Santiago Zapotitlán & The Church of the Immaculate Conception

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Santiago Zapotitlán
Photo: Muñoz LC on Wikimedia Commons.


Santiago Zapotitlán was founded by the Cuitlahuaca people, one of the groups found throughout the Valley of Mexico, after they settled here around 1435. One of the seven original towns of Tláhuac, today it’s best known for the annual Festival of Lights and Music, with huge fireworks displays every February.

At the foot of the Xaltepec volcano, it is on the very edge of the Sierra de Santa Catarina. It’s also the most populated part of Tláhuac. The town is divided into several different “colonias,” most of which correspond to the city’s colonial-era neighborhoods.

Zapotitlán, in Nahuatl means “among the zapote trees.” The town is remembered for its position next to the strongest streams running between the Chalco and Xochimilco lakes. In fact, the territory was inhabited long before 1435. Artifacts from the earliest inhabitants of the area date from around 100 BCE.

It is believed that the land was dominated by the Chichimeca and Toltec peoples in what was known as Techichco, which means “between the stone chests” and refers to the two nearby volcanoes. These earlier people, later displaced, practiced and relied on a sophisticated system of thought about the cosmos, mythology and language. They also worshipped the feathered serpent of Quetzalcoatl, which would continue to be relevant throughout the ancient period.

Church of the Immaculate Conception

The Church of the Immaculate Conception was originally begun in 1541. Finished only in 1641, it was, and remains, a simple church.  It’s known to have been used as the backdrop for festivals and traditional ancestral performances.  The church’s feast day celebrates the Lord of Mercy each December 8.

The church atrium is surrounded by a low brick wall, with a few palm trees separating it from the rest of the plaza. It’s the sort of haunting, tezontle-clad church that stirs both a nervous feeling, and deep wonder. We’re privileged to look back on just so much history from our own time.  The interior is as stunning as any in the city.

  • The church, and the old town center, are about a 7-8 minute walk north from Metro Zapotitlán. The church rectory is a few blocks to the south of the station. Many visitors will come for the Festival of Lights and Music, and for multiple annual events organized by the Zapotitlán Cultural Center.

The Legend of the Lord of Mercy

A legend from the middle of the 17th century has a group of  Zapotitlán residents traveling with an image of the Lord of Mercy to Mexico City. Passing through the Taxqueña area, they stopped for a drink. Apparently, the alcohol so enraged the Lord, that the image vanished from the painting before the very eyes of the faithful. At the same time, a family from Pueblo de los Reyes, Coyoacán, was passing nearby and heard a child’s cry. In seeking the sources of the crying, they discovered among the reeds and bushes the image of the Lord of Mercy, and they took it to the friars of the Parish of San Juan Bautista Coyoacán so that the monks could decide what to do with it.



Sources cited on this page:
Carlos Mancilla Castañeda, Nosotros,
Santiago Zapotitlán, una cronología histórica


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