Santiago Zapotitlán was founded by the Cuitlahuaca people, one of the groups found throughout the Valley of Mexico, after they settled here in around 1435. One of Tlahuac’s seven Pueblos Originarios, today it’s best known for the annual Festival of the Lights and Music, with its massive fireworks displays each February. At the foot of the Xaltepec volcano, it’s on the very edge of the Sierra de Santa Catarina. Today, it’s also the most populous part of Tláhuac. Today’s town is divided into a number of different “colonias,” most of which correspond to the neighborhoods of the colonial era town.
Zapotitlán, in Nahuatl means “among the sapote trees.” The town is remembered for its position next to the stronger currents of water running between the Chalco and Xochimilco lakes. In fact, the territory was inhabited long before 1435. Artifacts from the first inhabitants of the area date to about 100 BCE.
The land is believed to have been once dominated by Chichimeca and Toltec peoples in what was known Techichco, meaning “between the stone breasts,” and referring to the two nearby volcanoes. These people, later displaced, practiced and relied on sophisticated system of thought on the cosmos, mythology, and language. They also worshiped the feathered serpent of Quetzalcóatl which would continue to be relevant to many people’s straight through the pre-Hispanic period.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception was originally begun in 1541. Finished only in 1641s, it was, and remains, a simple church. It’s known to have been used as the backdrop 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 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.
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.
On the third Wednesday of Lent, the residents of Santiago Zapotitlán still travel to Coyoacán to visit the Lord of Mercy, offended by their ancestors. This is to ask for the mercy they know He’ll surely grant.
Sources cited on this page:
Carlos Mancilla Castañeda, Nosotros,
Santiago Zapotitlán, una cronología histórica
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