Mérida’s oldest Christian chapel remains padlocked and decaying

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  • La Capilla de Nuestra Señora from Calle 61. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Mérida, Yucatán — The city’s oldest temple was also part of the city’s first hospital, and until 11 years ago, the home of the City Museum.

Today, it stands padlocked in the shadow of the city’s Cathedral. INAH, the federal agency charged with safeguarding historical properties, reportedly uses it for storage.

La Capilla de Nuestra Señora del Rosario is a solemn colonial building, painted an intense red after a Centro-wide facade remodeling, with a well-wrought portico that faces Calle 61.

The original entrance was on 61st Street where we can still see a stone altar in the shape of a rosary. A small entrance on the apse, facing Calle 58, is flanked by two pilasters topped by urns and lion heads.

Historian Jorge Álvarez Rendón is calling on authorities to give the abandoned chapel more respect and re-open it to the public.

Being locked up, the iconic temple structure has likely been damaged by trapped humidity, lvarez Rendón told Punto Medio.

“It is a true work of art, which is older than the cathedral itself, and also has a very suitable acoustics for concerts and cultural events, but INAH keeps it closed no matter what is damaged by moisture, without even receiving maintenance,” lamented Álvarez Rendón.

The building was the headquarters of the City Museum between 1987 and 2007, until it moved to the old post office south of the square. That is the last time the general public was allowed entry into the 400-year-old building, which pre-dates the Cathedral.

Its history begins when in 1550 the mayor, Gaspar Suárez, donated the land and had it built as a hospital. Some years later, in 1579, its chapel was finished under the invocation of Our Lady of the Rosary. According to some records, the chapel served as a temporary cathedral until the one we know today was completed in 1598.

La Orden Hospitalaria de San Juan de Dios took over the building in 1625, converting it into its convent and hospital. Its members were dedicated to tending to the sick.

In 1821, the courts forced the order to leave. The city took charge of the hospital until 1832 when it passed to the state government with the name of Hospital General de Mérida.

The hospital moved to Mejorada in 1862 on the initiative of Dr. Agustín O’Horan. The building would be the seat of the Catholic College until 1915, and in Alvarado’s time it became the Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez e “Hidalgo” elementary school, and later the office of the Treasury Accounting Office would operate out of the building.

The Archaeological Museum of Yucatán was founded in the building in 1923, by decree of Gov. Felipe Carrillo Puerto. It finally opened in 1925, and became a well-established institution that offered the visitors an encounter with the Peninsula’s pre-Hispanic past. In 1941, the museum was transformed into the Institute of Ethnography and History of the State.

At the end of the 1950s, the hospital part of the building on Calle 58 was sold and its new owners decide to turn it into parking lot. Of the original structure, only the chapel and some passageways survive. The museum’s collections were sent to the Palacio Cantón, which today remains an archaeological museum.

There are very few records regarding the demolition of the historic building that would explain why authorities allowed such an atrocity.

Source: Punto Medio, Mérida en Historía

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