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de San Ildefonso, Mérida, Mexico
Photo: Joseph Barillari
Catedral de San Ildefonso, Mérida, Mexico.
Roman Catholic, Metropolitan
Archdiocese of Yucatán.
The cathedral was built from stones taken from an old Mayan
temple. It was begun in 1561 and finished in 1598 and is the
work of master builder Juan Miguel de Agüero, who was
also responsible for Mexico City's cathedral and the fortifications
of Havana, Cuba. San Ildefonso is said to be the oldest cathedral
in the Americas. There are three semicircular arched entries,
two towers and one stained glass window that shows an eagle
on a cactus. The interior has large columns on either side
and several side chapels. Noteworthy is the Capilla del Cristo
de las Ampollas (Chapel of Christ of the Blisters), where
today's service was held. According to legend, natives once
witnessed a tree catch fire and burn all night without being
consumed. From its wood was made a statue of Christ, which
was placed in a nearby church. The church caught fire and
was completely destroyed, but the statue was found to be intact
but covered with blisters. It has been at the cathedral since
The cathedral appears to be eager to play an active role in
the lives of the faithful. They instituted an English speaking
service in March of this year, the first of which was the
occasion of this Mystery Worshipper's visit.
Mérida is the capital and largest city of the Mexican
state of Yucatán. It was founded in 1542 on the site
of the Mayan city of T'ho, which had been a center of Mayan
culture and activity for centuries. Thus, many historians
consider Mérida to be the oldest continually occupied
city in the Americas. In the late 19th century the city prospered
from the production of henequin, a plant used for making rope,
twine, and a rather potent liquor. At one time Mérida
was said to be home to more millionaires than any other city
on earth. Many large and stately homes have been restored
as office buildings. Nowadays Mérida enjoys a reputation
as one of the most tranquil and safest cities in Mexico. Nearby
are numerous ruins and ecological sites popular with tourists.
Every Sunday in the immediate neighborhood of the cathedral
is held Mérida en Domingo, a celebration featuring
costumed dancers, native crafts, and plenty of food from local
A very handsome English speaking Hispanic priest who introduced
himself as Father Roberto, who I believe may have been Pbro
Roberto Cuellar Portillo, rector of the cathedral.
The date & time:
March 7, 2010, 10.15am.
We have received a comment on this report.
What was the name of
How full was the building?
Mass was held in the Chapel of Christ of the Blisters, which
seats about 60 people. It was probably half full. However,
this was the first English speaking service and the news about
it was spread primarily by word of mouth.
Did anyone welcome you
A gentleman asked, "English?" (How did he know?)
He then directed me to the chapel. In the chapel, everyone
entered quietly and sat just as quietly.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were not at all comfortable! The kneelers were too
distant from the pews.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverent. People sat and some prayed quietly.
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
"Welcome to the English speaking service."
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
None. Most people knew the service by heart. As an Anglican,
I could also figure out most of it. Those not familiar with
our tradition would probably have had a hard time.
What musical instruments
A nun played a guitar and accompanied three of her sisters
in Christ, who sang all the hymns and responses in Spanish!
This was a bit disconcerting. However, we were promised that
they were going to learn them in English very soon with the
help of some of the attendees.
Did anything distract
The most distracting thing was the statue that gave the chapel
its name. It is quite large and seems almost
to overpower the altar.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
The worship service was very comfortable. Father Roberto tried
to make everyone feel at home. Occasionally he would ask one
of the people to translate a word or two into English for
him, which I found rather endearing.
Exactly how long was
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
8 The sermon followed the readings and was very well
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
Father preached on Exodus 3:1-15 (God appears to Moses in
a burning bush and commissions him to free the Israelites
from bondage in Egypt). Moses doubted his ability to do what
God wanted, but God never gives us more than we can handle.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The sermon was the best part of the service. Father Roberto
is an excellent speaker and delivered his sermon in a clear,
well thought out manner.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
The pews! They were not made for the ex-pat community who
made up the majority of people attending this service. They,
along with your average tourist, are simply not the size of
the native population.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
Father Roberto greeted everyone. People introduced themselves
to one another. As this was the first service in English,
no one had known anyone before, except for maybe people who
were neighbors in the community. I met a few people and made
plans to meet them again later.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
There was no coffee hour. After all, this was a Roman Catholic
church. However, Father Roberto said next Sunday he would
try to be like the Protestants and have coffee and donuts!
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
5 As this is not my denomination, this is a tricky
question. However, since it is the only English speaking service
around, there is little choice. If I tell Father Roberto that
I am not R.C. he will have to deny me communion. So, "Don't
ask, don"t tell!"
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The service was wonderfully inclusive.
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Father Roberto, who is everything one would want in a priest.
He is kind, charming, interesting, welcoming and thoughtful.
Another thing is the fact that the building is the oldest
cathedral in the Americas.
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