Thursday, June 25, 2020

Mascota Part 6 of 6: The serene but mysterious ruins of Templo Preciosa Sangre de Cristo

Slanting morning sunshine leaves parts of the ruins in deep shadow. Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo (Temple of the Precious Blood of Christ), stands in a small park in the middle of Mascota. Anyone who has followed my blog knows that I am deeply attracted to ruins of one sort or another. I find them fascinating both for their history and for the photographic opportunities they provide. Although this picturesque site is mentioned in almost every description of Mascota, very little of its history is mentioned. In this posting, I will provide you with what I have been able to glean, along with a general history of Mascota itself.

The Templo, viewed from its south side. Allison, one of our group on this trip, stands in deep shadow on a path leading into the south entrance of the ruins. The Templo is far better known by its informal name, Templo Inconcluso (the Unfinished Church). It is called that because construction was abandoned in the early 20th century while the structure was only partially completed.

The Mascota Valley had been inhabited for thousands of years when the Spanish arrived in 1525. In Parts 2 and 3 of this series, I provided some information about the Capacha culture, which existed here 3000 years ago. By the early 16th century, the Capacha had long since been supplanted by people who had arrived in a long series of migrations from other areas. 

The indigenous people whom the Spanish encountered called themselves the Teco. They were ruled by a man named Amaxacotlán Mazacotla. This roughly translates as "Chieftain of the Place of the Deer and Snakes". The native ruler controlled a number of towns in the region, including Talpa, El Tuito, and Chacala, all three of which still exist. However, his realm did not include the town of Mascota, which had not yet been founded.

North entrance of the Templo. A pair of Doric columns frame the entrance. In the background you can see Julika, another member of our group. The Unfinished Church has been turned into a beautiful park and garden that is used for weddings, concerts, and other public and private events.

In Spanish, Mascota means "pet", but the town's name actually comes from Mazacotla, the second half of the Teco chieftain's name. The word is from the Nahuatl language of the Tecos, which was also spoken by the Aztecs. More than 2 million people still use it, including a handful in Mascota. Nahuatl is just one of more than 60 surviving indigenous languages in Mexico. 

Main entrance looking out. Jim B strolls in through the main entrance The area he is walking into is the nave, or main room of the church. On either side of him are the north and south wings of the church. The likely intended use of these wings would have been for offices, and a sacristy.

The Spanish arrival came only a few years after the fall of the Aztec Empire in 1521. Following this victory, Hernán Cortés sent several expeditions throughout Mexico to continue the Conquest. Francisco Buenaventura Cortés, his nephew, was the leader of one of these parties. After departing Colima in 1525 with a force of Spaniards and native auxiliaries, he arrived in the Mascota Valley and claimed it for Spain. 

In 1530, Francisco gave control of the valley to Pedro Gómez and Martin Monje, two of his conquistadors. Their tenure was brief , however. In 1535, an even more ruthless conquistador named Nuño de Guzman arrived and took over. His savage practices soon provoked an indigenous revolt.

Door to the south wing. The door in the center may have provided access to a sacristy, which is a dressing room where the priest's vestments and other sacred objects are stored when not in use. Across the nave from this door, on the north wing, are an identical door and window.

Nuño de Guzman's standard mode of operation was to force native people to reveal the location of any valuables through torture and murder. Any survivors were enslaved and sold at a profit. Not surprisingly, the Tecos rose in revolt, Guzman ordered Alvaro de Bracamontes, the Mayor of Compostela, to suppress them. Lacking guns, horses, or steel weapons, the Tecos were swiftly crushed. 

In 1536, Nuño de Guzman made Cristóbal de Oñate the first encomendero of the Mascota Valley. This entitled Oñate to demand tribute and forced labor from the Tecos. In exchange, he was only required to instruct them in Christianity, a pretty good deal if you are on the right end of it. Cristóbal de Oñate later went on to found the city of Guadalajara in 1542. 

The sanctuary is the focus of the nave. It lies at the far end of the nave from the main entrance. A sanctuary like this will ordinarily contain two altars. In front will be a small altar that is little more than a rectangular table. Standing behind it, against the wall under the window, the high altar will contain statues and paintings of religious scenes. On one side of the sanctuary, toward the front, a pulpit will provide a place from which the priest can address the congregation. 

The original site of Mascota was at Hacienda Atajo, about 20 km (12.4 mi) northwest of the current town, along the road to the Pacific Coast. The Tecos likely ended up on the hacienda through a process called "congregation". The encomendero, assisted by his armed retainers and the local Catholic priest, would simply round them up. Once under firm Spanish control, they could be forced to provide free labor in the hacienda's fields and workshops. Another benefit of congregation was that the native people could more easily be required to abandon the practice of their traditional religion and convert to Christianity. This part has been described as "the Spiritual Conquest".

By the second half of the 17th century, much of the Mascota Valley had been acquired by the Augustinian Order to economically support their college. In colonial times, it was not unusual for the evangelical orders to own land or even entire haciendas. Often these properties were willed to them by pious hacendados (hacienda owners). In other cases, the properties were acquired when religious Orders made loans on which the hacendados defaulted. While the practices used on haciendas owned by religious Orders were generally more efficient than those of the secular haciendas, they were no less exploitive. Whippings and the use of slaves were common. Vestiges of the home of the Augustinian steward can still be seen in Mal Paso, a few miles outside of Mascota.

A possible side chapel extends to the left from the sanctuary. Tom, another member of our group, walks under a large arch intended to support the ceiling. The function if this area is not clear. It might have been intended as a side chapel devoted to a particular saint. On the other hand, such spaces are sometimes used as seating areas, auxiliary to the nave.

In the middle of the 18th century, the indigenous population at Hacienda Atajo was displaced from there. They resettled on the property still owned at that time by the Augustinians. I have been unable to determine the reason for their displacement, but it may have been that the owner of Hacienda Atajo simply want to use the land on which the people lived. The ease with which they resettled on Augustinian lands suggests that they were welcomed as a source of labor. In any case, the people were allowed to build their homes somewhat haphazardly along the Rio Mascota. This is the reason that the modern town is not laid out in the strict grid pattern typical of colonial pueblos.

Another possible side chapel. Notice the niche in the wall under the arch on the right. This was intended to contain the statue of a saint. Ceilings of churches are nearly always very high, with the aim of inspiring feelings of awe. The Unfinished Church was designed in the Neo-Classical style, as can be seen by the use of pilasters with doric capitals.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Mascota became involved in Mexico's independence struggle. When the War of Independence from Spain broke out in 1810, Francisco Severo Maldonado was the curate (head priest) of the Parroquia. He was a creole (Spaniard born in New Spain) and was heavily influenced by a group of creole plotters in Vallodolid (today's Morelia, in Michoacan) who were pushing for a separation from Spain. 

When Father Miguel Hidalgo launched his campaign for independence, Mascota's curate threw his support behind the rebel priest. In the early stages, Maldonado edited a newspaper called El Despertador Americano (The American Alarm Clock). When Hidalgo was defeated in 1811, Maldonado was arrested, tried and forced to retract his positions. He was even required to collaborate with a royalist newspaper for a time. After independence was achieved in 1821, Maldonado held several important posts in the new Mexican government.

In 1815, in the midst of the war, residents of Mascota were summoned by three rings of the Parroquia's bells. Once they assembled, it was announced that the Augustinian lands were to be sold to Francisco Guzmán, the wealthy owner of the San Juan Nepomuceno mine in the mountains near the town. However, Guzmán did set aside 5 hectares (12 acres) of land for the town, while keeping the rest for his own purposes. Those 5 hectares became the core of today's town of Mascota.

The entrance to the steeple is closed off by a barred gate. Behind the gate is a spiraling stone staircase. I have climbed up many such staircases when visiting old Mexican churches. They are typically contained in cylindrical structures like the one above. The small, square opening in the wall above the door provided light for those climbing the stairs.

In the middle of the 19th century, Mascota was again caught up in Mexico's internal politics. Following independence, there was a long struggle between the Conservative and  Liberal parties that culminated in the Reform War of 1857-1860. The Conservatives were defeated but, in 1862, they invited France to invade and install the Austrian Duke Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico. The war dragged on until 1867, when French were finally forced to withdraw. The defeat of Maximilian and the Conservatives followed shortly thereafter. 

Remigio Tovar was a native of Mascota who had thrown his support to the Conservatives in 1856. When the Reform War broke out, he participated in the defense of Guadalajara, but fled when the city surrendered to the Liberals. Tovar returned to his home town of Mascota and organized guerrilla operations from there. Following the French invasion, he was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of the Conservative forces around the town. However, in 1862 Liberal General Antonio Rojas defeated Tovar, burned Mascota, and forced the Conservative general to flee Jalisco to a neighboring state. 

In spite of this early victory, the weight of French power overwhelmed the Liberals in the early stages of the war. In 1865, General Tovar re-emerged as a close political adviser to Emperor Maximilian, who made him a member of the Imperial Order of Guadalupe. After Maximilian was finally defeated and executed in 1867, Tovar was allowed to quietly retire. This was in spite of his traitorous acts in support of a foreign invader. He died in 1896, during the 35-year rule of Porfirio Diaz. This period is called the Porfiriato

Empty windows framed by stone and brick separate two parts of the garden. The stone wall on the right is part of the Seminario Menor which is attached to the ruins of the Templo. A Minor Seminary is a kind of prep school for boys who want to become priests. Assuming they complete their studies, they can then graduate to a Seminary. There, after further study, they will be ordained as priests.

Mascota prospered during the Porfiriato, or at least its wealthiest residents did. Lush farmland on nearby haciendas produced abundant crops and the town became famous for its beautiful horses. In the mountains surrounding the Mascota Valley, silver mines enriched the mine owners, who were often also hacendados, or at least members of their families. In 1885, Mascota won a national title as "City of the Year." 

It was in this context that the Templo del Preciosa Sangre de Cristo was planned. The official history states that the church was begun for residents "who had been pushed out of the central church by the newly arriving Spaniards." Apparently affluent residents of Spanish descent who had recently settled in the town felt they couldn't abide the presence of indigenous people and mestizos (mixed blood) in the Parroquia. The poorer people had to have some place to worship, so construction began on a new church, several blocks to the west of the Parroquia. This may have been a late 19th century version of what is known today as gentrification.

Altar of the chapel within the Seminario Minor. Here you can see the sort of front altar, high altar, and religious artifacts that the sanctuary of the Unfinished Church would have contained, had it been completed.

The cornerstone of the Templo was laid in 1897. Construction continued up to the beginning of the Revolution in 1910. Porfirio Diaz fled to Europe in 1911 as revolutionary armies closed in on Mexico City. Thus ended the Porfiriato. Ever since the Conquest, the Church had played a key role in the oppression of poor and indigenous people. Because of this history, the Revolution unleashed a fierce anti-clerical movement. Mexico's Constitution of 1917 severely restricted the power of the Church, at least on paper. Construction on the Templo came to a stop and the prospects for its completion were dubious.

Then, in 1926 the Cristero War erupted in Mexico and the state of Jalisco was the epicenter. The war pitted the new revolutionary government against Catholic reactionaries who objected to the curtailment of the power and privileges that the Church enjoyed. In addition, many of the Cristero movement's key supporters were hacendados who fiercely opposed the land re-distribution provisions of the 1917 Constitution. Ultimately, the Cristeros lost their war, dooming the Templo del Preciosa Sangre de Cristo. And that is how Mascota got its famous Templo Inconcluso. 

This completes Part 6 of my Mascota series. I hope you have enjoyed it. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below. If you leave a question, PLEASE include your email address so that I can respond promptly.

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. I really like your succinct history here, Jim. informative and easy to follow. Really well-composed pics, as well. What a great trip this was!

  2. Loved reading about Mascota. We stayed there for 3 weeks, a year ago, and loved staying there. Would go back in a heartbeat! Connie and Chris Smith ( Chris hiked with you in Ajijic several years ago)


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim