Friday, September 17, 2021

Jamay Part 1 of 5: Pretty town on Lake Chapala's northeastern shore

A 19th century monument to Pope Pius IX dominates Jamay's plaza. Although there is much to see in Jamay, this is the attraction for which it is best known. The small, prosperous town has a history that dates back to pre-hispanic times. This posting is the start of a multi-part series. 

In Part 1, I will cover some of the most interesting aspects of the area surrounding the Plaza Principal. Part 2 will focus on the fascinating ruins of a 17th century church destroyed in an earthquake in the mid-19th century. In later posts, I will take you on visits to several of Jamay's nearby haciendas.


Map of Jamay and the surrounding area. The town is situated between Ocotlán and La Barca, two larger towns at the eastern end of Lake Chapala. To reach Jamay, take the Chapala-Guadalajara Carretera (Highway 23) north a few miles past Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos. 

Exit onto Highway 35 at the sign for Ocotlán / La Barca. Stay on Highway 35 and about 12.5km (8mi) past Ocotlán you will reach the exit sign for Jamay. This puts you on Calle Zaragoza, a one-way street which will take you directly to the Plaza Principal. To see all this on a Google map, click here.

View of Jamay and the eastern tip of Lake Chapala. The view is toward the south from a mirador (lookout point) on top of a high hill northwest of the town. The street cutting diagonally across the lower part of the photo is Highway 35. The line across the middle is an irrigation canal. As you can see, the area around the eastern end of the lake is quite flat and intensively farmed. At the time this shot was taken, the area had been partially flooded by heavy summer rains.

In fact all the area you see beyond the town used to be covered with marshland. It formed a huge wildlife habitat and was important hydrologically because it absorbed and stored excess water. In the late 19th century, demand for additional farmland by hacienda owners resulted in several unsuccessful attempts to drain the marshes. Finally, one of these efforts succeeded. Although the wealthy builder profited, the ecological balance of the lake was disrupted.

The Centro area includes the Pope's monument and the church. To the right of the monument is the dome of the plaza's kiosco. In the upper right quadrant, among the palms, you can see the steeple and ruins of the 17th century Templo Maria Magdalena

A newer church, known as Parroquia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Parish of Our Lady of the Rosary), is just above and to the left of the monument. It was built in the mid-19th century, using rubble from the demolished Templo

La Plaza Principal

The Plaza Principal is broad and open. The centerpiece is the monument to Pius IX, with the Parroquia steeple showing off to the left and the kiosco in the distance to the right. Iron benches provide plentiful seating, with some of them shaded by the ficus trees. To the left of the monument, in the distance, you can see the grove of palm trees that surrounds the Templo's ruins. 

The origin and meaning of the name Jamay are subjects of considerable debate. Some say it comes from the Nahuatl language and means "Place where the adobes are made". Another holds that the Nahuatl translation is "Place of the Amulteca King Zama". My favorite version is the story about the tragic fate of a beautiful native princess named Xamayaín.

The Plaza's kiosco is attractive, but somewhat drably painted. Kioscos usually stand in the center of a Mexican plaza, but this one is placed near one of the corners. The real centerpiece is the Pope's monument. The small boy on the bicycle careened around in front of the kiosco, obviously hoping that I would snap his photo. In the right background you can see one of the arcades that is also typical of a Mexican plaza.

According to a legend originating in pre-hispanic times, Princess Xamayaín was the daughter of a powerful native lord. She attracted many handsome suitors but ignored them all. One day Xamayaín went to to bathe at the water's edge, but was sucked down by a whirlpool. Her father's frantic search for her was in vain. In memory of her beauty, he named the place after her. According to this story,  Xamayaín was later mis-translated by the Spanish as Jamay

In 1585, a Spanish official named Don Antonio Medina, questioned the indigenous residents of Jamay as to their origins. According to them, Purépecha warriors from the Tarascan Empire began raiding the area prior to the Spanish arrival in 1529. The native ruler of Cuitzeo (near modern Ocotlán) assigned several families to go live at what became Jamay, with instructions to act as an outpost against the raiders.

Statue of Cuauhtémoc, the last Emperor of the Aztecs. The bust is the work of Rafael Sahagún Ortega. He completed it in 1954, along with several other statues, also by him, that are displayed in the Plaza. He was born in Mexico City in 1962 and his work has been displayed in exhibitions throughout Mexico, as well as internationally.

Cuauhtémoc ("One who descended like an eagle") is considered by many Mexicans to be a hero of the resistance to the Spanish Conquest. In 1520 Emperor Moctezuma II was killed, either stoned to death by his own people or murdered by the Spanish. It depends upon whom you choose to believe. Moctezuma's successor, Cuitlahuac, died soon after during a smallpox epidemic that arrived with the Spanish. 

Cuauhtémoc then took up arms against Hernán Cortéz and his conquistadors. A bitter struggle ensued, ending only after the destruction of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán, (now Mexico City). Cuauhtémoc attempted to escape but was captured and imprisoned. He was executed in 1525 on trumped-up charges when Cortéz feared that the Aztecs might revolt during his expedition to Central America. 

Plaza arcades, with their arched portales. The tall building on the left is the State Government Office, known as the Palacio Gobierno. Among the commercial establishments along the arcade is the Farmacia Guadalajara, a branch store of a large chain of pharmacies with branches throughout the state.

In 1529, the brutal conquistador Nuño de Guzman passed through the area of Jamay, subduing the natives and looting anything of value. He was soon followed by Franciscan friars, intent on evangelizing people they considered to be heathen savages. This effort was part of what became known as the "Spiritual Conquest"

Guides from the Oficina de Turisimo met us in the Plaza. On the far left and right are Rosy and Tony, our two guides. Next to Rosy are Alfredo and Jim B., two members of our party. I did not get the name of the young man in the purple shirt, but I believe he was also part of the tourist staff. 

I have always found it useful to make contact with the local Oficina de Turismo (tourist office) in any area I visit. Most municipios have one and the services, maps, and brochures offered are usually free. Guides, like the two identified above, are usually young, bright, energetic, and fun. They aren't paid much, so I always give a nice tip, assuming they do a good job.

In the 17th century, the colonial government reported that Jamay's inhabitants were mostly employed in fishing. In fact, fishing is still a major occupation in many of the pueblos along the lakeshore. However, in those days, fish were much more abundant. Rio Lerma feeds Lake Chapala and pollution from upstream agricultural and industrial runoff has reduced the catch and raised questions about toxins in fish.

A stone sundial is still accurate. According to the reading on its face, the time was approximately 11:30 AM. I checked my watch after I took the photo and and the sundial was correct. The clocktowers on many of Mexico's churches and public buildings are notoriously inaccurate--if they even function at all. This device was made in the 18th century by indigenous craftsmen and still works just fine. Sometimes, simplicity is the best strategy.

In the early 17th century, Augustinian friars assumed responsibility for Jamay. In 1673, they replaced the Franciscans' humble adobe church with a larger one they called Templo Maria Magdalena. It was built with local stone, using mortar mixted with nopal. A century later, in 1766, the Augustinians handed Jamay back to the Franciscans, who marked the occasion by adding a steeple to the Templo that same year. The Augustinians also turned over the indigenous-crafted sundial.

The decades leading up to the 1810 Independence War were marked by increasing hardship and instability. Between 1785-95, a bandit named Martín Toscano led a gang in the Jamay area. Its makeup included escaped black slaves, mestizos, native men, and military deserters. Well-organized along military lines, the gang robbed wealthy local Spaniards and their haciendas. Legends of gold buried by the robbers in caves near Jamay still attract treasure hunters. 

Monument to Pope Pius IX  

The monument has six levels, with a statue of Pius IX on top. The structure, also called the Pionono, is approximately 25m (82ft) tall. It was designed in the Arte Nouveau style by architects in Rome, where the original plans are still kept. The monument's color scheme is white for purity and blue for the heavens. It is one of only two of its kind (the other is in Italy). The Jamay version has three times the ornamentation of its Italian counterpart.
Jamay was caught up in the 1810-21 Independence War when insurgents fortified Isla de Mezcala, an island off the north shore of Lake Chapala. They held off the Spanish during an amazing four-year siege lasting from 1812 to 1816. Spanish documents note the seizure of canoes from Jamay for use in their numerous, but unsuccessful, amphibious assaults on the island. It is probable that people from Jamay were part of the thousand insurgents on the island stronghold. 

The century following the Independence War was tumultuous. Among these numerous conflicts was the Reform War (1857-60), between the Liberals under Benito Juarez and the Conservatives, who were allied with the Catholic Church. The Conservatives revolted against Liberal reforms, which included ending the Church's monopoly over education and seizing some of its vast landholdings. The Pionono was erected as a protest against these reforms.

On level 3, pilasters frame statues representing Liberty. This references the period when Pius IX voluntarily imprisoned himself in the Vatican to protest the seizure of the Papal States by the newly-formed national government of Italy. The monument was constructed between 1875-78 by Jamay's priest, José María Zarate. He solicited funding from conservative groups opposed to the Juarez reforms, which were being implemented at the time. 

Why a monument to Pope Pius IX? He was a staunch conservative who opposed the Juarez reforms. After they lost the Reform War in 1860, Conservative and Catholic leaders strongly encouraged the French to invade, install a monarch, and repeal the reforms. With the support of Pius IX, the invasion was launched in 1862. The French were initially successful and installed Archduke Maximillian of Austria as Emperor.

However, the French were unable to completely defeat Juarez, because patriotic Mexicans rallied to him. In 1867, the French gave up and pulled out. Maximillian and many top Conservative leaders were soon captured and executed, leaving Juarez with a free hand. Some of Mexico's Catholics sought ways to protest the dismantling of the Church's grip on Mexican society. It was in this context that José María Zarate, decided to erect the Pionono.

Above the statues are plaques heralding events in the Pope's life. The one above notes that Pius (then Giovanni Maria Mastai) was elevated to Cardinal in 1840 by Pope Gregory XVI. Over each plaque is an eagle and the coats-of-arms of the Papal Guard. Flags flank the shields and below them are cherubs, each clutching an ear of corn. The eagle represents the union of cultures and the corn is a symbol of Mexico's staple food. These are just a few of the Pionono's multitude of decorations.

An additional purpose for the monument was to thank Pius for canonizing San Felipe de JesusMexico's first native-born saint. Philip was born in Mexico City in 1572. He became a Franciscan friar in 1590, while living in Manila. On a return voyage to Mexico, he shipwrecked in Japan. The Japanese governor accused Philip and other Franciscans of conspiring against the Emperor and martyred them by crucifixion in 1597. San Felipe de Jesus is the Patron of Mexico City.

Statue of Pius IX atop the Pionomo. His right hand holds a quill pen and in his left is a parchment. These symbolize messages of peace he wrote near the time of his death in 1878. The thirty-two years Pius IX served as Pope were the longest verified reign of any pope in history. The Pionono was not finished until 1879, so he never got to appreciate the monument Zarate erected to celebrate his life. 

Pope Pius IX was a complicated man who lived in complicated times. Considered a moderate liberal as Cardinal, he ended his life as a reactionary conservative. Assaults on Church power, wealth, and privilege in the mid-19th century--not only in Mexico but also in Italy--appear to have been the cause of this shift. In 1848, two years after he became Pope, Europe was wracked with revolts. One of them forced him to flee Rome temporarily. He soon soured on liberal ideas.

The main blow came in 1861, when long-fragmented Italy was finally unified by Victor Emmanuel II, who became its King. The unification campaign included the conquest of the Papal States, which popes had ruled since 756 AD. In the end, the Pope was left with only the Vatican itself. He didn't forgive the King until Victor Emmanuel was on his deathbed. Pius IX is famous for officially recognizing the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. 

El Mirador

Cerro de la Santa Cruz overlooks Jamay and the Lake. Also called El Mirador (the view point), it provides spectacular vistas to the west, south, and east. The view here is to the southwest, toward the state of Michoacan. Much of the green farmland you see here would have been covered by a large marsh, called Cienega de Chapala, until the early 20th century. The marsh was drained after a 24.14km (15mi) dike was built across the eastern tip of the Lake. 

In 1905, Manuel Cuesta Gallardo was the wealthy and influential owner of Hacienda La Guaracha (SE of La Barca). He persuaded
Mexican President Porfirio Diaz to allow the drainage of 50,000 acres by building the long dike. Cuesta Gallardo and his hacienda prospered mightily as a result. To thank Diaz, Cuesta Gallardo built Hacienda La Maltaraña (also known as La Bella Cristina) and gave it to Diaz in 1907. The hacienda is located in the Municipio de Jamay on its boundary with Michoacan.

Diaz regularly visited his luxurious property up until the Revolution forced him to flee the country in 1911. Because of its association with him, La Maltaraña was thoroughly ransacked by rebel forces. The formerly opulent structure still exists, but is now dilapidated. I will show it in a later posting. As usual, there are stories about buried treasure but, in addition, there is a tale (possibly apocryphal) about the use of the casa grande's cellar as a torture chamber for dissidents. 

Jacaranda mimosifolia grows on the slopes of Cerro de la Cruz. It is a sub-tropical tree which originated in central South America. It is popular as a decorative tree because of its flamboyant purple flowers. Jacaranda can grow to 20m (66ft) and has smooth bark which becomes scaly with age. The flowers appear in Spring and early summer.

One of Jamay's most illustrious native sons was José Guadalupe Zuno Hernández. He was born in 1891 at the Hacienda San Agustin, another hacienda near Jamay that I will show later. His father was a rural teacher and his whole family were Juarez liberals who opposed the Porfirio Diaz dictatorship. As a young man,  Zuno's anti-Diaz activities in high school led to his expulsion. However, his artistic skills soon landed a job as a political cartoonist. 

His first cartoonist jobs were in Guadalajara, but soon he moved to Mexico City. There, he began a lifelong association with writers, intellectuals, and artists like José Clemente Orozco. Later, Zuno moved back to Guadalajara and involved himself in revolutionary politics. He built a coalition that linked his cultural allies with workers and campesinos (farmhands) With this support, won election first as Mayor of Guadalajara in 1922 and then Governor of Jalisco in 1923. 

Capilla de la Santa Cruz. The small, simple chapel sits on the crest of the hill. Framing the stairs on either side are two large angels, gesticulating dramatically. They seemed to be rather over-sized for such a small church and I found the effect to be a bit kitschy. However, I suppose there is no accounting for taste and the view makes up for a lot.

Zuno used his power as Mayor to establish Guadalajara's first fire department and first zoo. As Governor of Jalisco, he promulgated the the first State Labor Law to protect all workers, including women, thus becoming Jalisco's first feminist. Zuno opened the University of Guadalajara to all, regardless of class, race, or religion. In 1925, he founded the nation's first Polytechnic Institute. 

Rosy at the rail. She and Tony took great care of us. This included introducing us to a nice restaurant on the road leading into Jamay called Las Águilas (The Eagles). After eating an excellent seafood meal and a serenade by some street musicians, our guides took us for a "special treat", which turned out to be El Mirador. It was a great way to top off the day!

Many of the reforms Zuno pushed resulted in powerful enemies. His opposition to Church power and privileges, which came from his Juarista upbringing, angered the Church hierarchy and its conservative supporters. On the other side, President Plutarco Calles and his corrupt regime tried to control Zuno, but he strongly resisted. In the end, he was threatened with impeachment on the basis of trumped up charges and forced to resign as Governor in 1926.

Unfazed, Zuno got his law degree in 1931 and later served in the administrations of President Lázaro Cárdenas and later presidents. He taught in several universities and continued to support the arts as well. Late in life, Zuno helped establish Guadalajara's huge Primavera Forest and founded the Committee for the Defense of Lake Chapala. In 1974, he was kidnapped by extreme leftists, but was released unharmed after an outpouring of public support. Zuno died quietly in 1980, revered by all.

This concludes Part 1 of my Jamay series. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments, please include your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim 


1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much Jim!! I have blown by here on birding trips quite a few, thanks to you, I'll stop and look around!!!!


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