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:












Cubulco church, Baja Verapaz, Independance Day, september 2015


The Route of the Dominican Evangelization in Guatemala (This site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List on September 23, 2002) comprends an approximate legacy of 27 Churches, some hermitages and oratories built during the time of Spanish dominance (1524-1821) under the direction of the order of Preachers of Santo Domingo, with the purpose of supporting the incorporation of the local natives, descending of the Mayan, to the Spanish productive process. This situation explains the stylistic unit of the buildings, as well as the presence in the same of great quantity of works of art, used with didactic and religious ends:


  1. Church and convent Santo Domingo in Antigua Guatemala

  2. Church and convent Santo Domingo in Nueva Guatemala

  3. Church Santa Ana Chimaltenango

  4. Church of Escuintla

  5. Chuch of San Pedro Pinula

  6. Churches of Chichicastenango

  7. Church of Santa Cruz del Quiché

  8. Church of Zacualpa

  9. Curch of Sacapulas

  10. Church of San Juan Cotzal

  11. Church of Chajul

  12. Church of San Jerónimo Verapaz

  13. Church of Cubulco

  14. Church of Rabinal

  15. Church of San Miguel Chicaj

  16. Church of San Mateo Salamá

  17. Church and convento Santo Domingo in Cobán

  18. Church of Tactic

  19. Church of Santa Cruz Verapaz

  20. Church of San Cristóbal Verapaz

  21. Church of Tamahú

  22. Church of Tucurú

  23. Church of Senahú

  24. Church of Cahabón

  25. Church of Lanquín

  26. Church of San Juan Chamelco

  27. Church of San Pedro Carchá






The Church of Santo Domingo, in Guatemala City (october 2016): It was built by the Dominicans when they moved their order here from Antigua.

The church and convent of St. Dominic, dedicated to the Virgin of the Rosary, was begun in 1788 and completed in 1808. The image of Our Lady of the Rosary, the work of unknown artists, was finished in 1592. Commissioned by Friar Lopez de Montoya, a Dominican priest, the statue was made completely of pure silver. There is a popular tradition that the Virgin Mary went out to travel through America and that the Child fell asleep when they reached Guatemala, which is why she stayed there. In 1821 the leaders of the independence movement proclaimed her Patroness of the new nation. October, the month dedicated to the rosary, is the most popular and important religious happening for the Guatemalan people and nation.



The road to Dominican evangelization spreads on several centuries

In 1529, Friar Domingo de Betanzos and Father Mayorga left Mexico as they had been invited by Pedro de Alvarado to go to Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala (Antigua Guatemala), a Spanish town newly founded. There they established the first Dominican convent of Guatemala (the convent of Santo Domingo). For various reasons, the Dominicans left it rather quickly, but came back in 1535; Friar Bartolome de Las Casas and Friar Pedro de Angulo settled there in the town of Guatemala and live in the convent.


In 1545 the convent of Santa Maria del Rosario de Cahabón, Alta Verapaz, is founded; in 1567 is founded that of San Pablo de Rabinal, Baja Verapaz.


In 1551, the new Dominican province of San Vicente de Chiapas and Guatemala is recognized by the General Chapter meeting in Salamanca; this province encompasses the Mexican State of Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, where it had already established convents. Friar Tomas de la Torre is its first Provincial.


The creation of this new province allowed the development of the Dominican presence all over the territory. Many convents and churches were founded, institutions were put in place and major building sites were started. The Province of San Vicente had in Guatemala new convents, houses and churches, and in addition to those already mentioned, the new building sites of Cubulco, San Miguel Chicaj, Salamá, Tactic, San Pedro Carchá, Lanquίn, San Cristóbal, Cobán, San Jerónimo, El Chol and many others.


In 1811, the Province of San José de Chiapas secedes, with all the convents of the State of Chiapas. Guatemala and Salvador keep the name of Province of San Vicente until 1872 when the religious orders are prohibited. The Province then ceases to exist.





Convents and Doctrinas in the province of Saint Vincent of Chiapas and Guatemala, second half of the XVIIIth century

(Christophe Belaubre, Poder y redes sociales en Centroamérica, el caso de la orden de los Dominicos, 1757-1829)



The beginnings of the road to Dominican evangelization

Friar Domingo de Betanzos establishes the first Dominican convent in Guatemala


"32. …At that time (1529), Don Pedro de Alvarado, Adelantado of Guatemala, was in Mexico and was getting ready to take his post as General Captain and Governor of the region. The men who were going to live in the town of Santiago (Antigua Guatemala) and Don Pedro asked Friar Domingo de Betanzos to come with them and to establish a convent of his own order, the only thing missing from their town to make it the second most important in the country after Mexico. The founding father, although he gave no importance to these mundane considerations, accepted to travel, fervently wishing to be of service to his order by creating a new convent, and wishing even more to serve God by bringing in the country faithful ministers of the Gospel. But since this good priest must travel by foot with only one companion, he refused to go with the horsemen. He got the agreement of the General Vicar in spite of the opposition from other religious authorities who did not want to do away with him; by his devout cries and the help of the prelate, the venerable elder was even able to leave with three of his spiritual sons to establish the religious province. He left Mexico very happy, even though he had to walk three hundred leagues, most of it through a very bad path that went up very steeply and full of rocks, going through uninhabited, desolate and lonely areas, and all the more unpleasant to cross by foot. In spite of this, he started his journey and reached the end of the road with much joy, convinced as he was to contribute somewhat, but not as much as he wanted, to spreading the Gospel which he followed in order to save souls.


"33. The father reached Guatemala and received a warm welcome in the town where his teachings were much appreciated.  He did not even need to request a piece of land to build his convent, as Jorge de Alvarado, Deputy to the Governor, and the advisers and managers of the town offered him one, letting him choose the location, inside or outside of the walls, as he wished. And the father Friar Domingo picked and retained a land somewhat away from the dwellings, on the East, of a big enough size to build a church, the house and the garden; in all it measured no more than two acres so much so that the whole building felt narrow. The inhabitants provided ornaments for the church of the convent and furniture for the house which they quickly built, with a simplicity that the father judged necessary to show the example of poverty and humility to those whom he taught.  He paid back the alms he received from the town with prayers, preaching and teaching."


(Friar Juan Bautista Méndez, Crónica de la provincial de Santiago de México de la Orden de Predicadores (1521-1564), Book One, Chapter 5, 1685)





Domingo de Betanzos, "Museo del eremitorio de Fray Domingo de Betanzos", Tepetlaoxtoc, central Mexico



Bartolomé de las Casas leaves from that same convent to evangelize Verapaz

« 90 ; At the end of that year (1535) the fathers Friar Bartolomé de las Casas, Friar Luis Cáncer and Friar Pedro Angulo returned from Nicaragua to Guatemala to live in this convent which had been deserted long ago.  Father Friar Rodrigo de Ladrada followed them soon after, arriving fro Peru.  The whole town greeted them with pleasure, and more than anyone else, so did the bishop Don Fancisco Marroquín, whom our order looked upon as its father and who behaved as such.  God had to be praised when one saw the humility with which the bishop taught declensions, conjugation, and the basic grammar of the Indigenous language of Guatemala to the Dominican priests, as he was very competent in that field.  They themselves learnt it from such a master with ease and pleasure, thus becoming disciples to teach the language to others and help their dear pastor."

(Friar Juan Bautista Méndez, Crónica de la provincial de Santiago de México de la Orden de Predicadores (1521-1564), Book One, Chapter 13, 1685)


«124.  At the beginning of the year 1536, in Guatemala, the great man Friar Bartolomé de Las Casas planned (Remesal, book 3, chapter 15) to reach Tuzulutlán, land of war, now called Vera Paz, to conquer its souls, without any military help or warring violence, but on the contrary with the gentleness that Christ requested of his apostles: just like lambs among the wolves in order to make lambs of these wolves. With such a high aim, he entrusted himself to God’s mercy, which feeds and reaps all that is planted and gathered by His ministers.

(Friar Juan Bautista Méndez, Crónica de la provincia de Santiago de México de la Orden de Predicadores (1521-1564), Book Two, Chapter 1, 1685, translated by Chantal Burns)





Francisco Marroquín, first bishop of Guatemala, San Carlos University, Guatemala




El convento está luego abandonado


"147. ...  Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas y Fr. Rodrigo de Ladrada volvieron a la Vera Paz (1538) para continuar la conversión de aquella provincia y ver si podrían entrar más adentro en la juridicción de Cobán, tierra montuosa y áspera y la gente menos conocida que la de Rabinal... Los llamaron sus hermanos que estaban en Guatemala, por razón de unos buenos intentos con que estaba el Sr. obispo como tan celoso del bien de sus ovejas... Pasó (el obispo Marroquín) a ponderar la gran necesidad de ministros que había en Nueva España para ésto, a vista de tan copiosa y dilatada mies; y concluyó con que enviaría por ellos a España para su obispado, sin que nadie tuviese ocasión o poder ni para impedirles la jornada, ni para enviarlos a otra parte... Resolvieron, era ir el P. Fr. Bartolomé a España por los religiosos, por la experiencia grande que tenía del modo de negociar en la corte, como quien con felicidad lo había hecho otras veces... Los que en la ciudad de Santiago había, se dividieron en esta forma: Los padres Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas y Fr. Rodrigo de Ladrada se determinaron ir a España y los padres Fr. Luis Cáncer y Fr. Pedro de Angulo a Capítulo (de México)...



"148. La casa de Santo Domingo de Guatemala en esta sazón quedó sola y no fue de novedad en aquel tiempo, porque otras muchas veces sucedía lo mismo, cuando los padres todos se esparcían por la comarca a predicar y bautizar a toda dilatada nación. Dejaron en guarda suya a un español llamado Agustín de Salablanca, que después fue el primero que en aquel santo convento recibió el hábito de nuestra Religión. En este medio que faltaron allí frailes, acudió él como si ya lo fuese con vigilencia al edificio de la pobre casa, trabajando mucho en hacer adobes, que eran los mejores materiales de aquellos tiempos y en estos nada seguros para los repetidos temblores de aquella tierra."


(Fray Juan Bautista Méndez, Crónica de la provincia de Santiago de México de la Orden de Predicadores (1521-1564), libro segundo, capítulo 3, 1685)





Coban: the procession of the Holy Week, april 2013


Cobán, 1574: "The town of Saint Dominic of Cobán has, by the count of three years ago, 525 tributaries, of which 120 who came from Acala don’t pay tribute for they are very new and have unfidel relatives at the door, and so that they don’t flee as some have by being cowardly and being very new plants. This town is in a valley, and close to it on the south is a river that passes under three often rebuilt wooden bridges. The [river] frequently carries away these bridges. In the town are situated the monastery and convent of Lord Saint Dominic, with a capacity of twelve monks. Along with his church, these buildinds are of roughly worked stone. The monks built the church with some help from the adjacent towns, and the people of Cobán, with their quickness and great desire, have greatly helped with it. The doorway of the church is not yet finished. The vestry is half done because since the Indians of the town are so poor, there is very little they could give. What exists of a convent had to be acquired through the industry of the monks. The support of the monks comes principally by the gift of 300 pesos and maize from this town that His Magesty makes to them each year, and charity and other good works, but little charity given by the Indians. As is well known, it is not enough, but thanks to the help of the Lord Bishop, with all this we withstand need. We have asked for charity and support from His Magesty and again so request that it be so conceded. There are in this convent ten monks for four dependencies, but we need more for this very spread-out province."


(Report of the Province of the Verapaz made by the monks of Saint Dominic of Cobán, Friar Francisco Prior of Viana, Friar Lucas Gallego, and Friar Guillermo Cardenas on the 7th of December 1574, translated by Lawrence H. Feldman, in Lost Shores, Forgotten Peoples, Spanish explorations of the south east Maya lowlands, Duke University Press, 2000)



Fray Juan Bautista Méndez: Nació por el año de 1645. Ingresó muy joven a la Orden dominicana. En 1671 es lector de filosofía en el convento de Santo Domingo de México y recibe su doctorado en teología por la Real Universidad de México. El Capítulo provincial de 1679 le instituye como Cronista oficial de la Provincia. En 1693 es Maestro en Sagrada Teología de la cátedra universitaria de Santo Tomás. En 1699 era prior de Santo Domingo de México. Muere entre los años de 1703 y 1704. Su "Crónica de la provincia de Santiago de México de la Orden de Predicadores (1521-1564)", escrita en el año de 1685, fue publicada por la primera vez en 1993 por Editorial Porrúa, en México.





Cobán convent





2018 "Friars and Mayas"

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The church of Salamá. Located at the central plaza, it is a sample of the Spanish colonial architecture of the XVIIth Century. It boasts a Baroque façade, and its main navel and masonry dome have several Rococo carvings, gold laminates and paintings that depict scenes of the period.


















Santa Cruz del Quiché: On the central plaza, there's a large colonial church, built by the Dominicans with stone from the ruins of Utatlan. The Catholic church suffered terribly in El Quiche in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when priests were singled out and murdered for their connections with the co-operative movement.








Nebaj: The location of this hamlet, nestled in a valley among the Cuchumatanes mountain chain, is superb, with its quaint houses and its whitewashed church Santa María coming into view from the mountains above. The town is centered around the plaza with the church and government offices built around it. A peek inside Nebaj’s church reveals a multitude of small crosses as a memorial to civil war victims.












Lanquín, Alta Verapaz: Between 1,540 and 1,550, its first Catholic Church was built, with the name of San Agustin. This Church was destroyed by the flames of a fire that consumed the half of the population, for which a new one was built from the year 1,574. This new construction and by effects of an earthquake that shook the country around 1,810, lost a considerable part of its structure, for which was restructured without that part.















































Chajul is a picturesque collection of quaint adobe houses with tiled roofs. Of the three Ixil Triangle towns, it certainly has the most traditional feel. The town’s Iglesia de San Gaspar Los Reyes has been restored with new front doors carved by local artists and is a major pilgrimage site on the second Friday of Lent for its Cristo de Golgotha.