Friars 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 friars, 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 Dominican province of San Vicente

This province of the order of Saint Dominique de Guzmán was officially established on 17 May 1551. It encompassed Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, the highlands of Guatemala and the Mexican State of Chiapas


Saint Vincent Ferrer, Dominican convent church of San Cristobal de Las Casas


Here is the act of creation of the province, as told by its historian Antonio de Remesal; he sets its limits and names its two leaders, Tomás de la Torre and Pedro de Angulo:


“Here is what happened in the Indies during that year among the fathers from the Order of Saint Dominique who lived there: everything went well for them. And since all this was for the service of Our Lord and to the benefit of the Order, the Order itself took good care of them. And in fact, during the General Chapter meeting in the convent of San Esteban de Salamanca the day before Pentecost on May 17, 1551, the most reverend friar Francisco Romeo, originally from Castellón in Lombardy, being the General of the Order, our province became fully autonomous and independent from any other in America. And it is written in the Acts of the Chapter, under the title Acceptaciones:

“Item acceptamus nostras novas Provintias Indiarum, videlicet, Sanctae Crucis, etc. and further : Aliam Provintiam ibidem de novo erigimus a Tequantepeq inclusive, usque ad oppidum de Nata hispnorum per littus antarcticum. Item a littore arctico ad oppidum de Guazacalco inclusive, ita quod contineat quaturor episcopates, videlicet, de Chiapa, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, et appelletur Provintia Sancti Vicnti de Chiapa; quam cum aliis recipimus, cum omnibus gratis et privilegiis quibus Provintia Sancti Jacobi potitur.  Necnon et aliae Provintiae Nostri Ordinis. Dantes sibi pro hac prima vice in Provintialem per cuatuor annos, Fratrem Thoman de Turre. Et in terra Verae Pacis mandamus construe conventum sub nomine Beati Dominici Patris Nostri, cui pro prima vice praeficimus in Priorem, fratrem Patrum de Angulo.

“(We accept our new provinces of the Indies, namely: Santa Cruz, etc. and further : we establish on this territory another new Province, fixing its limits as follows: on the littoral of Antarctica (south littoral, on the Pacific), from Tehuantepec to the town of Nata of the Spaniards, whereas on the Arctic littoral (north littoral, on the Gulf of Mexico), it will spread up to the town of Guazacualco inclusive, in order to encompass four bishoprics, namely : Chiapa, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras.  It will be named Province of San Vicente de Chiapa… We appoint as first Provincial, for a duration of four years, friar Tomás de la Torre. And we give the order to build a convent in the name of Our Father Saint Dominique in the land of Vera Paz, the first prior of which will be friar Pedro de Angulo).

“This way, our Province took its rank in the Order. Since none of our priests was in the Chapter to deal with this matter, his lordship don friar Bartolomé de Las Casas who was present, became the lawyer, as the father of all Indies and of our province in particular, and the province can be considered as his daughter, since he himself brought twice the priests who founded it.” (Antonio de Remesal, Historía general de las Indias occidentales y particular de la gobernación de Chiapa y Guatemala, book 9, chapter 6, translated by Chantal Burns)



Dominican emblem at the top of the cathedral of Cobán, Verapaz


In the vast areas of the province, one hundred Dominican friars were responsible for evangelizing and tend to several millions Indians.

In the mind of the Dominicans, Las Casas included, the Indians were “good savages” who needed protection from the influence of the Spaniards. To this effect, royal ordinances recommended regrouping the indigenous people in “pueblos de Indios” under the tutelage of the priests. Therefore the Dominicans took time to build in their province a network of convents and churches, giving first place to the Visible Church, maybe to the disadvantage of real conversions.


The Dominican province of San Vicente

(Milagros Ciudad Suárez, Los Dominicos, un grupo de poder en Chiapas y Guatemala, siglos XVI y XVII, Escuela de Estudios Hispanoaméricanos de Sevilla, Editorial Deimos, Sevilla, 1996)


Antonio de Remesal gives a detail of the supervision of Indian regions by the Dominicans :


List of Dominican convents established by Antonio de Remesal (1617)

“The present state of the province today, thanks to God’s mercy, is very prosperous, on the spiritual plane as well as on the temporal plane, and the government of the Indians is at its best, as always.  The villages under the responsibility of each convent or sub-priory are the following:


In El Salvador

The convent of El Salvador: It administers the villages of Chontales, Xilovasco, Guacotetec, Cecontepeq, Apaztepeq, Yztepeq, Cuxutepeq, San Pedro, San Martín, Perulapa, Perulapilla, Tonacatepeq, Cuzcatlán.  In that house, there are seven priests.

“The convent of Zonzonate.  It administers the villages of Tacuscalco, the Mexican district, Nauiscalco, Santo Domingo.  It has seven fathers who are priests.


In Chiapas

The convent of Santo Domingo de Ciudad Real.  It administers the Mexican Indians who live in the valley and the sites of Teopixca, Amatenago, Aguatenango, Uiztlan, Teultepeq, Tenexapa, Chamula, Mixtontiq, San Pedro and San Pablo, Santa Catalina, San Andrés, Yztacoztote, Santiago Uustlán, Santa, Marta, Tenezacatán, Cinacantlán, Yztapa, San Luca, San Dionisio, Totolapa; this convent has eleven priests and three lay friars.

“The convent of Chiapa.  It administers the villages of Tustla, Suchiapa, Pachutla, Acala, Chiapilla, Ostuta.  It has eight priests and three lay friars.

“The convent of Comitlán.  It administers the villages of Zapalutla, Conetla, Aquezpala, Yzquitenango, Coapa, Utatlán, Chicomocelo, Yayaguitla, Comalap.  It has five fathers who are priests.

“The convent of Texpatlán in the Zoques area.  It administers the villages of Cachula, Copaynala, Chichoacintepeq, Ozumacintla, Coapilla, Ocotepeq, Tapalapa, Pantepeq, Comistahuacán, Tapilula and Zuatlán, Solis, Aneán, Comeapa, Xitolepeq, San Pablo, La Madalena, Mixapa, Zayula, Santa Catalina, Yztacomitlán, Sunuapa, Manaché.  It has nine priests and a lay friar.

“The convent of Copanabastla.  It administers the villages of Zozocoltenango, Zoyatitlán, San Bernabé, Pinula, Zacualpa, Comitlán, Yztapa, Chalechitlán, Zitalá, Tecoluta.  It has four fathers who are priests.

“The convent of Ocosingo, in the Celdales area.  It administers the villages of Ocotitán, Xuxiucapa, Chilostuta, Yasalun, Xitalhá, Quitepeq, Ocotenango, Tenango.  It has six fathers who are priests.


The dominican convent of Tecpatán, Chiapas, virtual model

Tecpatán was the center of Dominican activity in the Zoque Country. The ensemble, church and convento, is renaissance-style with marked medieval influence, and was probably completed during the last quarter of the sixteenth century.


In Guatemala

“Santo Domingo de Guatemala, Chimaltenango, San Martín, San Sebastián, San Lorenzo, San Luis, San Rafael, Xocotenango, Zumpango, San Bartolomé Cauqué, San Lucas, Santiago, Petapa, Sant Inés Pinula, Mixco, Chichoy, San Pedro, Escuintla, Managua y Macagua, Las Milpas Altas, San Mateo, San Miguel, La Madalena, Santo Tomás, Las Milpas Bajas, San Gaspar, San Pedro, San Andrés and Santa Ana, Santa Cruz, San Juan Gascón and the area of Santo Domingo.

“The sacatepeques, among which San Pedro, S. Juan and Santo Domingo, Rabinal, Cubulco. Santo Domingo de Guatemala has thirty-three priests in the convent proper, eleven friars in the house of novices and eight lay friars to preach to the Indians.

“The convent of Santo Domingo de Cobán. It administers the villages of Cahabón, San Agustín, San Pedro, San Juan, San Andrés, San Cristóbal, Santa Cruz, Tatique, Tamahu, Tucur and the villages of Manché, that is,. eight villages as I said before and there would be more if we baptized those that we just discovered in 1606.  This convent has six fathers who are priests and a lay friar.

The convent of Zacapula. It administers the villages of Zacualpa, Santa Maria, San Andrés, San Bartolomé, S. Tomás, Santa Cruz, San Pedro, San Juan Cachul, Cozal, San Juan Cunén, San Miguel: this convent has eight fathers who are priests.

“The convent of Ozocotlán has two fathers who are priests.

“These last ones included in addition to those of the other convents, there are a total of eighty-six fathers, eleven friars of the choir and sixteen lay friars.”

(Antonio de Remesal, Historía general de las Indias occidentales y particular de la gobernación de Chiapa y Guatemala, book 11, chapter 24, translated by Chantal Burns)


The architecture of the Dominican convents

The churches look best when seen from the outside : they have an very large façade  in the shape of an altarpiece, covered with stucco, very ornate and pierced with openings at the top (espadañas) where the bells are to be set up (the present spires have been added later).  The Dominican emblem, the ornate black and white cross is sometimes carved on this façade.  In the back, the nave is lower and more modest.  All these churches have been established in the XVIth century and rebuilt in the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries.


Tuxtla Gutiérez (Chiapas) in the XVIIth century, the parish church and its atrium (Archivo Histórico de la Diocesis de San Cristóbal de las Casas)


"Aquel mesmo día, miércoles diez de septiembre [de 1586], a la una de la tarde, salió de Chiapa el padre comisario, […] y andadas dos leguas, llegó cuando el sol se ponía a un bonito pueblo llamado Tuchtla, del mesmo obispado, visita de dominicos, de unos indios llamados zoques, los cuales le recebieron muy bien y dieron de cenar con mucha caridad y devoción. […] Aquel pueblo de Tuchtla es el último que tienen a cargo los frailes de Santo Domingo en aquella provincia de Guatemala y Chiapa (que toda es una) y en él y en todos los demás tienen puesto muy buen orden, concierto y policía entre los indios, los cuales están muy bien doctrinados y enseñados en las cosas de la fe, en lo cual han trabajado y trabajan mucho con grande religión y ejemplo, que ciertos son muy observantes y pobres, y tienen muy edificada toda aquella tierra." (Antonio de Ciudad Real, Tratado curioso y docto de las grandezas de la Nueva España)


The cathedral of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, today


The churches open on an atrium enclosed by walls or high fences where people gather for processions, as is the tradition with the Mayas.


"The predominant type of church in Chiapas is no more than a simple box-like rectangular hall behind a seemingly freestanding monumental façade. The single-aisled nave is invariably covered with a simple pitched roof with exposed rafters or a rudimentary artesonado. The space of the interior is rarely interrupted except by a wooden gallery just inside the door, the upper choir, and near the opposite end, by a chancel arch, arco toral, spanning the nave and thus forming a monumental entrance to the presbytery. This, then, is the typical plan of the pueblo-de-indio church. (…) Roofs of wood and tile are the preferred type, a form harking back to mudéjar antecedents in Spain. In fact, except for the roofing of some presbyteries and transepts, vaulted construction is almost the exception rather than the rule in Chiapas. (…)




The nave and the arco toral of the church of Ocosingo (Chiapas)



The main front of all the churches in Chiapas is treated as a freestanding frontispiece very frequently conceived as an element independent of the nave to which it was not necessarily integrated structurally. It functioned as a gigantic backdrop or theatrical stage setting, a dramatic and psychological boundary between the secular activities in the open air in the atrio in front and the religious activities in the church interior. (…) Façade treated as retablos with applied architectural orders and other architectonic decoration are extremely rare in Chiapas, in contrast to Guatemala where the retable-façade is the most diagnostic characteristic of the antigueño style. (…)




Teopisca (Chiapas), its main front and its lower nave behind


The church building is normally raised above atrio level, even if only one or two steps. The plaza-church was an imposing concrete reality as well as an abstract symbol, well understood by the neo-Christians who had been accustomed in the time of their paganism to congregate at their own religious ceremonial centers."


(Sidney David Markman, Architecture and urbanization in colonial Chiapas, Mexico, The American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1984)



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Chalchuapa (El Salvador), colonial church Santiago Apóstol










Comitán (Chiapas), Dating from 1556, the church of the convent Santo Domingo de Guzmán is unique for its severity, the octagonal choir window being the only decoration on its facade. The Mudejar-style arcading of the bell tower was only recently discovered under its stucco surface




























Zacualpa (Guatemala), church of the Holy Spirit. In 1981-1982, during the civil war, a military detachment installed itself in the church and convent. This place was converted into a torture center. Nine massacres were perpetrated. 99 % of the victims were Indian Maya K’iche’.








Rabinal (Guatemala): San Pablo. This colonial Baroque church was built from 1572. Rabinal was severely affected by the internal war of Guatemala.  Many people were taken from Rabinal and the surrounding villages by the Army and Civilian Militia and never seen again. The Rabinal Achi is performed every year on Saint Paul's Day on 25 january










San Juan Chamelco (Guatemala): The colonial church Saint John the Baptist may have been the first built in Alta Verapaz. The Hapsburg eagle is engraved atop the church’s facade. Mass is still held here in both Spanish and Q’eqchi’.









Ocosingo (Chiapas), The Dominican convent of San Jacinto, founded in 1564 by Fray Pedro de Laurencio. Ocosingo was one of the primary targets of the Zapatista army on its New Year’s Day uprising in 1994. Since that time, the Mexican army has remained, establishing a massive military base just outside of town.