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All about Catedral de Mérida in Mexico

Updated: April 6, 2024

Main Category: Parks & Churches

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Author: Tobias

Mérida's Catedral de San Ildefonso at Plaza Grande is the largest and oldest church in the entire Yucatán Peninsula. Catedral de Mérida in Mexico is about 1.7km away from Casa Loltún. It is located in the city center of Mérida. You walk a bit longer, but you can easily get there on foot.

Parks & Churches

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Disclosure: This article contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, we get a small provision at no additional cost to you (#Disclosure Policy)

Address:

Catedral de San Ildefonso, Calle 60, Centro, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexiko

Website:

Category:

Parks and Churches

Phone:

+52 999 928 6131

Distance:

1.7km from Casa Loltún

Travel Time:

Within the city

Admission:

No entry fee

Price Level:

-

Since:

1599

Google Rating:

average rating is 4.7 out of 5, based on 11638 votes, Ratings

Opening Hours:

• Monday: 4:00 – 6:30 PM
• Tuesday: 4:00 – 6:30 PM
• Wednesday: 4:00 – 6:30 PM
• Thursday: 4:00 – 6:30 PM
• Friday: 4:00 – 6:30 PM
• Saturday: 4:00 – 6:30 PM
• Sunday: 4:00 – 6:30 PM

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Catedral de Mérida

Mérida's twin-towered Catedral de San Ildefonso was the first cathedral to be built on the American mainland (only the cathedral in Santo Domingo is older in the whole of America) and is the largest (and of course oldest) cathedral in the entire Yucatán Peninsula.


The cathedral of Mérida is located directly at the Plaza Grande and dedicated to San Ildefonso and it is also the seat of the Archbishopric of Yucatán. Ildefons of Toledo was Archbishop of Toledo from 657 to 667 and is venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church. He is the patron saint of Mérida.


After Mérida was built on the ancient Mayan city of T'Hó, the cathedral was built between 1562 and 1599, a few decades after the Spanish conquest of Mexico, on the site of the Mayan ruins of Tiho and made of their stones. Mayans, some of whom still practiced their own religion, were used as laborers for the construction of the cathedral.


View through the cathedral
View through the cathedral

The cathedral has a central nave and two aisles, three chapels and the sacristy. Originally there were five chapels, but two were demolished. The two towers were built in the Moorish style, and the central dome is decorated with a botarelle arch.


The simple plain facade is in Renaissance style. In the center of the columns there are two images of San Pedro and San Pablo.


Sights in the church


The interior of the church is quite simple. This is also due to the fact that the cathedral was unfortunately looted in 1902 on the orders of General Salvador Alvarado and lost its priceless collection of sacred art.


Worth seeing, however, are the depictions of the 14 Stations of the Cross in the side aisles of the church and the depiction of the baptism of the Maya Kaziken of Maní, which is located inside the cathedral. The altar with the large Jesus cross is also one of the sights in the church.


Another special feature is the so-called Cristo de las Ampollas in a chapel of the cathedral. This wood carving was brought to the cathedral from the village of Ichmul in 1645 AD after the church there fell victim to the flames and the wood carving miraculously remained intact.


Altar and huge wooden cross
Altar and huge wooden cross

Seat of the Archdiocese of Mérida


The cathedral - as the seat of the Archdiocese of Mérida - plays a central role in religious celebrations, such as processions, masses and festivals that take place throughout the year. You can also find more information about the cathedral on the government information platform on the Internet.


Coat of arms


The coat of arms on the facade of the cathedral was the royal coat of arms of Spain.


However, after Mexico's independence it was partially destroyed (the central part of the shield with the castles and lions was removed). In 1824, a Mexican eagle with an imperial crown was inserted instead.


In the course of another wave of anti-Spanish sentiment, the coat of arms was finally completely covered with cement. But today the coat of arms is uncovered again and shows the Spanish coat of arms with the Mexican eagle.


Ghost monks and nuns


Mérida is a city with many ghost stories, and there are frequently mysterious occurrences around old churches in particular. Some visitors to the cathedral de San Ildefonso have seen ghosts dressed in period clothing, monks walking the aisles of the cathedral or of a mysterious nun who keeps appearing in various places in the church.


There are also reports of unexplained mysterious voices (Latin prayers or dialogues between unseen people) and religious songs heard in the cathedral. Visitors to the cathedral have observed candles in the cathedral suddenly lighting on their own or being extinguished without any apparent physical cause.


Others report being inexplicably touched or feeling a sudden drop in temperature and a cold draught (even though the doors and windows were closed). Some visitors have the feeling that they are constantly being watched in the cathedral.


And there are reports of objects such as rosaries or bouquets of flowers on the altar suddenly disappearing and reappearing elsewhere in the cathedral. Perhaps you will also hear the spirits of monks from past centuries praying during your visit?


Church bell at a side entrance
Church bell at a side entrance

The ghost of a Christian martyr


The following story is about the oldest known ghost of a European in Mérida, a soldier. Hundreds of Spanish adventurers came from Spain during and after the conquest of the Yucatán Peninsula. They often came from poor, rural families and imagined getting rich here the easy way.


One of the soldiers was under the command of Alonso Lopez, who was himself commanded by Francisco de Montejo "el Mozo" (the Younger). Montejo was to conquer the Mayan territories south of Mérida. But Alonso López and his men were then ambushed by the Maya near present-day Tekax and some of the men were taken prisoner. Among them was the soldier.


Every year in August near the cathedral on the Plaza Grande, there are reports of the appearance of a ghost - it is the soldier. He wanders along the entrance to the cathedral. Occasionally he also crosses the street to the Plaza Grande and back again.


In centuries past, he is said to have told his story to passers-by. He tells of his capture by the Maya, how he was held captive for weeks until the day came when he knew he would be killed. He tells how a Mayan priest came with a retinue and Christian books in their hands. He tells how they pointed to a picture in the book and then to him.


He was tied naked to a wooden cross and skinned alive. He cried out to St. Bartholomew, who was also flayed in the first century. The last thought he had while alive in this world was that he would welcome his death if he ensured that Christianity would triumph over this land.


The spirit of the soldier is easy to recognize: Is that of a man who has no skin left and whose muscles are visible. Some thought he was dressed in rags, but when he approaches, they realize that it is remnants of skin.


The last time the ghost told his story was a long time ago, in 1809, and although he has appeared regularly since then, he no longer communicates with the living, only saying - more to himself - "it was an honor to die in the manner of Saint Bartholomew."


He most often appears in front of the cathedral on August 24. This is the feast day of St. Bartholomew. He can be seen when the bells ring in the afternoon to call the faithful to mass. No one visits Mérida without visiting the cathedral and the Plaza Grande. August is not the peak tourist season, but if you are there during this time, keep your eyes peeled.


Tombstones in the cathedral
Tombstones in the cathedral

A few tips


Visiting times to the cathedral are limited. It is open for visits on Sunday mornings and afternoons and occasionally on Saturdays. The cathedral is still a functioning church offering daily Mass and other Catholic services throughout the week.


As is the case everywhere, if you want to go into the church, please dress modestly and cover your shoulders and knees (even if there is no formal dress code).


On Saturdays, 10:00 am, there is an English speaking tour at the Catedral de San Ildefonso just inside the south door. It takes you up to the organ level and through the bell tower. You will have a great view over Mérida.


For a slightly different view of the cathedral, you can also go to the first floor of the Palacio Municipal de Mérida or Palacio de Gobierno (both also at Plaza Grande) and enjoy a more sublime view from the verranda or balcony there.


View from the Palacio Municipal
View from the Palacio Municipal

Another opportunity for a special view is Restaurante Picheta. It is located directly on the Plaza Grande in a 350-year-old building next to the Palacio de Gobierno (the government building) and has a roof terrace where you can enjoy the sunset over dinner with a glass of wine - with a beautiful view over the Plaza Grande and the cathedral.

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