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Sections of San Juan Chamula

This is a community of Pre-Hispanic origin whose name means "Thick "Water." The Chamulas have always been a fiercely independent people. As part of the Tzotzil community, they resisted the Spanish upon their arrival in 1524 and later staged a famous rebellion in 1869, attacking the nearby colonial settlement of San Cristobal. San Juan Chamula takes a very important position in the history of Mexico as it was the main battleground during the War of the Castes.

The municipal seat is in San Juan, the name taken from the patron saint St. John Baptist, protector and guide of the Chamula people. Located at an altitude of 2,200m above sea level, this municipality has more than 80.000 inhabitants. The town of Chamula was founded almost immediately after the defeat of the Indians Chiapanecas in the battle of 1524. Three districts (San Juan, San Pedro and San Sebastian) are those that make up this ceremonial Tzotzil center, located in a valley that according to beliefs was the place that San Juan Baptist chose. No only the sacred hills frame the sacred spaces, but also the crosses, whose meaning is related to the Christian traditions and the Hispanic roots. On the side of the main entrance of this town are the ruins of the Church of San Sebastian. The central plaza is the seat of the religious and civil authorities, the market and the Church.

San Juan Chamula is the principal town of the Tzotzils, being the main religious and economic center of the community. The most important highlight in San Juan Chamula is its famous Cathedral San Juan Bautista, inside you sense that a higher power speaks to you, and you can feel the sincerity and intensity of the worship. The thick smoke of incense and burning candles, the murmur of prayers fill the air. It is completely forbidden to take pictures inside the Church.

The most important aspect of this community is the magical atmosphere present inside the main Church; in this church the Chamulas participate in profound rituals with a devotion and solemnity unique in the country, introduced by the evangelists of the XVI century, and adapted to the older religious traditions. When penetrating this enclosure, the sensation will begin at the moment one crosses the small side door that is used on daily basis; letting us to take in the aroma of the incense and the light of thousands of flickering candles. The main door is being opened on June 24 only, the day of San Juan.

The small town, about 10 km from San Cristobal, is a key attraction as part of a tour of local villages around San Cristobal, and is best experienced with the help of a local guide, who can give insight and local knowledge that will help you to make some sense of the distinct culture and customs practiced here.

Like neighboring Zinacantan the Chamulas enjoy being a closed community; as other indigenous communities in this region, they can be identified by the clothes they carry: in this case distinctive purple and pink colors predominate. All the clothes they wear are hand made locally. The wool from the sheep, cleaning, dyes and knitting are all done "in-house": nothing is purchased externally. Sheep are sacred here: they are treated, protected and mourned when passing away as any other member of the family. If you are driving through this region take extreme precautions with sheep that may wander into the road.

This Tzotzil community is considered one of most important of its kind, not only by sheer numbers of population, but by customs practices here, as well.

NOTE: Is strictly prohibited to take photos inside the church, and that goes for ceremonial rituals and pictures of the authorities of the town. Photos can be taken of the outside, again excluding of the religious authorities. When taking photos of the inhabitants, you will have to do it with respect and their consent. Inside the church it is recommended not to disturb the rituals and not to trespass the spaces non-allowed.

Church of San Juan Baptist: Composed of a single nave with ceiling of two waters, cover with cooked mud roof tiles. The composition of the main facade is similar to the church in ruins of San Sebastian; the putting with its middle arc occupies half of the wide of the church, an extremely ample proportion in relation to the rest of the façade. However, this was designed with the intention of allowing the visibility of the altar that is in the interior, being this an element characteristic of all the churches of colonial Central America due to the use of jambs staggered in form of archivolts. In the interior is the main altar dedicated to San Juan Baptist, the patron saint of the community and the main nave lacks of pews as this is the only church for about 80000 inhabitants. The statues of the saints are distributed throughout all the church in wood display cabinets.

Ruins of San Sebastian: The old church of San Sebastian is located exactly in the entrance of the Chamula community and was built with raw stone. The facade is covered with a stucco layer which is still conserved and contains a main door with an arch of half point. The surface of the facade is totally flat and has integrated four niches with baroque style influences. Today, the ruins of this building serve as frame for the cemetery of the community.


The diversity of crafts produced in this community is very great, most of them made from lamb wool (the sheep being considered a sacred animal.) Blouses, bags, shawls, huipils, and mud objects make up some of the articles.

Typical Garments of San Juan Chamula:
The average altitude of this town is 2,300 m (7,666 feet) above sea level, which accounts for the predominance of cold and damp weather throughout the year and therefore most of the garments are made from wool. Here, the lamb, in addition to being a sacred animal for appearing the arms of St John, is also associated with pastoral activities. For this reason, only the wool is extracted from the sheep.

The fine garments, worn with pride during the festivities in honor of the patron saint, all made with the back-strap loom and finished with hand-embroidered motives, are impressive. For this occasion the men wear "chujes" (long-sleeved woolen coats without buttons and with an opening on the neck) made of black wool and tied with a strap of chamois skin, or, for the civilian authorities, of white wool tied with a buckled belt. Women wear beautiful brocaded huipils, embroidered and printed in diverse tones and adorned with tri-colored ribbons - red, yellow and green symbolizing the three protectors, Saint Peter, Saint John and Saint Sebastian. They cover their heads with the traditional black "mochibal" of ancient tradition - it is like a shawl with red tassels that can be tied in front, covering the back and shoulders against the cold, or, in the form of a square, to protect the head from the sun. Today we are witnessing the extinction of the mochibal for several reasons, the primary one being the amount of time required for its creation. It is being replaced by the use of other garments, such as factory-made blue shawls for everyday use.

Women also wear a black skirt or wrap-around of two pieces of linen joined and held in place with a red sash of pre-Hispanic origin, with a European tailored-blouse, in blue or white satin with an embroidered strip on the neck and sleeves - which is nowadays purchased in San Cristobal.


  • Carnival Chamula "K'in Tajimoltic": It is celebrated four days before Ash Wednesday, in this festivity the Chamulas conclude the celestial cycle in agreement with the old Mayan calendar. All the three neighborhoods participate and are in charge of organizing and paying for everything that it is required for the celebration. Among the things the civil authorities have to pay for we can mention the well-known sacred drink "posh" (made from sugar cane and maize). The most important personages of this carnival are: Pasiones, comisarios, maltajimoles y xinolanes o Nana María KoKorina. Tuesday of the carnival is the last day, and now takes place one of the strangest rituals of Mexico, the corporal purification, in the fountains of San Sebastian and San Pedro, as well as the spiritual purification that consists of walking on coals.

  • Holy Week: (March or April), processions, celebration of masses throughout the state. In some towns, the burning of Judas ritual takes place - represented by paper maché figures and cartoons of historical or contemporary personalities.

  • Celebration of San Juan Baptist: This is another of the most important and awaited festivities by the community and takes place from June 24 to 26 in honor to community’s patron saint Juan Baptist. These days are celebrated by special masses and processions of the saint towards the different districts of the community.

  • National Independence Day: Celebrated on September 16 with the Mayor presiding over the traditional ceremony of "El Grito" (the Shout of Independence.)

  • Day of the dead: It is celebrated the first of November and it has a magical and spiritual character, in addition this is a celebration for the families.

  • The Virgin of Guadalupe: December 12 is the festival of the Patron Saint of all Mexico, celebrated with masses, serenades and pilgrimages.

If you are interested in acquiring crafts from this community it is recommended to acquire them in the “tianguis” artisan market located on the side of the municipal palace.

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Amatenango del Valle Chiapa de Corzo
Comitan de Dominguez Palenque
San Cristobal de las Casas San Juan Chamula
Selva Lacandona Tapachula
Tenejapa Tonala
Tuxtla Gutierrez Zinacantan
Ç Chiapas, San Juan Chamula, Market San Juan Bautista, Chamula girls selling flowers - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 1106
  Chiapas, San Juan Chamula, Market San Juan Bautista, Chamula girls selling flowers
Ç Chiapas, San Juan Chamula, Cathedral San Juan Bautista, Day of the dead celebration - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 1106
  Chiapas, San Juan Chamula, Cathedral San Juan Bautista
Ç Chiapas, San Juan Chamula, Cementery of San Sebastian 1 - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0406
  Chiapas, San Juan Chamula, Ruins of the Church of San Sebastian
Ç Chiapas, San Juan Chamula, Tzotzil girl, Lola1 - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria
  Chiapas, San Juan Chamula, Lola, Tzotzil girl
Ç Chiapas, San Juan Chamula, Market San Juan Bautista, Vendor Stands - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 1106
  Chiapas, San Juan Chamula, Market San Juan Bautista
Ç Chiapas, San Juan Chamula, Market San Juan Bautista, Men wiith typical coustume - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 1106
  Chiapas, San Juan Chamula, Market San Juan Bautista, Tzotzil men with typical costume
Ç Chiapas, San Juan Chamula, Plaza San Juan Bautista, Crosses - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0406
  Chiapas, San Juan Chamula, Plaza San Juan Bautista,
The Holly Three Crosses

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