Go to the first article of the series: THE OLD NEIGHBOURHOODS OF MÉRIDA
The Church of San Juan

Saint John the Baptist was the name of the hermitage that preceded the church that we now know as such, and which was built, according to don Juan Francisco Molina Solis, in 1552, to comply with a promise that the city made after a plague of locusts decimated the fields, sowing hunger among the people.  This hermitage was on the “Royal Highway” to Campeche, our port in colonial times.  The church that we know today was finished on the 23rd of June, 1770, and the arch that marks the most significant gate to the city was rebuilt during the government of the dynamic don Lucas de Gálvez y Montes de Oca, precisely in the year 1790.  The text of the plaque of the Arch of San Juan is notable: “Year 1790.  Owing to the personal intervention, zeal, and prudent policy of the Governor Captain General of this Province, the lord don Lucas de Gálvez was able to inspire the generous stimulus of the Pueblo, lovers of the common benefits of liberty, in whose name were provided the funds for the opening and construction.”

As one can appreciate, the influence of the “century of the Enlightenment” appears in the allusion to the liberty that could not exist in a pueblo subject to an empire; also representative is the mention of the joint efforts that it was anticipated he would experience in later years.  A generally accepted legend recounts that in the atrium of the church of San Juan are found the remains of Manuel Alonzo López, assassin of don Lucas de Gálvez, and the intellectual author of the crime, Esteban de Castro.

In the extreme west of the square of San Juan a garden was built, dotted with iron benches and shaded by beautiful flamboyanes; in the center of this garden a fountain was built, which was adorned by a bronze statue, known as the “little black girl of San Juan”, and it is said that before it was sent to San Juan it was in the Plaza Grande. The lighting of the park was that of the lantern bearers who kept the “peace”, who announced “twelve o’clock and all is serene”.

In 1810, it was the chaplain of the church, the very illustrious priest don Vicente María Velásquex y Alvarado, who was the spirit of “the sanjuanistas” to whom is attributed the first movements for Independence.

One scarcely needs to mention the reason that San Juan – which could not grow towards the south because of the impediment of the arch – had an extraordinary extension to the north, in the 1870’s, with the park of the Sanjuanistas presided over by the church of Mary the Immaculate.  In San Juan there were two venues for entertainment: a ball park and a bull ring.  At the beginning of the 20th century, the gentlemen José Cámara Chan, Enrique Hubbe Peón and José Vales Castillo, among other residents of the area, were in charge of sponsoring musical evenings, with a band, in the plaza of San Juan; these events took place every Thursday and were very famous in the city.

There was a school in the neighbourhood, celebrated in Yucatán even now, and for many decades linked to the families of San Juan: the Colegio Consuelo Zavala.


side view of the church of San Juan

Side view of the church of San Juan

The Arch of San Juan

The Arch of San Juan