him, a great many of them are now painters, gold leaf painters, sculptors etc…, and they refined their skills with the Spanish Masters now living in the county to such an extent that they can be compared to the best craftsmen in the world. But this kind priest, when he began training them, is responsible for their calling. His pupils have filled churches with superbly sculpted altarpieces, beautiful paintings and other ornaments.  In addition to this occupation, he was a confirmed architect and built two convents and their churches with their great chapels, which are the most beautiful in our Province, at least among those built recently. And not only did he supervised these constructions, but everywhere he went he built sundials, all different and trained other people, including Indians, to build more of them. There would be much more to say about his actions, which were so beneficial to our Province and to the indigenous people. He left Spain when he was nineteen and worked in the Yucatán for thirty-eight years. He died when he was fifty-eight; he deserved to be praised for his faith and his work. (Bernardo de Lizana, Historía of the Yucatán, devocionario de Nuestra Señora de Izamal y conquista spiritual, 1633, part II, chapter XV, translated by Chantal Burns)


Tixkokob church

(Catálogo de construcciones religiosas del estado de Yucatán, Recopilación de Justino Fernández, Talleres gráficos de la nación, México, 1945)


"E entendido y sabido de los conquistadores antiguos que esta tierra hera de mucha cantidad de yndios, y al presente no ay la tercia parte de yndios, porque los mas se han muerto y la tierra y pueblos desta governacion á venido en mucha disminuycion, y los yndios viejos me an dicho e certificado que la cabsa principal, porque han venido en tanta disminuycion a sido porque dicen que los frayles de la orden de San Francisco de que ay monasterios en esta provincia, los sacaban de sus asientos viejos y poblaciones antiguas que tenian a donde bibian a su contento y los an pasado e mudado a otros asientos no a su contento y de tenple diferentes a sus conplisiones y que an hecho los dichos Religiosos muchos edificios e monasterios en los pueblos dellos y cabesera que son mas fortalezas para defenderse en ellos los seis mili españoles que otra cosa, porque en cada monesterio no reside mas de dos o tres frailes, y para estos bastábales los conventos moderados, a cabsa de lo qual, del cargar de las piedras grandes y maderos y tablazón e otras cosas a sido cabsa de mucha falta dellos." (Diego de Contreras, encomendero, Relación de los pueblos de Nabalon y Tahcabo, y de la isla de Cozumel, Relaciones histórico-geográficas de Yucatán, 1579)



The Indians built the churches -in Chiapas, Dominican land- (fresco by Angel Albino Corzo, Universidad de Ciencias y Artes de Chiapas, Tuxtla Gutierrez)


Estaba prohibido exigir trabajos sin pagar un sueldo. Un juez de Comitán, Chiapas, mandó apresar a los dos alcaldes y cuatro regidores del Cabildo comiteco que habían admitido una situación ilegal de parte de los Dominicos. El texto de su confesión es el siguiente:


«… lo que pasa es que el padre fray Diego de Collazos vicario de este pueblo llamó un día a todos… que entonces eran alcaldes y regidores por el año de 79 y les mandó que le diesen una memoria de todos los indios que había en este pueblo; y aunque ellos rehusaron de hacerlo, todavía se la dieron por la importunación que sobre ellos les daba; y después de haber recibido la dicha memoria les dijo: hijos, el pregón que se da en el pueblo para que vengan los indios a esta obra no aprovecha nada, porque unos vienen y otros se van y otros no quieren trabajar; y esto se remediará conque en cada semana 40 indios vengan a esta casa conforme a esta memoria que os doy, los cuales han de trabajar en las milpas de maíz y trigo y en la casa que se está haciendo y en los demás servicios que hubiere que hacer. Y así estos confesantes tomaron la dicha memoria y se fueron a su Cabildo a consultar el negocio para ver lo que conviniere; y estando juntos todos los confesantes acordaron que se diesen en cada semana los dichos 40 indios al dicho convento por razón de que cada día andarían con pendencias con los frailes sobre que los indios no querían ir a trabajar a la obra de la casa e para que dándole estos cuarenta indios en cada semana no estuviese obligada la comunidad de hay adelante a dar a los dichos religiosos en cada un año sesenta fanegas de maíz que por mandado de Francisco del Valle Marroquín, alcalde mayor pasado, se habían de dar en cada año a los religiosos; y así desde aquella semana comenzaron estos confesantes a sacar aquella semana de los dichos calpules los dichos 40 indios y los llevaban al dicho monasterio y lo mismo hicieron todas las semanas de dicho año hasta el día de hoy; y se ha usado y se va usando; y que esta es la verdad y lo que pasa.»


«Preguntando digan y declaren qué cantidad de dinero recibe cada indio de los dichos cuarenta por razón de su trabajo en cada semana e quién los paga, dijeron que desde entonces acá los dichos cuarenta indios no son pagados de cosa alguna por su trabajo por estos confesantes ni por los dichos religiosos ni por otra persona alguna e que esta es la verdad para el juramento que tiene hecho e lo firmaron de sus nombres don Alonso de Luna alcalde, Francisco Cortes [Ortes] alcalde, Alonso de Aguilar, Juan López, Francisco Hernández, Alonso Pérez.»


Archivo General de Indias, Guat. 56f. 195v, 196.


Friars controlling a building site, Colima, Government Palace, mural by Jorge Chávez Carrillo, 1954



2018 "Monks and Mayas"

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Yaxcabá. 2017, february 18, planting trees in front of the church. This triple-towered church was finished in 1753.




































































Model of the convent of Conkal, in the Museo de Arte Sacro located in the same building