Earthquake restoration reveals a 19th-century inscription on an altarpiece in San Cristobal de las Casas


The cleaning of an altarpiece in Chiapas made it possible to locate an inscription from the 19th century when the entity still belonged to the General Captaincy of Guatemala.

The earthquakes of 2017 have revealed a series of stories, hidden within many cultural assets, that had waited centuries to be registered. This is the case of the Temple of San Felipe Ecatepec, located in the surroundings of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.

Since the main altarpiece had to be attended to under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture, through the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and the Conservation Section of the INAH Chiapas Center.

On this altar, the earthquake of September 7, 2017, caused a movement in the wooden structure that supports it, which required re-leveling.

altarpiece San Cristobal de las Casas Chiapas
Image of the main altarpiece in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, before the intervention.
oto: Haydeé Orea / INAH

Another effect of the natural phenomenon was a large amount of dust that fell from the roof to the top and the back of it.

Therefore, during the detailed cleaning to which the main altarpiece was subjected between August and December 2019, restorers accessed the upper part of this baroque ornament by means of scaffolding – 6.95 meters long by 8.80 high -, and entered the racks of the piece.

There they discovered an inscription behind a painting dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi.

altarpiece inscription San Felipe Chiapas
This is a picture of the inscription.
Photo: Rest. Iván Gómez / INAH

The text explains that “the Reverend Father Preacher Frai José Ramón Péres is the parish priest. These Images were made and this Altarpiece was gilded and ended on 29 Disie of the year 1813, Juan Aguilar ”(sic).

This date, says the restorer Iván Gómez Murillo, who led the group of five specialists who intervened the historical asset, not only seems to clarify the time when the pictorial ensemble of the altarpiece was created – also made up of two sculptural images: one of the Virgin María and another from San Felipe Apóstol–, but also opens new lines of research about the evolution of these elements of worship in the region.

The above, he adds, is valuable considering that in Mexico there are a number of heritage objects of which there are no records of their physical characteristics, history, or state of conservation.

San Felipe Ecatepec San Cristobal de las Casas Chiapas
This is another image of the inscription behind the San Felipe altarpiece.
Photo: Rest. Iván Gómez / INAH

Therefore, they can only be identified and addressed after the passage of events such as the earthquakes of 2017.

San Felipe Ecatepec is an example of this, he points out when he coincides with Haydeé Orea, a restorer of the INAH Chiapas Center and supervisor of the project since it allows investigating how the altarpiece worked in territories such as Chiapaneco, which, it should be remembered, belonged to the Captaincy General of Guatemala until the second decade of the XIX century.

What happened in the past was that when an opulent temple was remodeled, it sold the movable property it replaced, whole or in parts, to smaller shrines with more limited resources.

San Cristobal de las Casas inscription altarpiece
Protection and fumigation of the lateral altarpieces in the nave in San Felipe Ecatepec, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas.
Photo: Haydeé Orea / INAH

This is how San Felipe Ecatepec, in San Cristóbal de las Casas, made its main altarpiece and another more compact one –3.4 meters long by 5.7 m high–, but with greater decorations in gold leaf, consecrated to San Antonio.

In total, this rectangular nave temple, which was founded by the Dominicans and then ceded to the Franciscans, as evidenced by two coats of arms of these orders placed in the upper part of its central altarpiece, accumulated five of these important carvings that look up to them today.

main altarpiece of San Felipe San Cristobal
Works in the main altarpiece of San Felipe.
Photo: Haydeé Orea / INAH

The five altarpieces located in the nave were fumigated and cleaned by the restorers.

They also recognize the work of other specialists such as architects or photographers. They also took part in the project, along with the professionals who prepare and process the files through which the resources for these heritage recovery works are obtained.

altarpiece inscription of San Felipe Ecatepec.
A third image of the inscription behind the altarpiece of San Felipe.
Photo: Rest. Iván Gómez

The churches of San Cristóbal de las Casas

San Cristóbal de las Casas is the most magical of the Magical Towns of Mexico for good reason. Its food, people, atmosphere, architecture, and traditions make it unique in Chiapas. Therefore, we present the route of the churches of San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Cathedral of San Cristóbal de las Casas

Cathedral of San Cristóbal de las Casas, part of the route of the churches of San Cristóbal de las Casas

To begin the list of the route of the churches of San Cristóbal de las Casas, we must mention this place. Something as famous as this building is the cross at its entrance, which serves as a meeting point. Its construction began in 1528 and, it seems an oxymoron, but its baroque style is quite austere.

Santo Domingo Temple

Temple of Santo Domingo in San Cristóbal de las Casas

We continue with the churches of San Cristóbal de las Casas talking about this beautiful architectural specimen. Its facade is overloaded with floral motifs, giving it a unique appearance. This building is a sample of the colonial baroque and was built by the Dominicans in the 17th century. In addition, every Sunday a market is placed here that is worth knowing.

Carmen Temple

Carmen Temple

It is not only one of the most important churches in San Cristóbal de las Casas. It is also the postcard of this site, since here is the Arco del Carmen. This site once served as the entrance to the city. Therefore, it is essential for the identity of those who live here.

Cerrito Church

Cerrito Church

Its name comes from the fact that it is built on the Cerro San Cristobalito. Therefore, it is not only a beautiful church but also an excellent viewpoint for the city. You will be able to admire its simple construction once you climb the colorful steps that characterize it.

Church of San Francisco

Church of san francisco

As its name suggests, this church is located in the Plaza de San Francisco, home to numerous inexpensive kitchens. It is also a perfect place to listen to mariachis and attend its candy and craft market. Because it was founded by the Dominicans in 1577, its construction is humble and simple.

Guadalupe Church

Guadalupe Church

Finally, we come to the last in the list of the churches of San Cristóbal de las Casas. Unlike the others, this one was built relatively recently, in 1974. There are a total of 79 steps that you will have to climb in order to admire it. And every December 12, this site dresses in color to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Source:   INAH,,

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