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September 2018 Photography, Design and Texts: Esteban Saavedra Del Rayo Style Correction: Arlette Saavedra Del Rayo Produced by Experiencia Visual Mexico, 2018 Find me in Patreon as Esteban Saavedra


The Buried Chapel It is a curious destination at Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve, it should be noted that this region has been designated in 2018 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. There are no precise studies, thesis or reliable documentation of the origins of this peculiar chapel located within a curious excavation at the foot of the mountain. It is reached through the Tehuacán-Huajuapan Federal Highway, passing the town of San Antonio Texcala before arriving at Zapotitlán de las Salinas. It is important to note that here are signs to find the place in the road, my advice is to arrive with a guide, because landowners guard and monitor the access. Located in the area known as Las Ventas, there it is, at the bottom of a gorge of almost 100 meters, which have to descend walking. Nearby there are several saltworks, this salt is still extracted through the evaporation technique of the salty water in the area. Thousands of years ago the area was a sea bed, as direct evidence are the fossil remains in the community from San Juan Raya, just a few kilometers from this place. This region was habited by different tribes like the Popolocas, Mixtecos and Nahuas . As I previously mentioned, the extraction of salt is an activity that comes from pre-Hispanic times and still is a daily practice until today. Doesn´t existe precision if these current saltworks activities started before the Spanish Conquest, but lots of facts show, that they have been used and still remodeling the same structures.


Saltworks in front the Buried Chapel, Las Ventas 5

6 Exterior View of the Buried Chapel



Rooms from the Buried Chapel

All the above is important, .because the caves were used as protection of the extracted salt. Some of the caves can still be visited in San Antonio Texcala. Salt cellars, houses, and prisons have been the uses of the caves of the region, and the Buried Chapel is precisely inside. Various theories exist about it. One assures that it was built in the 18th century by Franciscan missionaries, seeking to evangelize the region, and decided to place it within the cavity so that people feel familiar with the environment and easily accept the transition to a new faith. Some chroniclers point out, that in the place a treasure was found, and the lucky one that got it, decided to build the chapel as a show of gratitude. Others, claim that it was built in the 19th century by the area’s salt workers, so they could pray away of the surrounding towns and temples, to thank for the natural benefits that the region offers. The most recent hypothesis claims that it was part of an Estate and was a private chapel, exclusively for the owner and its workers. Whatever the real version is, it’s notable that there are very few bibliographical studies, and on the Internet in this regard endorsed by INAH, which should be the institution responsible for documenting and investigating this historical heritage. Whatever the origin and real time, there is no doubt, that it is a truly strange scenario within the region and the country. It has been excavated, and rooms, corridors and of course, the chapel have been finished. It is really small chapel, but its mural paintings stand out, elaborated, not by artists, but by people with few knowledge of mural painting.


Sacristy The main area of the chapel has a room that could well be, a kind of sacristy, unfortunately this one, has lost a significant amount of mural painting.


Symbol with 4 flowers Still conserves in the roof, a symbol with 4 flowers inside a circle with symmetrical design. It is difficult to identify if it is only ornamental or if it belongs to some religion, but there is no question that it has some stylistic elements, clear characteristic of prehispanic iconography


12 Interior of the Nave

The main room, is the most colorful space in the place, paintings resemble columns, curtains and risen niches that functioned as altars of images of saints or virgin, that seemed to have been plundered, because time and erosion left nothing to show what was in that part of the painting. The light enters from the main entrance and goes through the room, showing a cavernous aspect, in past full of bats, today by swallows that keep the place quite dirty. It has dIfferent paintings of biblical passages decorating the walls. Some seems to have been through some process of“restoration�, more like are touch by someone not very experienced in the subject. There is no trace of what kind of floor was in it, cause deterioration has destroyed it.


14 Painting on the Ceiling

Detail of Image with Trumpet


The paintings emphasize the travel activity of the missionaries through ships. Two characters with halo, could be saints or a part of the Holy Trinity (the greater with trumpet the God the Father, Jesus Christ who has blue clothing, and the character with a chalice and cross in hands, represent the Holy Spirit). What’s interesting here, is that two of the characters have written texts in their hands and near them.

Ceiling paint detail


The side altar, has a fragment of the original painting, and at the bottom, you can see purgatory animas. Maybe an image of the Virgin of Carmen, always represented with the same one, at her feet



Souls of Purgatory

18 Roof Painting details

It should be noted, that the main colors used in the paintings are blue, grey, black and some terracotta. The paintings at the entrance represent biblical passages, and the ones of the most worn, caused by the transit of visitors. It is identified a lot of material of the flat walls collapsed over the years, bringing lost of details and information. Humidity is easy to notice in the site, another serious factor, that will make more weak the permanence of these paintings, deteriorating them faster. The flowers and well-marked strokes, characterize the pictorial style in the decoration, probably some drawings have not been completed comparing their details of colours in some, and others how they are simply strokes without detail or colour. Probably, most of the paintings are made with materials from this region, and the original idea of the decoration could been guided by the missionaries or builders of the chapel, but the workmanship was very likely done by the villagers themselves. The skill of elaboration of the paintings, reminds me of some of the Family Chapels in TolimaĚ n, QuereĚ taro, nowadays considered Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


The main altar is one of the most damaged, a large part of the original drawing has come down, and the center has few to identify what was embodied. There are palm trees and an image who could be the God the Father at the center, along with some cherubs (which some are in the painting in the ceiling). At the sides you can see trees, could be pine trees. It’s not vegetation of the region, it may be a staging of Eden. There is no evidence that a cross or image has been placed there, and a kind of “table� remains as the main altar. On the sides there are still some tiles, maybe part of the decoration or floor of the altar.


Cherubim and angels with a crown of thorns.


Main altar

22 Romm with Niche.

To the east of the main room, there is a hall that leads to a couple of rooms, one has a cavity, where probably have been relics of the temple. Today there is no vestige beyond the paintings, it is noted that the place has suffered much looting, vandalism and abandonment. Something interesting about these rooms, is that their walls are not flattened as the main area of the chapel, and you can see part of the technique of digging the rooms. If someone even lived and slept in these rooms, part of the idea was for sure humility, simplicity and maybe, some kind of penance. The impression of being an unfinished project is noticeable, is uncertain which tools were used to carved these rooms, but could have been with specialized ones for this purpose. We find again humidity in the floor in most of the rooms, despite the fact of the arid of this location, still the water leak in the Chapel continues affecting mainly the floor.


A small construction made of stone is very close to the Chapel, it has had more maintenance, probably a salt cellar, still in use. You can notice that the construction is not very different of the chapel, because the technique used is very similar. The buried chapel, even though its historical value, is totally to its own, cause there is no restoration projects to a lack of budget. The plans of bringing tourism here, has not been developed yet by the local government. One big concern is this is a seismic region. The desert climate seems to benefit to stop the rapid deterioration, but we can’t ignore the evident filtration of water deteriorating as it grows. When the sunset arrives, thousands of mosquitoes come from the salt mines, the cacti are witnesses of this peculiar site, a true vestige of the religious syncretism of the region, atypical and unique in the country. I hope this won’t happen, but if anyone takes action soon, will be doomed to disappear without doing justice to the past

24 Posible Bodega de Sal



Sunset in “Las Ventas”

References * Castañeda, Luis Ramón (2011, September 20). Minas de sal y de mármol en San Antonio Texcala. Recovery from * Castañeda, Luis Ramón (2013, January 20). La “Capilla Enterrada” de Zapotitlan Salinas. Recovery from * Figueroa, David Noé [David Noé Figueroa]. (2015, January 19). Documental La capilla enterrada. Zapotitlán Salinas, Puebla [Archivo de video] Recovery from * Hernandez Luna, Raul [entiempo comunicaciones]. (2017, January 26). La Capilla Enterrada de Zapotitlán Salinas Reportaje 2017 [Video Archive] Recovery from * Reserva de la biosfera Tehuacán-Cuicatlán (s.f.). Wikipedia. 2018, September 01. Recovery from



Trotamundos / I. The Buried Chapel  

It is a curious destination at Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve, it should be noted that this region has been designated in 2018 as a Wo...

Trotamundos / I. The Buried Chapel  

It is a curious destination at Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve, it should be noted that this region has been designated in 2018 as a Wo...