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The Sunken Ruins of a 450-Year-Old Church Rise From a Mexican Reservoir

After a historic drought, a 16th-century church has reemerged

smithsonian.com

Like something out of folklore, a 450-year-old church has emerged from the depths of a Mexican reservoir. After a record-setting drought in the state of Chiapas, Alberto Arce reports for AP, receding waters have revealed the ruins of a 16th-century church.

The church, known as the Temple of Quechula, was built in 1564 by a group of Dominican monks. The missionaries hoped the church would become the center of a thriving town — it was located near a conquistador highway — but ultimately, they abandoned the area after a series of plagues between 1773 and 1776. "It was a church built thinking that this could be a great population center, but it never achieved that," Navarrete tells Arce. "It probably never even had a dedicated priest."

The Quechula ruins were drowned in 1966, when a nearby dam on the Grijalva river was completed, creating the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir. Thanks to a recent drought, the surface of the reservoir has dropped roughly 82 feet, revealing the church's upper walls. This is the second time the church has appeared since the dam was completed; in 2002, water levels fell so low visitors could actually walk into the church, Jess Staufenberg reports for The Independent.

"The people celebrated. They came to eat, to hang out, to do business. I sold them fried fish. They did processions around the church," fisherman Leonel Mendoza tells Arce. Now, he and other fishermen are ferrying passengers out to explore the visible remains.

The Temple of Quechula is also notable for its links to Bartolome de Las Casas, the leader of the monks who built it. As the first Bishop of Chiapas, de Las Casas supported the enslavement of indigenous people, but eventually recanted and became an advocate for abolition, Staufenberg writes. Las Casas was instrumental in convincing King Charles V to pass the "New Laws" of 1542, which briefly abolished slavery in the New World.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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