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Colonists' religious architecture influenced by Maya traditions

March 31, 2016

The Mayas influenced the Spanish colonists' religious architecture. This is concluded in a new doctoral thesis in archaeology that compares Spanish colonial churches and Maya dwellings on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico and Belize.

Religion played an important role in the Spanish colonisation of the Yucatán Peninsula, once home to the Maya civilisation. Together with the Spanish monarchy, religion was a powerful and influential force in society.

'Colonial churches and chapels represented authority in the form of buildings and architecture that was used to control Maya society. Converting the Mayas to Christianity was an important part of the Spanish strategy and guidelines for the colonisation of Mexico,' says Teobaldo Ramirez Barbosa, author of the thesis.

He has conducted a comparative analysis of early colonial churches and Maya dwellings on the Yucatán Peninsula and in Belize. Colonialism has usually been interpreted as a unilateral relationship in which the colonist and the colonist culture are not affected. Barbosa's analysis of Spanish churches and Maya dwellings reveals that the colonised people indeed had a clear influence on the colonists' architecture.

'The Mayas have used the same building materials since pre-Hispanic times. My results show that their tradition of using masonry, wattle and daub, stucco and ramada roofs, as well as semi-circular, circular and squared shapes of buildings, can be discerned in some types of Spanish churches,' he says.

One of Barbosa's conclusions is that this can be interpreted as hybridity, or a combination of two different traditions that yields something new.

In addition to the analysis of the religious architecture and Maya dwellings, he carried out three archaeological surveys in the area of Espiritu Santo Bay in Mexico. The purpose of the surveys was to identify the location of the colonial site Kachambay and its church Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción, founded in 1621, as well as previously undiscovered rancherias, or small indigenous settlements that appeared in response to the congregation system established by the Spanish.

Two small settlements were found in the northern part of the bay, providing evidence of human activity in a region that has historically been considered uninhabited. One of the settlements can be directly connected to Kachambay.

'These finds opens up for new surveys and excavations in the area and how the Mayas adapted to the new situation by fleeing from the congregation regime,' says Barbosa.
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More information:

Teobaldo Ramirez Barbosa, tel: +46 (0)76 20 07 914, email: teobaldo.ramirez.barbosa@gu.se

Thesis title: Churches, chapels, and Maya dwellings of Colonial Yucatán and Belize. A Postcolonial Approach

The thesis is available at: http://hdl.handle.net/2077/41582

University of Gothenburg

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