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                       28 Jan 2008


The worn steps climb up and over where a pyramid stood. … Human sacrifices to the ancient gods are no more. … Grass is growing between the cracks.  … Workmen are repairing some of the mortar that has broken off.   Others are sealing the ancient cobble stone walkway.  …  The saints carefully carved in stone and mounted on the front of the building points to the importance of this religious shrine. The Dominican Church of Yanhuitlán, 74 miles northwest of Oaxaca, is officially known as the Templo y Ex convento de Santo Domingo de Guzman.  The present church was begun in 1541 by Father Domingo de la Cruz but not finished for another 33 years.  Providing the labor, were thousands of Zapateco, Mixteco, Aztec, and other people groups who lived in the area long before the arrival of the Spanish Colonists.  Several changes have been made to this enormous structure over the centuries.  It has also withstood many earthquakes testifying to the skill of these workers and to their devotion in maintaining the place of worship.

 Inside this huge building, a celebration is going on.  Hundreds of people have arrived to be part of this annual event. … The priest and his helpers are ready. … The gold trim on the statues and supporting columns has all been cleaned and polished. … The people are dressed in their finest garments. … Recorded music comes through the speakers while high above the worshippers, the huge pipe organ remains silent.    Everything is ready as the focus of the procession begins.  To an outsider, it appears that those entering the church are simply carrying a large well-dressed doll, but … to the participants who have come to this great hall … it is Santo Niño, the Holy Child.

 As representations of the Baby Jesus, the dolls are brought up to the front of the church and placed on the altar where the priest bestows a special blessing on each. They are thought to impart protection, health and good fortune to the owner and to the household.  Friends and family come to pray to a sanctified doll and the owner is paid for the privilege.

 Each year on February the second, people from all over the country dress up their special dolls and bring them to the priest for a renewal of the sanctification. 

 These sanctified dolls are also placed in churches throughout the area, … in roadside shrines, … and in places of business.  Often Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is shown holding the doll whereas, women are often seen carrying a doll on the back as they would a living baby. 

 The Santo Niño is just one of the many worship practices of the indigenous peoples of Mexico.  It is believed that through these works they will have a better life for themselves and for their children.  It is a practice that goes back to the times when the steps to the Dominican Church of Yanhuitlán were new.  Like this great Dominican church, little has changed from these early times.


Mixteco                                  meex-TEK-oh

Templo y Ex convento de Santo Domingo de Guzman          

TEM-plo ee ex-cone-VENT-oh day SAN-toe Doe-MEAN-go de Goose-MAHN

Yanhuitlán                              Yon-wheat-LAHN

Zapateco                                 sah-pah-TEK-oh




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