This 16th century Cathedral located in Merida’s Historical District holds cultural and historical secrets within its walls. Catedral San Ildefonso is not only the oldest cathedral in the Americas, it is supported by some of the oldest reclaimed building materials from Mayan cities. San Ildefonso has been through centuries of historical events in the Yucatan and was intimately effected by this history.
Cathedral San Ildefonso was built between 1561 and 1598 by architect Juan Miguel de Aguero. The foundation as well as portions of the exterior were built using reclaimed cut stones from Mayan temples found in the city of Th’o, the original name of this Mayan city. The stones were intentionally reversed during construction to hide any Mayan symbols that appeared on the original building blocks.
The original cathedral was composed of three architectural styles; a Renaissance exterior, Baroque alter (which has unfortunately since been destroyed) and Moorish stone work ceilings. This combination reflects the trending architectural designs that evolved during the 37 years it took to build the cathedral. Juan Miguel de Aguero is known for his Moorish stone work which is reflected in his Mexico City (Metropolitan Cathedral) and Havanah, Cuba projects (Morro Castle). Unlike other Spanish constructed churches, the interior of San Ildefonso has some surprising architectural highlights alongside religious symbols that make this church worth a walk inside.
You can’t miss the 7 meter stone carving of Jesus on the cross that occupies the alter area. The original Baroque alter was burned alongside other wooden architectural features in 1915 during the Revolution and Caste War. Look up as you wonder in. This is a famous feature of the Cathedral, the Moorish vaulted ceilings and the center stained glass window. This is a signature ceiling of architect Juan Miguel Aguero, and very different from the plaster ceiling found in other Spanish churches in the region. The grand cement pillars continue to be an awe inspiring design of the interior.
The Cristo de los Ampollos is a religious artifact of the Cathedral that holds historical and societal significance. Located in the north chapel, the original Christ of the Blisters was carved in the 16th century. The story states that the wood used for the original statue came from a tree that was hit by lightning but not damaged. The statue was then salvaged from a fire in the mid 17th century in Ichmul where again, it received no damage. The original statue was eventually burned, with the alter, in 1915 during the Revolution but replaced by the replica you see today.
In September and October, Merida celebrates the Festival of Cristo de los Ampollas, a six week pilgramage that honors the Christ of Blisters. This is a long standing tradition that dates back to 1645 when the Cristo de los Ampollas was saved from the fire in Ichmul.
Merida historical buildings are inspriing as they successfully combine different architectural styles and features. Cathedral San Ildefonso is just one of many buildings this city holds within its historical center, combining reclaimed building materials with trending styles that stand the test of time. The Cathedral holds many historical secrets within its walls and a tour thorough the building reveals these to each visitor.
Eastside of the Grand Plaza in the Historical District
Calle 60 between 61 and 63
Hours – 6 a.m. to 1p.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
By no means is this the only church in Merida but it is the only Cathedral. Merida is made up of a series of neighborhoods, each with its own town square and community church. Walk around this beautiful city, neighborhood by neighborhood, church by church to start experiencing its deep rooted history.
Check out these boutique hotels of Merida and think about a long weekend in this beautiful city.