A multitude of buildings
The Izamal convent and its miracles
A difficult task: evangelization
The end of the adventure
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- general information upon Maya countries,
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The Izamal convent, view from an hotel
The convent of Izamal
Izamal has been a great center of religious peregrination from Mayan times. After the conquest of Yucatan in the 16th century, the Spaniards decided to build a great Franciscan convent upon the central pyramid of the town, Pap hol Chac (the house of Chak, God of Rain). This convent received the name of San Antonio de Padua. Home to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, the patron saint of the Yucatán since 1648, it is now one of Mexico’s most important shrines. The image that presides over the greater altarpiece of the temple of the convent - Our Lady of Izamal - was taken to Izamal from Guatemala by orders of Fray Diego de Landa. To this Virgin are attributed many miracles.
The construction of the convent began in 1553 by fray Diego de Landa. Given the dimensions of the pyramid, the land of the set of the church and the caretaker's office of the convent, chapel and vestibule, occupy 14,000 square meters. The church is found in the center with its facade to the west. The temple and caretaker's office were finished in 1554. The architect of this last part was fray Juan de Mérida. The work of the convent concluded in 1561, being guardian fray Francisco de la Torre.
Today, Izamal is a very beautiful colonial city, with its buildings and old houses of Spanish architecture painted in white and bright yellow.
Map of the convent of Izamal
The church is found in the center with its facade to the west. It is a single ship of 51,90 meters in length. In the central part the two lateral doors communicate to the left with the convent and the right with a common courtyard and the chapel of the Third Order. To the north of the church is the convent, to the east were located the orchard and the cemetery with his chapel, and, to the west, extends the great vestibule, whose arcade was finished in 1618. (INAH, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia)
In his History of Yucatán, Diego López de Cogolludo narrates the events embellished by legends that occurred before the construction of the convent:
Diego de Landa is in charge of building the convent of Izamal
"Although he was a definer, Diego de Landa was elected during that time guardian of the convent of Izamal and he was responsible for overseeing its construction since at that time there were only a few straw huts where the priests lived. Since this happy father had previously stayed in the old convent, he was able to choose upon arrival the proper location for the foundations. In order to chase the devil away with the help of the divine presence of the sacred bread, he decided to build the convent and the church on the spot where the idolatrous priests lived and to change this place of abomination and idol-worshipping into a saintly place where the ministers of the true God would offer divine sacrifices and pray to the Divine Majesty. It was located on one of the hills that seemed to have been built by hands, which was called Ppappholchac (Paa Hol Chac) by the indigenous people and which, according to Father Lizana, means “House of the priests of the Gods”, and it is rather a fancy way of talking about it since this word in fact means “House of the Chiefs and Lightening”; the priests were considered powerful and superior beings who could punish and reward and were blindly obeyed to."
"Near another hill devoted to the idol named Kinich Kakmo (Kinich Kak Moo) he founded a village which he named San Ildefonso, and to the other hill called Humpictok (Hun Pic Tok, from the name of a captain) where the village of Izamal ends, he gave Saint-Anthony of Padua as patron saint; he demolished the temple that stood there and that housed the idol Kabul (Kauil) and he founded a new village he named Saint-Mary as a way to erase all the previous idolatry."
"After gathering what was necessary for the construction, he began to erect the church and the convent and worked hard at it, and to encourage the Indians to work eagerly, the happy Father often went out with them with an ax in his hand and cut the wood necessary for the construction; the Indians followed his example and worked with pleasure and were encouraged by the fact that their spiritual Father worked with them". (Diego López de Cogolludo, Historia de Yúcatán, Book 5, Chapter 15)
Procession at Izamal, December 8, 2016, Day of the Virgin
He brings a statue of the Virgin back from Guatemala
"The honorable Father Friar Diego de Landa wished to attract the Indians to our saintly catholic faith by all means possible and take them away from worshipping the idols as they had been doing, and he noticed also that the demon was worshipped in the village of Izamal, and what this great man had accomplished with the indigenous people at the beginning of their change of faith: the founding of three villages on the site, one of which was dedicated to Saint-Mary. In order to have them worship this great lady even more, he agreed with them that he would bring one of her statues for worship. The Indians agreed with his wish and they came up with the necessary sum of money deemed sufficient for its purchase. Father Landa offered to go to Guatemala (as I said) and since there was in that city a crafty sculptor who made them, he was requested to bring back one, and the priests also requested one for the convent of Merida. Two statues were purchased and the Indians carried them back on their backs and they were put in crates to avoid damage. There were several rains during the trip, but it never rained on the crates or on the Indians carrying them, not even in a radius of a few feet from the place where they were. When they reached Merida, the priests chose for the convent of that city the statue with the prettiest and most inspired face".
Izamal church, mass in honour of the Virgin
The statue of the Virgin refuses to leave Izamal
"The other statue had been brought back by the Indians of Izamal and was supposed to be kept in their village, but the inhabitants of the town of Valladolid pretended that it should be brought to the convent that we have in that town, claiming that it was not fair to have it remain in an Indian village. The people of Izamal, where the statue was now standing, resisted as much as possible, but they could not avoid beginning to grant the wish of the Spaniards. His divine Majesty supported the commendable wish of the Indians to keep the statue of its saintly Mother; and in fact, in spite of all the efforts to move it, no human strength was capable to get it out of Izamal and it was brought back to the convent of the village, to the cheers of the Indians and admiration of the priests. The devotion of the faithful for this saintly picture increased after this wonderful event and spread from these kingdoms to those of Spain; and everywhere, on the ground and at sea, our Lord himself accomplished numerous miracles when the faithful prayed to the Virgin; volumes could have been written about them, if the requested attention to them had been kept. Most of them were forgotten with the passing of time, and even for those that were remembered, no date was specified and no precise circumstances in which they occurred. And I must describe them without giving too many details since it is now impossible to verify them, such as Father Lizana described them in his book of devotions and such as many of them are painted in the temple of this saintly picture".
The statue accomplishes its first miracle
"When they brought it, they filled the crate with papers so that it would not be damaged during the trip. Since there was already much devotion for it, a lady living in Merida had in her possession some of these papers and kept them preciously. One of her Indian servants fell down from a high terrace of the house where he worked. His fall was so abrupt that he was believed to be dead, although he came to after being cared for, but he found himself with a broken leg and a broken arm. Someone was fetched to treat him, but in the meantime, the lady took out the papers and wrapped them around his wounded arm and leg. When the surgeon arrived and looked for the broken bones he had to treat, the lady told him why she had been called, the Indian was safe and sound, and in fact he was found safe, and his being cured was attributed to a miracle of the very saint Virgin of Izamal, God having given an extraordinary power to these papers which had touched the image of its very saintly Mother". (Diego López de Cogolludo, Historia de Yucatán, Book 5, Chapter 2, translated by Chantal Burns)
The Maya platform Kinich Kak Moo
Izamal, as seen by Antonio de Ciudad Real (1588):
Father Commissary Fray Alonso Ponce (...) arrived to say mass at the town and convent of
Itzmal (Izamal), where they were countless people, and they received him
with much music of flutes and songs (chanzonetas), in canto de organo.
Afterwards there came those of that town and the others of the guardianía
with offerings of turkeys, iguanas and turtles, eggs, honey, alligator-pears
and other fruits, and neither they nor the rest of the people wanted to
disperse till the Father Commissary said mass for them and gave them his
benediction, notwithstanding their having already heard other masses.
Izamal, convent atrium
The mayan buildings of Izamal, as seen by Fray Bernardo de Lizana (1633):
"In the city of Itzamal (now called Izamal) there are five very high pyramids, all ruined, on dry stone with their forces and supports which serve to raise the stones high. Today no complete edifices are seen, but the signs and vestiges are apparent. On one of them in the southern part, the ancients had a most celebrated idol which they called Itzamatul (Itzamna), which means he who receives and possesses the grace or dew or substance from the sky. And this idol had no other name because they say that he was a King and great Lord of this land, who was obeyed as the Son of God, and when they asked him what he was called or who he was, he would say nothing but these words, "I am the dew or substance of the sky and clouds."
"This great kings died and they raised altars to him and he was an oracle and afterwards it will be seen that they built another temple and for what. When this king, who was afterwards deified, lived, the people consulted him about the things that happened in some remote parts and he told them of present and future things. At the same time they carried their dead to him and he brought them back to life, and the sick got well, and for this he was greatly venerated and with reason, for if it were true that he was a Son of God, who only can give life to dead and health to the sick, since it is impossible for an ordinary man, nor the demons, but only the same God, who is the Lord of life and death. The people believed this, and did not know another god, and for this they said he resurrected and cured them"
"There they offered great alms and made pilgrimages from all parts, for which reason there have been made four roads or causeways to the four cardinal points, which reached to all the ends of the land, and passed to Tabasco, Guatemala and Chiapas, so that today in many parts may be seen pieces and vestiges of them. So great was the concourse of people who assisted at these oracles of Itzamat-ul and Tiab-ul that they had made these roads." (Bernardo de Lizana, Historia de Yucatán, Devocionario de Nuestra Señora de Izamal y Conquista Espiritual, chapter 4, Valladolid, 1633)
Some people think the Itzamatul (or Kukulcan) depicted by Bernardo de Lizana was the Christ himself who visited America shortly after his resurrection. He encountered the Mayas, ancient Jews who fled from Jerusalem to America. ((Arnold Friberg Gallery, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Conference Center, Salt Lake City: resurrected Christ visiting Ancient America)
Friar Diego Durán:
"As proof thereof, we know that this newly arrived nation, latecomers from strange and remote regions, made a long and tedious journey, searching and finally taking possession of this land. They spent many months and years in coming to this place. The truth of this matter can be found by drawing on their traditions and paintings and by talking to their elders, some of whom are very old. […]
"All of these things confirm my suspicions that these natives are part of the ten tribes of Israel that Shalmaneser, king of the Assyrians, captured and took to Assyria in the time of Hoshea, king of Israel, and in the time of Ezekias, king of Jerusalem, as can be read in the fourth Book of Kings, chapter XVII. Her it is stated that Israel was taken from its own land to Assyria. And Ezra, in book four, chapter XIII, says about these people that they went to live in a remote and distant country that had never before inhabited. There was a long and wearisome journey of a year and a half to reach the region of the Islands and the Mainland, to the west and beyond the seas, where today these people are found." (Fray Diego Durán, The History of the Indies of New Spain, 1576-1581, Chapter I, Which treats of the possible place of origin of the Indians of these Indies, the Islands, and Mainland of this New Spain.)
Fray Diego Durán, The History of the Indies of New Spain, University of Oklahoma Press, 1994
Two Franciscan friars walking on the streets of Izamal
The convent of Izamal, as seen from the Maya platform Kinich Kak Moo. From the left to the right, the Camarín, the church, the atrium
The Kinich Kak Moo platform, as seen by Diego de Landa:
"Here in Izamal is a building, among the others, of a startling height and beauty, as is seen in this sketch and its explanation:
"It has twenty steps, each more than two palms in height and in breadth, and being over a hundred feet in length. These steps are of very large carved stones, although now much worn and damaged by time and water. Around them, as is shown by the curved line, is a very strong dressed stone wall; at one and a half times the height of a man there is a cornice of beautiful stone going all the way round, from which the work continues to the height of the first stairway, and the plaza in the sketch.
"From this plaza there rises another stairway like the first, but not so long nor with so many steps, again with an encircling wall. Above these steps there is another fine small platform, on which, close to the surrounding wall, is a very high mound with steps facing the south like the other great stairs, and on top of this a beautiful finely worked chapel of stone. I went to the top of this chapel, and Yucatan being a flat country I could see as far as the eye could reach, an amazing distance, as far as the sea. (...)
"It may be that this country holds a secret that up to the present has not been revealed, or which the natives of today cannot tell. To say that other nations compelled these people to such building, is not the answer, because of the evidences that they were built by the Indians themselves; this is bared to view in one out of the many and great buildings that exist, where on the walls of the bastions there still remain figures of men naked save for the long girdles over the loins called in their language ex, together with other apparel the Indians of today still wear, worked in very hard cement." (Diego de Landa, Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, Sec. 42. Multitude of buildings in Yucatan. Those of Izamal, of Merida, and of Chichen Itza.)
Izamal, 2015 november 30, in the stairs of the Camarín
The Camarín in the convent of Izamal, with its portraits of Bishops of the Yucatán. The Diego de Landa's portrait is the first one to the left, in the lowest row