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:














The church of Ticul, in the shape of a Latin cross, with a unique nave and a cradle-shaped vault resting on thick lateral walls without  buttresses. Above the transept is a half-moon cupola


John Lloyd Stephens (1805-1852) was born in Shrewsbury, New Jersey.  He studied law at Columbia University in New York, and in 1834 took a trip to the Middle East.  He then wrote a book about his experience.  Stephens and Catherwood, his travel companion, were the first English-speaking travellers to explore the regions of the Maya culture.  Their first joint collaboration, a story entitled Adventures of a trip to Central America, Chiapas and the Yucatan, was published in 1841.  After a second trip taken in 1843, they published a second story entitled Incidents of Travel in Yucatan.  Both books contained detailed description of their discoveries as well as etchings based on Catherwood’s drawings.  Such drawings are of a high quality and almost always faithfully and precisely represent Maya monuments.  Stephens died of malaria in Panama, while he was working on the transisthmian railroad project.


The travels by Stephens and Catherwood in Yucatan (1839-1842)

(Dotted line, first journey ; continuous line, second journey)

From David Drew, The lost chronicles of the Maya kings, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1999


The village of Ticul, Yucatan, in 1842

"The village of Ticul, to which we were thus accidentally driven, was worthy of the visit, once in his life, of a citizen of New-York. The first time I looked upon it from the balcony of the convent, it struck me as the perfect picture of stillness and repose. The plaza was overgrown with grass; a few mules, with their fore feet hoppled, were pasturing upon it, and at long intervals a single horseman crossed it. The balcony of the convent was on a level with the tops of the houses, and the view was of a great plain, with houses of one story, flat roofs, high garden walls, above which orange, lemon, and plantain trees were growing, and, after the loud ringing of the matin and vesper bell was over, the only noise was the singing of birds. All business or visiting was done early in the morning or toward evening; and through the rest of the day, during the heat, the inhabitants were within doors, and it might almost have passed for a deserted village.

"Like all the Spanish villages, it was laid out with its plaza and streets running at right angles, and was distinguished among the villages of Yucatan for its casas de piedra, or stone houses. These were on the plaza and streets adjoining; and back, extending more than a mile each way, were the huts of the Indians. These huts were generally plastered, enclosed by stone fences, and imbowered among trees, or, rather, overgrown and concealed by weeds. The population was about five thousand, of which about three hundred families were vecinos, or white people, and the rest Indians. Fresh meat can be procured every day; the tienda grande, or large store of Guzman, would not disgrace Merida. The bread is better than at the capital. Altogether, for appearance, society, and conveniences of living, it is perhaps the best village in Yucatan, and famous for its bull-fights and the beauty of its Mestiza women."


Ticul market


The church of Saint-Anthony of Padua in Ticul

"The church and convent occupy the whole of one side of the plaza. Both were built by the Franciscan monks, and they are among the grandest of those gigantic buildings with which that powerful order marked its entrance into the country. They stand on a stone platform about four feet high and several hundred feet in front. The church was large and sombre, and adorned with rude monuments and figures calculated to inspire the Indians with reverence and awe. In one place, in a niche in the wall, was a funeral urn, painted black, with a white streak around the top, which contains the ashes of a lady of the village. Under it was a monument with this inscription:


He aqui el termino de nuestros afanes ;

La muerte, tierra, nada.

En esta urna reposan los restos de Doña Loretta Lara,

Muger caritativa, y esposa fiel, madre tierna,

prudente y virtuosa.


Al Señor dirigamos por ella nuestras preces.


El 29 de Novembre del año 1830, a los 44 de su edad.

O Man!

Behold the end of our troubles—

Death, Earth, Nothing.

In this urn repose the remains of Doña Loretta Lara,

A charitable woman, faithful wife, and tender mother,

prudent and virtuous.


To the Lord let us direct our prayers for her.

She died

The 29th of November, in the year 1830, aged 44.

"One of the altars was decorated with human skulls and cross-bones, and in the rear of the church was a great charnel-house. It was enclosed by a high stone wall, and was filled with a collection of skulls and bones, which, after the flesh had decayed, had been dug up from the graves in the cemetery of the church."


The Franciscan convent

"The convent is connected with the church by a spacious corridor. It is a gigantic structure, built entirely of stone, with massive walls, and four hundred feet in length. The entrance is under a noble portico, with high stone pillars, from which ascends a broad stone staircase to a spacious corridor twenty feet wide. This corridor runs through the whole length of the building, with a stone pavement, and is lighted in two places by a dome. On each side are cloisters, once occupied by a numerous body of Franciscan friars. The first two and principal of these cloisters on the left are occupied by the cura, and were our home. Another is occupied by one of his ministros, and in the fourth was an old Indian making cigars. The rest on this side are unoccupied, and on the right, facing the great garden of the convent, all the cloisters are untenanted, dismantled, and desolate; the doors and windows are broken, and grass and weeds are growing out of the floors. The garden had once been in harmony with the grandeur and style of the convent, and now shares its fortunes. Its wells and fountains, parterres and beds of flowers, are all there, but neglected and running to waste, weeds, oranges, and lemons growing wildly together, and our horses were turned into it loose, as into a pasture. (…)."


The convent of Ticul still half-ruined at the beginning of the 20th century (in Nelson Reed, The Caste War of Yucatan, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1964)


When was the convent built ?

"It is worthy of remark, that even to a man so alive to all subjects of antiquarian interest, the history of the building of this convent is entirely unknown. In the pavement of the great corridor, in the galleries, walls, and roof, both of the church and convent, are stones from ancient buildings, and no doubt both were constructed with materials furnished by the ruined edifices of another race, but when, or how, or under what circumstances, is unknown. On the roof the cura had discovered, in a situation which would hardly have attracted any eyes but his own, a square stone, having roughly engraved on it this inscription:




Perhaps this had reference to the date of the construction, and if so, it is the only known record that exists in relation to it; and the thought almost unavoidably occurs, that where such obscurity exists in regard to a building constructed by the Spaniards but little more than two hundred years ago, how much darker must be the cloud that hangs over the ruined cities of the aborigines, erected, if not ruined, before the conquest."


What is left of the convent, north of the church


The convent’s archives

"During the first days of my convalescence I had a quiet and almost mournful interest in wandering about this venerable convent. I passed, too, some interesting hours in looking over the archives. The books had a time-worn aspect, with parchment covers, tattered and worm-eaten. In some places the ink had faded, and the writing was illegible. They were the records of the early monks, written by their own hands, and contained a register of baptisms and marriages, including, perhaps, the first Indian who assented to these Christian rites. It was my hope to find in these archives some notice, however slight, of the circumstances under which the early fathers set up the standard of the cross in this Indian town, but the first book has no preamble or introduction of any kind, commencing abruptly with the entry of a marriage.

"This entry bears date in 1588, but forty or fifty years after the Spaniards established themselves in Merida. This is thirty-eight years anterior to the date on the stone before referred to, but it is reasonable to suppose that the convent was not built until some time after the beginning of the archives. The monks doubtless commenced keeping a register of baptisms and marriages as soon as there were any to record, but as they were distinguished for policy and prudence as well as zeal, it is not likely that they undertook the erection of this gigantic building until they had been settled in the country long enough to understand thoroughly its population and resources, for these buildings had not only to be erected, but to be kept up, and their ministers supported by the resources of the district. Besides, the great churches and convents found in all parts of Spanish America were not built by means of funds sent from Spain, but by the labour of the Indians themselves, after they were completely subdued and compelled to work for the Spaniards, or, more generally, after they had embraced Christianity, when they voluntarily erected buildings for the new worship and its ministers. It is not probable that either of these events occurred in this interior village so early as 1.588.


A Franciscan friar in the façade of the church


Weddings and christenings in Ticul

"These first entries are of the marriage, or rather marriages, of two widowers and two widows—X. Diego Chuc with Maria Hu, and Zpo-Bot with Cata Keul. In running over the archives, it appeared, I found, that there was in those days an unusual number of widowers and widows disposed to marry again, and, in fact, that the business of this kind was in a great measure confined to them; but probably, as the relation of husband and wife was not very clearly defined among the Indians, these candidates for Christian matrimony had only parted from former companions, and, through the charity or modesty of the monks, were called widowers and widows.

The first baptisms are on the twentieth of November, 1594, when considerable business seems to have been done. There are four entries on that day, and, in looking over the pages, from my acquaintance with the family I was struck with the name of Mel Chi, probably an ancestor of our Chaipa Chi. This Mel seems to have been one of the pillars of the padres, and a standing godfather for Indian babies.

There was no instruction to be derived from these archives, but the handwriting of the monks, and the marks of the Indians, seemed almost to make me a participator in the wild and romantic scenes of the conquest; at all events, they were proof that, forty or fifty years after the conquest, the Indians were abandoning their ancient usages and customs, adopting the rites and ceremonies of the Catholic Church, and having their children baptized with Spanish names."

(John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, 1843, chapter XII)


Inside view of the nave of San Antonio of Ticul. Its vault is cradle-shaped and above the transept is a cupola in the shape of an hemisphere resting on a drum. The nave is divided in four sections by thin moldings used more as decoration than for strengthening the vault. The moldings probably hide the joints of the building.


"Our establishment in Ticul became a convent as of 1591 and its church was dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua. It is a modern construction with three naves and is very vast and pleasant to the eye, and could be considered as a cathedral. Its visiting churches are St. Mathew in the village of Nohcacab. From that place, a second nearby village is administered which belongs to other authorities and has chosen Santa Barbara as patron saint. There is another visiting church, that of the Assumption of the Mother of God in the village of Puztunich. A hermitage is located on the mountainside near Ticul and is dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua to whom the Indians are particularly devoted. The hermitage has a roof made of palm leaves."


(Diego López de Cogolludo, Historia de Yucatán, 1688, book 4, chapter 20)




Ticul, independance day, september 2015





2018 "Monks and Mayas"

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A street in Ticul, with one of the tricycles used as a means of transport in the town.























John Lloyd Stephens in "Founders of the Panama Railroad, John L. Stephens, William H. Aspinwall, and Henry Chauncey". Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, vol. 18, no. 103, January 1859.












A modern version of Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington, D.C. (1996)





















The church of Ticul. Behind the church the original steeple is visible above the building that used to be the chapel of the Indians.


















The façade of the church of Ticul. A front wall decorated with moldings may be seen on the upper part, as well as two espadañas. Its portal is framed by double columns and two recesses holding statues of Franciscans. Saint-Anthony of Padua is represented on the modern stained glass.














































Map of the church of Ticul


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