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1600s relic barely noticed in alleyway between church, market

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Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012. Sign up for our weekly newsletters, so our top headlines will appear in your inbox each Monday and Thursday.

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Mérida, Yucatán — A priceless artifact, barely in public view, sits almost lost between overhangs and cables, embedded in the north wall of Santiago church.

The relic, a shield with the Cross of the Order of Knights of Santiago, is one of the oldest to represent the Spanish Conquest.

The shield adjoins the meat market area, separated from the church by a corridor that leads to Calle 70.

“It is a coat of arms of the Order of the Knights of Santiago, perhaps the only one that exists in the city of Mérida,” scholar Felipe de Jesús Alcocer Godoy told Diario de Yucatán.

Alcocer Godoy, who is also a veterinarian, explained the coats of arms’s symbolism.

While the church is embellished with other shields with the same insignia, they are more recent.

“The one that is ‘hidden’ is the original,” he explained.

The interviewee only noticed the relic because he lives 50 meters from Santiago park. His family, he said, has lived in the neighborhood for more than 100 years.

“The Godoy family is a very old family from Santiago, along with others who are no longer there, such as the Duffs, the Rendón family, the García family, and there were many of Canarian origin,” he said, referring to the Canary Islands.

The Order of Santiago was a Christian military-religious order of knights founded about 1160 in Spain to battle Spanish Muslims and protect pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela.

A year after the church at Santiago park was inaugurated in 1637, Captain Diego Zapata de Cárdena, Knight of the order of Santiago, arrived. Other orders were those of Diego Cayetano de Cárdenas, knight of the order of Alcántara, and that of Alonso Alonso Manuel de Peón and Valdez, knight of the order of Calatrava, he added.

The entire neighborhood is named for the church, one of the most prominent religious structures in Mérida because of its belfry and six spans of trefoil arches. Its construction in the 17th century spurred the urbanization of what had been a Mayan village, thus forming the neighborhood of Santiago.

The square is steeped in history. In the space surrounding the church, military exercises were historically carried out, and beginning in 1892, baseball games.

The first telegraph pole connecting lines to the port of Sisal was placed at the square, and although there were market type activities in the vicinity of the church all the way back from the time of colonization, the city’s first market was officially built in 1918.

This also paved the way for one of the first movie theaters in Mérida, the Apollo, where today a large movie theater now stands.

The market anchors Santiago Park, four blocks from the Plaza Grande, at Calle 59 between 70 and 72. Vendors sell meats, flowers, fruits. vegetables and tortillas while along the perimeter small restaurants serve traditional foods during the day.

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