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 Yucatan

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:












The Valladolid monastery

This impressive convent is one of the most beautiful buildings of the colonial Yucatán. It is called "Sisal" to the locals, but is better known as the Monastery of Saint Bernardino of Siena. Its construction was started in the year 1552, under the direction of the Franciscan Friar Juan de Mérida and Fathers Hernando de Guevara and Francisco de la Torre. It was erected over the vault of a very large cenote. The construction of the church ended in 1560, however the construction of the convent took longer. On both sides of the church’s altar there were two chapels, one for Saint Diego de Alcala and the second one for the Virgin of Guadalupe. One can still see some of the original paintings behind the altars pieces, as well as its ancient garden with its water wheel.



The San Bernardino Monastery in Valladolid, designed as a fortress; view from the atrium.


The Franciscan friar Diego López de Cogolludo depicts the convent in his "Historia de Yucatán", first published in 1688:


The convent is located outside of town, among the Indians

"The convent of our Father Saint-Francis (managed by a guardian elected by the Chapters, from the year one thousand five hundred fifty-three) is located outside of town, at around six cuadras to the west. To go to the convent from town, one has to take a road of eight varas wide, made of stone and lime, with a parapet and bordered on both sides with trees called ceibas (yax che) which are very tall and thick and provide shade; in spite of being far, the convent is visited often by the inhabitants who are followers of our saintly religion. The church was built by masons and its nave is covered with a vault; it is dedicated to Saint-Bernardin of Sienna.  While the altarpiece is painted on canvas, the tabernacle is a sculpture of modern design. On either side of the altar two chapels can be seen;  one is dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, fully sculpted with much  inspiration and made in Guatemala; the other is dedicated to San Diego de Alcala with a painting on canvas.  Around the church are three chapels: one dedicated to our Father Saint-Francis, the other one to Saint-Ann, and a third one protruding on the outside is for Saint-Anthony of Padua, built by the brothers of the Third Order of Penance, whose commissary is  usually the  preacher of the convent, who preaches sermons in the town parish.  In the square in front of the church is the chapel of the Indians from the village of Zaqui, where the convent was founded; it is also dedicated to Saint-Bernardin of Sienna."  (Diego López de Cogolludo, Historía de Yucatán, book 4, chapter 16)


It is built on a cenote (sinkhole)

"It is (the Yucatan) a humid and very fertile land, although very stony, and no river goes through it, but there are visible signs that abundant rivers run under the ground. In many places one discovers small or big natural openings in the rock that can be classified among other prodigious things; most often, they are twenty or twenty-four or more meters deep from the surface of the water, and as deep beneath the water. Underground, they are like big reservoirs with vaulted live rock, and it is impossible to know from where the water flows, and one can fish there, especially catfish.  It is clear that they are subterranean rivers and the water is very light and tastes better than that of other wells dug out by men, and in some of these rivers, it was noticed that there was running water.  Our convent of the town of Valladolid is partly built on one of these openings and the space occupied by the water underneath is rather vast, some say as big as two blocks of houses. Some people affirm that the fact that there are so many similar openings is the reason why there are so few earthquakes, whereas there are earthquakes in Guatemala and in New Spain and in the other kingdoms of the Indies. They are generally called Dzonót Cenote." (Diego López de Cogolludo, Historía de Yucatán, book 4, chapter 1)


Map of the convent of Valladolid and its cenote (the green and purple lines indicate the perimeter  of the cenote)


The Franciscan friars also ferreted out witches and sorcerers. The entire colony was familiar with everyday ‘magic’, the work of magicians. Such powers and practices elicited the interest and custom of Spaniards and mestizos. Cogolludo copies an account of Doctor V. Pedro Sánchez de Aguilar in his « informe contra los indios idólatras de esta tierra », about an event occured in Valladolid:


The devil speaks to the inhabitants of Valladolid

"It is neither improper to recall how my motherland, Valladolid, was persecuted and troubled in the years one thousand five hundred and sixty, according to my calculations, by a demon or a chatty spirit (a stunning and extraordinary case) that talked and chatted with all those willing to talk to him at eight or ten o’clock at night, in the dark, with all lights out : he chatted like a parrot and answered all the questions from a noble conquistador named Juan López de Mena, born in Logroño, and from another conquistador named Juan Ruiz de Arce from Las Montañas of Burgos. The spirit chatted and conversed more in their homes than in other places; he was asked to play hurdy-gurdy and he played it very well ; he played castanets when someone else played hurdy-gurdy. He was having fun and laughed, but never allowed anyone to see him." […]


Saint-Clement chases the devil out of town

"Our lord bishop was informed of the false testimonies he made and the insults he voiced against some people, and he forbade anyone to talk to him or answer to him, under the threat of a blame. And the inhabitants in effect stopped talking or responding to him after this excommunication; then the demon or the spirit started crying and complained about the bishop and multiplied the noises, the blows and the commotions on terraces and roofs, that scared people and deprived them of sleep. Afterwards, he began to set on fire the houses, most of which were built with straw and palms called guano; so much so that the inhabitants turned towards divine protection, met in church and asked the priest to ward off their ill fortune through the intervention of a saint; they promised to celebrate the day of that saint with a procession to the convent of Saint-Francis; the saint chosen was Saint-Clement, pope and martyr, whose day is November twenty-third; and today, while I copy this memoir to print it, with God’s grace, I accuse in His name my fellow countrymen who do not participate in this procession, leaving the priest alone, while the vote of the whole town and of their parents and grandparents had been unanimous. This saint is represented on the altarpiece of the church with a demon in chains." (Diego López de Cogolludo, Historía de Yucatán, book 6, chapter 5, translated by Chantal Burns)


Map of the city of Valladolid : from rigth to left, the convent of Saint Bernard, the Friars causeway, the cenote Zaci


Antonio de Ciudad Real describes the city of Valladolid and its convent in 1588


"The Father Commissary stopped in Timozon (Temozon) about a half-hour and then, although before sunrise, he left there and travelling two and a half leagues, he arrived to say mass at the town and convent of Valladolid which by another name is called Zaqui or Zizal, where he was very well-received. There were many armadas, many people, music of trumpets and flutes, much pealing of bells, signs and demonstrations of joy at his arrival. The Indians came with their gifts of turkeys, chickens, iguanas, turtles, eggs, zapotes, bananas and other fruits, not only those people of that town but also from nearly the whole guardianía; all are Maya Indians and a pious people.


The town of Zaqui or Zizal is of medium size; there live in it, in a barrio for themselves, a few Mexican Indians, of those who came with the Spaniards during the Conquest.


The convent, dedicated to San Bernardino, is all finished with its church, cloister, dormitory and cells, built of stone and mortar and vaulted; it has next to the church a fine patio or yard and in it a ramada and chapel for the Indians. In that convent there is a fine garden, in which are raised bananas, alligator-pears, guavas, and all kinds of oranges, pitahayas, pineapples, grapes and a great deal of fine garden stuff. All is watered with water that comes from the noria of the town, which is almost next to the convent wall; and it is built on a very large Zonote, which is below ground, below the live rock itself, and has three or four mouths like the mouths of wells, one of which comes out at the convent kitchen, and on another is built the anoria of the town next to which are two large troughs (pilas), into which they draw water for the use of all. That zonote is very deep, and very wide and spacious and of very delicate water; many small but tasty bagres live in it; not far from it is another very large one, almost entirely open because it has a very wide mouth and they say it connects with that of the convent and that the water of both, as well as all the rest, passes through.


At an arquebus-shot from this convent is founded the town of Valladolid, a town of Spaniards, of eighty towns-people of which some have Indian towns in encomienda, others are merchants and traders and other officials, but all are poor. Nearly all the houses of that town are of stone and mortar and roofed with tiles, although some have flat roofs and others are covered with straw. Two parish priests (curas) live in the town and they have a fine church, also of stone and mortar and tiled; from the convent to the town there leads a road, closed on both sides with ceiba-trees, which are tall and thick and resemble the black poplar of Spain. Besides the Spaniards (there live) many Indians, their servants, (and) acquaintances and those of the Mexicans; in the convent four monks live. The Father Commissary visited them and remained till St. James’ Day, on which he preached to the Spaniards, many of whom came to hear him." (Antonio de Ciudad Real, Tratado curioso y docto de las grandezas de la Nueva España, Vol II, Chap CXLIII)


Wedding in the garden of the Valladolid convent. The founders of the convent strived to create a self-sustaining community with sequestered vegetable gardens, an orchard and a noria for the water.





"En medio de esta villa de Valladolid, al tiempo que se pobló, en la plaza de ella, le caya un cu de piedra, hecho a mano, muy alto; tenia en la cumbre de el muy blanqueada y hecha una pieça que se veia desde lejos, y alli tenian aquel idolo que atrás dije en el primer capitulo, donde los indios iban a idolatrar; era este cu cerro de proporción redonda, ocupaba en contorno mas de cuatrocientos pasos; arriba era seguido, no tan ancho […]


"Trazo el capitán Montejo esta villa norte sur y del este a oeste; miran las calles al norte y al sur; diole grandes calles de quarenta pies en quadra; tiene en la dicha plaza, frontero de este cu, a la parte del sur, un templo mediano de tres naves, cubierto de teja a lo pulido, con sus pilares de piedra bien arqueados de cantería y albañeria; suben a el por seis gradas; de la iglesia al nacimiento del sol, en la calle Real, ayy se va fundando un ospital de la Sancta Veracruz […]


"Fuera de esta villa, poco mas de un tiro de arcabuz, esta poblado un monasterio de frailes franciscos menores de la observancia, muy fuerte, con su iglesia de bóveda de albañeria y cantería, con su claustro de quatro quartos y corredores en lo alto, en los quales hay muchas celdas, todas de bóveda; tiene grandes estribos a manera de fortaleza; son las paredes de anchor de diez pies y en partes mas; esta muy almenado; es conforme a esta figura; van a el por una calzada hecha a mano con muchos arboles muy sombríos, que llaman seibos, a manera de nogal [...]


"Son los monasterios lugares fuertes, que al parecer son inexpugnables, por tener gran compás y el agua dentro de si y no se pueden minar por estar en peña viva; y el monesterio de esta villa, en particular, esta fundado encima del mesmo zenote de agua. Dentro en estos monesterios pueden caber dos mil ombres, aunque entre ellos aya dos compañias de ombres de armas con sus caballos dentro."


Blas Gonzalez, Alonso de Villanueva, Juan Gutierrez Picón, vecinos de Valladolid, Relación de la ciudad de Valladolid, Relaciones histórico-geográficas de Yucatán, 1579




Relación de Valladolid, 1579. Above, the church, the square and the houses of the town; below, the road bordered with trees leading to the monastery


Antonio de Alcedo, 1786

"Valladolid, another city, in the province and government of Yucatan, founded by Francisco de Montejo, the younger, in 1543, in a place called Choaca ; and by the Indians, Chavachaa ; from whence it was, translated in the following year, from the unhealthiness of the spot, to where it now stands. It is small, and of a hot temperature ; has a very good parish church, an hospital with the name of Jesus Maria, and a convent of religious of St. Francis, which is a small distance without the city ; the rout to them being by a stone causeway, of about eight yards wide, and adorned on both sides by a beautiful poplar grove: — go miles w. of the Gulf of Honduras, 170 s. ao. of Truxillo, and 65 s. e. of Merida." (Antonio de Alcedo, Diccionario geografico-histórico de las Indias Occidentales o América: es a saber: de los Reynos del Peru, Nueva España, Tierra Firme, Chile y Nuevo Reyno de Granada. Madrid, 1786/89)


Tourist group in front of the church of Valladolid, spring 2018



2018 "Monks and Mayas"

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Convent of Valladolid, the high altar retable







Convent of Valladolid. The cloister





















Valladolid, the Cenote Zaci. Located in the heart of Valladolid, this semi-open cenote is 45 meters in diameter and 80 meters deep. A third of the cenote is covered with stalactites and stalagmites, and there is a walkway around the entire cenote.























Convent of Valladolid. A retable. Saint Anthony of Padua

"Del lado de la Epístola (lado izquierdo del Sagrario) está el retablo de San Antonio. Este retablo corresponde a la primera mitad del siglo XVIII. Ello le da excepcional importancia por tratarse de la época en que cristalizó el arte del entallado en Yucatán, además que su restauración lo muestra con una belleza excepcional. El santo, con niño y palma, luce dentro de su nicho, debajo del cual una excelente talla de madera relata el milagro de San Antonio con la eucaristía, con toro y burros en genuflexión. Encima de la cornisa otro panel tallado, muestra dos damas y dos caballeros en vestuario del siglo XVII, asombrados al presenciar una de las muchas visitas que el Niño Dios hacía a San Antonio. Dos grandes rolletes y un piñón coronan el conjunto. El inventario de 1755 ya referido, lo describe así: “Otro retablo mediano cerca del coro con cuatro columnas tallado y dorado, y en él colocada la imagen del Señor San Antonio de más de una vara cuyo altar está con ara y un frontal viejo de madera pintada al temple fondo blanco y dicho santo tiene palma de planta sin diadema”.

(Renán A. Góngora-Biachi, El arte sacro del convento de San Bernardino de Siena de Valladolid, Yucatán)






















A Franciscan dress, in the convent