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Repairs, and respect, for the cathedral

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Merida's main cathedral is going to get some tender loving care. Photo: Getty Images
Merida’s main cathedral is going to get some tender loving care. Photo: Getty Images

Merida, Yucatan − Merida’s hulking, historic Catedral de San Ildefonso, which has presided over the Plaza Grande since the 16th century, is due for a little care. Its columns and roof will be waterproofed and its music equipment, including the pipe organ, will be repaired and its wiring upgraded. Cracks on the main dome will be attended to, as well.

The rector of the cathedral, Father Gaspar Arceo, said the work will be done in conjunction with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) as well as the state.

The cathedral has suffered not only the indignities of time, but also from thoughtlessness. A staff of only 10 struggle to keep up with gum and trash left daily by visitors indifferent to the cathedral’s importance.

The cathedral is significant for being the oldest of its kind on the continent. It is the first cathedral built on mainland North America.

Built from 1561-1598 on the site of a former Maya temple, and utilizing its stone, the cathedral’s severe, fortress-like architecture reflects the austerity of its builder, the Franciscans. Embellishments and decorative flourishes came later, but its baroque altarpieces and priceless artwork was looted at the height of anticlerical fervor during the Mexican Revolution in 1915.

In 1916, two chapels were demolished to separate Cathedral Palacio Episcopal headquarters (now the Museum of Contemporary Art), leaving what is now the Passage of the Revolution.

In the small chapel to the left of the altar, the cathedral contains Mérida’s most famous religious artifact.  A statue called Cristo de las Ampollas (Christ of the Blisters) was moved to the cathedral in 1645 after having been the only thing to survive a church fire in Ichmul. According to folklore, it was carved from a tree that was hit by lightning and burned for an entire night without charring. According to Frommers, the artifact was among the plundered treasures of 1915, and today a replica stands in its place.

Today, some 6,000 people attend Mass on Sundays and 300 on weekdays.

Sources: Sipse, Frommers, Lonely Planet

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