Today we took a little excursion to the nearby town of San Juan Chamula (or just ‘Chamula’). A lady we met at the airport described the town as very magical and very dark. I would definitely agree. There was a certain mysticism to the very primitive town, though it was certainly helped by the gray clouds in the sky. The main sight is this church in the town square. From the outside it looks like a normal Catholic church in Mexico; green and blue painted decorations against white walls. Big wooden doors, bells, a cross. We paid our 50 pesos each and slid through the cracked door.
I was expecting yet another church with rows of wooden pews, a big golden, elaborate altar, and lots of religious art. The church was completely open, no pews at all. Against each side were individual wooden cases with glass panes that held statue after statue of various saints. In front of each was a wooden table filled with lit candles. The floor was completely covered with a fresh bed of pine needles, only swept away where candles were lit on the ground. Flower printed tapestries hung from the roof down to the sides of the church. You almost had the feeling of being in a barn. Groups of local Mayan women sat with their families, huddled around candles and offerings - usually a whole chicken, bottles of Coca-cola - while the mother chanted a prayer in their Mayan tongue. It created a really eerie air, the complete displacement of a ‘usual’ church setting, this practice of animism within a very Catholic church, the monotone, almost incoherent prayers of the women, and the obscene amount of candles.
I have been to churches, temples, places of worship all around the world, and this was the first that really struck me and put an odd feeling in my bones. It was so intriguing at the same time, you just wanted to stay and simply, watch. The juxtaposition of this very traditional method of worship inside of a church filled with Catholic religious symbols was so different. I’m really glad I got to see it, I was even able to take a sneaky photo…a little blurry but you get the idea.