The ancient San Francisco de Asís (Saint Francis of Assisi) convent in Conkal has stood for over 400 years, and the ceiba tree guarding it, for 300 years… Can you imagine the countless stories that have unraveled during that time? Waste no time, and don’t be discouraged by the misconception that religious art is boring: there’s something truly special about this gallery. The stories you will encounter there will surprise you, and you’ll leave wanting to learn more. As one of my teachers used to say, “History is humanity’s best gossip.” Whether you’re a believer, fanatic, agnostic, or atheist, you won’t be able to deny that this art is part of history, and undoubtedly that of Yucatán.
Just about 11 miles from Mérida, the gallery is housed within what was once the San Francisco de Asís convent, a masterpiece of Franciscan architecture from the 16th and 17th centuries. Reimagined as a museum in 2001, it was reinaugurated as a gallery in 2016 thanks to the efforts of Father Ricardo López and Mr. Óscar Amaya Sosa. The latter serves as the passionate custodian and guide (and believe me, passionate falls short) of this place, and he’s precisely the one who gives voice to all these stories.
Great stories, great discoveries
In an effort to fill the seven rooms that the gallery now houses, a tireless search was conducted in all the ancient churches of Yucatán, resulting in a plethora of objects, some discarded and others forgotten. One example comes from the storage room of the Nuestra Señora del Carmen (Our Lady of Mount Carmel) church in La Mejorada: a large wooden box that was donated to the gallery without any idea of its contents. The box was sealed shut, and no one knew the whereabouts of the key to open it. Trusting the importance of the items within, they searched among hundreds of old keys for one that could open it; with no success, they decided to call a locksmith. Having failed, this locksmith recommended another, a specialist in old keys, who painstakingly crafted one that finally unlocked the box. The lengthy process yielded results: one of the earliest catechisms used to evangelize the Maya was found inside the box. It was a kind of beautifully illustrated flip chart, and the container itself serves as a case, mount, and display for this uniquely remarkable piece.
Another great discovery came from the transfer of documents and items from the Mérida Cathedral to establish what is now the Historical Archive of the Archdiocese of Yucatán, also located within the convent. Stored within a leather box was a moldy little book, which, after being restored by the INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History), turned out to be the original version of the papal bull (a public decree issued by the pope) in which Pope Pius X appointed the Archdiocese of Yucatán.
The document bears the seal with the pope’s name. On the reverse side, those of evangelists Peter and Paul, in addition to being signed by him, accompanied by his zucchetto (the silk skullcap he usually wears on his head) and some relics. This and other unique objects are accompanied by a brief yet highly interesting timeline detailing the history of the Archdiocese of Yucatán.
And the story doesn’t end there: Have you ever wondered why Saint Anthony of Padua is the patron saint for those seeking marriage or a partner? (And by the way, if you need to entrust yourself to him, the Gallery has an extraordinary image). How much do you know about Our Lady of Izamal and the Christ of the Blisters, the most important icons of the Catholic religion in Yucatán? Do you know why the original altarpiece of the Mérida Cathedral was torn down and destroyed? Don Óscar will have no hesitation in telling you all of this and more. Get ready to learn about the image of the Sacred Heart of Mary, the altarpiece hall, and the crown of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as well as the room that was reserved for the Blessed Sacrament while the Franciscans inhabited the place and the Christ who now resides there: his hair is natural, and many claim that it grows!
As your tour approaches its end, you’ll feel it’s impossible to hear a more incredible story, but wait until you hear the last one, about the skeletal remains on display at the Gallery.
Get ready for an unparalleled experience and take advantage of requesting the guided tour service (available only in Spanish) or attend their recently inaugurated night visits (under previous reservation) for a different adventure. And believe it or not, both adults and children will greatly enjoy this tour and all the fascinating stories it narrates; furthermore, it will provide them with some tools for when they make another visit to one of the hundreds of churches and parishes located in Yucatán, which are central places in the history of our state.
Galería de Arte Sacro
Calle 20 #14 x 21 y 19, Centro de Conkal
Tue. – Fri. 9 am – 1 pm
Sat. – Sun. 9 am – 5 pm
Nighttime visits: Check dates on social media
Admission: $30 pesos
FB: Galería de Arte Sacro de la Arquidiócesis de Yucatán
By Magali Ramirez D.
Graphic Communicator. Food lover. Inveterate adventurer. Athlete by conviction and extreme out of restlessness. I discover, I get surprised and I learn through the life stories that we all have to tell.
Photography by MKCT for use in Yucatán Today.
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