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San Juanico Nextipac is a neighborhood today that descends from an island community on ancient Lake Texcoco. According to the Aubin Codex, the island traces its Mexica founding to 1305. The Mexica arrived here after being expelled from Culhuacan, and stayed three years. The island was famed because here the Mexica learned that they’d eventually settle in another place, in Tenochtitlan. 2014 archaeological excavations revealed parts of an ancient housing complex in the very town center. Artifacts recovered were dated to between 900 and 1100 CE. Infant burials were traditionally made beneath the bedrooms of dwellings, and three of these were discovered.
One of the original settlements of Iztapalapa, island inhabitants long practiced chinampa-based agriculture. It is visible as a shaded island on the 1521 map. It’s just north of the old Iztapalapa peninsula. As it was on the fresh-water side of the lake, it was likely a big and close provider of produce and flowers to Tenochtitlan. The Nahuatl name is a combination of nextli “ash,” and icpac meaning “on top,” “above,” or “over.” So, it’s translated as “over the ashes.” The island probably grew as chinampas (floating fields) extended its original shores.
The temple, shown above, was built between 1880 and 1897. It replaced a historic 18th-century chapel originally dedicated in 1760. The chapel had been a dependent of the Parish of San Matías in Iztacalco for most of the colonial period. The bells in the tower still bear the casting dates of 1689, 1700, and 1750. One of these is dedicated to San Juan Evangelista, and the church is thought to have been originally dedicated to him, the other San Juan. The patron saint was changed when a statue of Saint John the Baptist was sent from Spain. San Juanico residents, not wishing to wait up to 15 years for a corrected patron saint statue, instead opted to dedicate themselves to John the Baptist.
The church retains an original 16th-century baptismal font. Carved in marble, it bears the remains of two columns and a sculpture of San Matías, also from the 16th century.
Today, most of the atrium is intact. But as in other parishes around the city, part of it is now the Plaza Cívica. This is very much the center of the town and frequent site for meetings and socializing. The neighborhood market is roughly a four-minute walk. Metro Aculco is roughly 12 minutes in the other direction.