The dates on the facade of this church read 1522-1524 when it was constructed. San Juan de Chamula is a small town just a 30 minute drive outside of San Cristobal de las Casas. The church is lovely from outside with large turquoise pots adorning the roof corners and inside the entire floor is covered with long pine needles, thousands of candles, incense and statues of saints in glass cases lining the walls. The native families in traditional dress push some needles aside and melt candles to the floor creating their own alters. I saw a woman kneel with her family, take up a handful of pine needles, blow a gourd whistle and while chanting a native dialect pass the needles over her 20 year old daughter’s head, chest and belly then bow her head to the floor. It is rumored that chickens are offered on the main alter but none were apparent today. No photos are allowed inside the church so you will need to visit to experience the beauty.
As we drove into town women were seen herding sheep through town and doing the Sunday laundry at a common well. Sunday is Chamula market day and the town was packed. This is a short video of the square and church.
Men in sheepskin vests with large white cowboy hats sat on one side of the square drinking shots of Pox, a liquor made from corn that was offered to our friends Matt and Allan. The women were dressed in goat skin skirts with pleated satin tops tucked into wide belts and a folded cloth atop their heads. Jim and I wandered on finding elaborately embroidered clothing which I could not resist, whistles and bowls made from gourds and all kinds of fruit and vegetables. I came away with bulging bags of lovely hand embroidered blouses and a black dress with bright sequins and a wide black belt. Even a long sleeved cotton blouse which I have been very thankful to wear every night when the chill sets in.
We stopped for lunch at a fancy country club like place and then ventured on to Zinacantan, a village which supplies exotic flowers to many parts of the country. The soil is so rich, corn plants grew up to the road in the middle of town and the valley was filled with huge greenhouses. Clothing here featured elaborate floral embroidery on bold colored satin and at least on Sunday these ponchos and capes are worn by the whole family. As we drove into town half a dozen young girls ran in front of our car wanting to sell us things or give us tours. It was a little off putting so we simply drove up and down the hills a bit and left without stopping. On the way back down the hill I spotted this lovely bright colored home on the side of the road with the beginning of San Cristobal behind.