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Foundation of Mérida, Yucatán.

On December 8, 1526 on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, King Carlos V of Spain granted Francisco de Montejo (El Adelantado), full rights to conquer the “Islands of Cozumel and Yucatan”. He and his son Francisco de Montejo (El Mozo) began the take-over the next year, in 1527, but they were not successful. A second attempt to gain full control was made by father and son, but it too was unsuccessful. Finally, without the father’s participation in the battle, his son and nephew, called Francisco de Montejo (El Sobrino) completed the Conquest on June 11, 1541. The Conquistador army had their headquarters in what is today, the Main Market (Lucas de Galvez).


The Spanish Crown.


Montejo El Adelantado’s Head.


Façade of UADY, showing a pre-Columbian Mayan sculpture and the sculpture of a Spaniard from the Colonial period, possibly one of the Conquistadores.

The Spanish Conquistadores were determined to stay in the city they had fought so hard to claim. On January 6, 1542, Francisco de Montejo El Mozo showed his soldiers the plans for the future Spanish colonial city that had been drawn by the architect, Juan de Sosa. Although at the time the entire Spanish population was only 70, de Sosa’s design featured a main plaza, with 5 blocks extending to the east and 5 to the west. To the north and south, the map showed 4 blocks in both directions. The plan showed where Montejo’s house and the houses of the other conquistadores would be, as well as where the churches, civic buildings, and so on would be situated.

The 70 soldiers settled into temporary quarters, and Montejo El Mozo sent his trusted captain, Alonzo Lopéz to petition the crown for a hospital. He also needed friars to evangelize in the name of the Catholic Church. He needed tax exemptions until the city was established enough to produce revenue. He requested that the king allow him to name the city, Merida, and he asked for a royal coat of arms.

In every city of the Spanish kingdom, the most important buildings featured the king’s coat of arms: Merida’s official coat of arms had two sections, depicting a lion and a castle. These were representative of the two Spanish dominions of Castilla and Leon. Two of the original sculptures of the coat of arms can still be seen today, one at the City Hall, and the other at the southern entrance of the Centenario Park.


Coat of Arms at City Hall from Diario de Yucatán.


Coat of Arms at City Hall, taken by Carlos.


Coat of Arms set into doorway at Centenario Park.


Detail of the same Coat of Arms at Centenario Park.

The Cathedral of Merida.

The Cathedral of Merida is named for San Idelfonso, a VII Century scholar and Bishop of Toledo. The construction of the cathedral began in 1562 and was finished 36 years later in 1598. It was built with stones and mortar from the demolished Maya temples of T’ho, the Maya city that predates Merida. The temples were situated where Merida’s Main Plaza now stands. Two architects were in charge of the building project: Pedro de Aleustia and Juan Miguel de Agüero.

Many legends are told about the Cathedral. One is that a confusion of blueprints arose and the plans for the Cathedral of Lima, Peru were sent to Merida, and vise versa. This is untrue.

The interior of the Cathedral of Merida did not always look as it does today. At 8 pm on September 24, 1915, during the Mexican Revolution, a group of union workers, following the directives of Governor Salvador Alvarado, entered the cathedral, beheaded the religious statues and set others on fire. They also shot up the elaborate altarpiece. The cathedral and the other churches were closed, and all clergy were forced into exile until 1918 when Salvador Alvarado left Yucatan and the new governor, Carlos Castro Morales, reinstated freedom of religion.
The coat of arms of King Fernado and Queen Isabela of Spain was that of the Court of two Spanish kingdoms, Castilla y Leon. This coat of arms featured four sections with two lions and two castles. According to Diego de Landa, the coat of arms, bestowed on Merida had a particularly beautiful design. It incorporated the symbols of the Spanish rulers, but with just 2 sections, containing 1 lion and 1 castle in each.

Unfortunately most sculptures of the colonial coats of arms throughout Mexico have been lost. Sometime after the declaration of Mexico’s Independence from Spain, Guadalupe Victoria the first President of Mexico – ordered all of the Spanish coats of arms, monograms and other monikers to be chiseled off buildings and monuments. Some of the friars did not fully destroy the sculpted coats of arms – they simply covered them over with stucco. It was not until the year 2,000 that the stucco covering the colonial coat of arms on Merida’s Cathedral was fully removed.

Today, what we can see on the coat of arms of the Cathedral is:
• The royal Spanish crown in the upper part of the sculpture
• The Iturbide empire’s emblem, from 1821 – 1823 (an eagle with outstretched wings)
• The necklace of the toisson d’or – the golden fleece – the royal insignia of many European kings (it was first used by Phillip the Good of the Netherlands – a descendent of Charles the Great – and great, great grandfather of Charles V of Spain).


The Catedral of Mérida.


The Catedral and Bishop’s Palace from Diario de Yucatán.


The Central Door or “Puerta del Perdón”.


Stature of St. Peter.


Stature of St. Paul.

The Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace were originally part of a single complex. The two parts of this complex were joined by two chapels at either end (one facing 60th Street, and the other facing 58th ) and a courtyard between the two. During the period of the revolution, General Salvador Alvarado had the two chapels destroyed and an open walkway was created between the Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace.

The building called, The Bishop’s Palace, was actually a misnomer. The bishop did live in a residence that faced 60th Street. The rest of the building was used as the seminary (El Seminario de San Idelfonso).


The detail of the Coat of Arms on Cathedral.


The former Bishop’s Palace, now the MACAY.


Detail of façade of the MACAY: the Imperial eagle.


Detail of the façade of the MACAY: the lion head.


A newspaper photograph of the two Greek goddesses and the cornucopias that adorn the central upper part of the MACAY.


The corner of 63rd and 58th Streets, an example of an original colonial construction (featuring stones placed one on top of the other, with no stucco covering).


The rear façade of the MACAY on 58th Street, once the entrance way to Seminary (you can see the Crown on the central top of the façade, and the outline of where the Coat of Arms was chiseled off. The statue flanking the balcony are of San Idelfonso and Our Lady of the Rosary).


Detail of the statues of San Idelfonso and Our Lady of the Rosary.

La Casa de Montejo.

The history behind of the Montejo family and their coat of arms is complex.

Francisco de Montejo had been a part of Juan de Grijalva’s expedition in 1518 to explore the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico. Montejo was a captain and had been responsible for four of Grijalva’s ships. He had proven his ability and was knowledgeable about the area, so when Hernan Cortez put together his own expedition to the mainland in 1519, he asked Montejo to join him. They made landfall in the place we now know as Veracruz. Right away, Cortez and Montejo could see the area’s potential. As soon as they had established a settlement, called La Villa Rica de la Veracruz, Cortez dispatched Montejo back to Spain, to ask on his behalf for permission to carry out the conquest of Mexico. Francisco de Montejo also asked for his own commission – the conquest of the “Islands of Yucatan and Cozumel”.

While Montejo waited for the permissions to be granted, he married and with his wife, Beatriz de Herrera y Ayala, he had a legitimate heir. Beatriz was from a prominent Spanish family. Her grandfather, Pedro Garcia y Herrera had been the General in charge of all the Castillian Armies.

Finally, on December 8, 1526 – seven years after arriving in Spain – King Carlos V granted both requests. As the Conquistador of the Islands of Yucatan and Cozumel, Francisco de Montejo received a title, El Adelantado, and a coat of arms from the king. From this point on, he was known as Francisco de Montejo y Alvarez, El Adelantado.

His coat of arms is divided into four sections. The first depicts the lion and the castle – symbols of the Spanish kingdom. The second and third sections are the insignias of his wife’s family, and in the fourth section, we find the ancestral coat of arms of the Salazar family.

Francisco de Montejo y Alvarez, El Adelantado was born into the Salazar family, but at the time, it was common for men to replace their birth surname with that of a more politically prestigious ancestor, or ancestors.

The daughter born to Francisco de Montejo y Alvarez El Adelantado and Beatriz de Herrera y Ayala was named, Catalina de Montejo y Herrera. She married Alonzo Maldonado y Guzman, a high ranking official in Santo Domingo and Honduras. Upon her marriage, she left Yucatan forever, but she inherited the title of El Adelantado. Her descendants in Spain are the XVIII generation that bear the title, Adelantados de Yucatan y Duques de Montellano.

But there’s more… El Adelantado had an illegitimate son with a woman known as Ana de Leon, who was from Sevilla. The son’s name was Francisco de Montejo y Leon. His title was, El Mozo. At about 12, he had traveled to the New World with his father.

In 1540, Francisco de Montejo El Adelantado was the Governor of San Cristobal de las Casas. He stayed there while his son, Francisco de Montejo El Mozo and a nephew, Francisco de Montejo y Armenta El Sobrino finally conquered the region on the Feast Day of San Bernabe, in June 1541.

El Mozo was married to Andrea del Castillo. They had three children, and one of them, Beatriz de Montejo y Castillo, is the one who inherited the Casa de Montejo. Her husband was actually her uncle, Fransico de Montejo y Armenta El Sobrino. The Casa de Montejo remained in the family until the 1980s when it was sold to Banamex.

The façade of the Casa de Montejo was not sacked or vandalized during the time when the Cathedral was, and so the original details and adornments can still be seen.


Full view of Casa de Montejo.


Jorge with students in front of Casa de Montejo.


Close up of central façade of Casa de Montejo.


Close up of the Coats of Arms of Montejo El Adelantado.


The Salazar Coat of Arms.


Heads of Montejo y León, el Mozo, and his three children.


Head of Beatriz de Herrera y Ayala, wife of El Adelantado.

La Casa Cardenas.

The lot located kitty-corner to the south-western side of the Grand Plaza was granted to a Conquistador named, Fernando de Bracamonte. The property stayed in the family for several generations, and eventually was sold to the Cardenas family.

The Cardenas patriarch had the present house built, and it is known as La Casa de los Ladrillos. Terracotta tiles were used in the construction, which is not a common building material in Yucatan. The house was finished at the end of the XVI or beginning of the XVII Century, and the family’s coat of arms was hung on the outside wall. It is still there today.

In the middle of the XVIII Century, the great, great granddaughter, Leonor de Cardenas married Alonzo Peon y Valdez, a colonel in the Spanish army. The governor appointed to the province of Yucatan, Brigadier Hugo O’Connor, fell ill, and appointed Alonzo Peon y Valdez to govern in his stead.

The only written testimony we have from the brigadier is that he donated 10,000 pesos from his own pocket to the Hospital de San Lazaro in Campeche. San Lazaro was a facility for persons with leprosy.


Main entrance to the Casa Cárdenas.


Coat of Arms of the Cárdenas family.


Drawing of the Coat of Arms of the Cárdenas family.


Portrait of Leonor de Cárdenas and her husband.

El Jesus: Church of the Third Order.

One of the Conquistadores, Martin de Palomar was a great admirer of the the Jesuit order. Following the example of their founder, Ignacio de Loyola, the Jesuits studied astronomy, philosophy, mathematics and intellectual disciplines When Martin de Palomar died, he left 26,000 pesos in gold and a square block of land bordered by Calles 58 and 60, and Calles 57 and 59 – a fortune at the time. In 1611, King Phillip III of Spain gave the Jesuits authorization for the construction of the “Real y Pontíficia Universidad de Merida” (known also as El Colegio de San Javier) It was built using the land and the funds left to them in the Conquistador’s will.

Time passed and the Jesuits throughout the Spanish empire gained a reputation as rebellious intellectual nonconformists. In 1767 King Carlos III expelled the entire order from his lands. This caused a decline in culture and education in Merida, and all throughout the kingdom. The abandoned university turned into a garbage dump, and gradually the land was sold off. Where the Parque de la Madre stands was originally part of the Jesuit’s holdings. The Pinacoteca on 59th Street, the Church itself, and the old Congress building are the only parts of the grand university complex that have survived.

A cenote and the colonial waterwheel were located behind the church, on the land where the Congressional Chambers Building was constructed in 1960. Now it has been torn down and the Palacio de Musica is going up.


The Church of Jesus, the Jesuit Church in Mérida.


The intersection of Calle 59 and Calle 60 in 2017 – notice the stone cross.


Same location 1863 – same stone cross.


The Coat of Arms of the Bourbon family in Spain.

The coat of arms in El Jesus church.

Up until the year 1700, El Jesus Church, like all the other colonial buildings in Merida, featured the Coat of Arms of the Spanish Crown. But in that year King Charles II, who was of the Hapsburg royal family, died – leaving no heir. His closest cousins were the Bourbon royal family, of France. When the Bourbon took over the rule of Spain, they installed a different coat of arms on the new buildings they built. In this new coat of arms, their 13 large and small kingdoms were represented. In effect, they were the rulers of most of continental Europe.

And much more to see in Mérida…

Lic. Jorge Carlos Rosado Baeza.
Lic. Luis Carlos Rosado Van der Gracht
Para los alumnos de Tecnología Turística Total, A.C.

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