St. IIdephonsus Cathedral of Merida

Churches and cathedrals hold much more meaning than just their well known purpose as a place of worship. The enormous size and strategic location of theses cathedrals in a colonial city made strength and power the Spanish held over the indigenous people known. The cathedral of Merida is a perfect example of this since it is the oldest known cathedral in the Americas. After the Spanish conquest, the pressure the locals had to convert to Roman Catholicism was significant to say the least. The indigenous people were not only pressured but forced to convert or they risked facing torture and or death. Along with having to convert to Catholicism the local people were forced to build the cathedrals with materials from there own accent landmarks. These beautiful religious sites of worship were often time built on top of the ruins of the previous civilization. Although the materials were used from the area, the design and architecture of the cathedrals were based off of European architecture in Spain. With the exception of one, all Spanish cathedrals face the plaza.

The Merida cathedral was built during the late 16 century as a dedication to Archbishop IIdefonso of Toledo. Ildefonso received this dedication due to entering an agreement with the Montejo family who held power in Merida. The first church at this site was a tiny wooden building that didn’t last long before construction of a brand new limestone cathedral began. In 1542, Bishop Francisco Toral starts to construct the massive stone cathedral that stands today. The cathedral's final blueprint was proposed by architect Juan Miguel de Aguero, in 1585 and completed in 1599. This was the first completed cathedral in all of the America’s which strongly resembled the Cathedral of Santo Domingo. Mayan slaves were forced to build the cathedral using material from the scared mountains their ancestors had built. Later during the revolutionary period, natives would hold up in the cathedral and use it as a vantage point for firing their weapons. The Merida cathedral faces the center of the plaza and is located on the eastern side.

In order to truly understand the history behind this great cathedral we must look at the history of Merida itself. In January 1562, Francisco de Montejo founded the city of Merida which actually was a Mayan center named, Ichcaansiho. The City of Merida was originally named Tiho but was renamed due it is close resemblance to the city Merida in Spain which was decorated with beautiful stonework. The original name of the city came from the battle that was fought against the Maya in order to conquer the city. The plaza at the center of the city was home to three main structures; The cathedral, the Montejo family palace and the government building that housed the offices of government officials. Like many other Spanish cities, the Meida plaza is in a grid pattern. Today the plaza remains the main gathering place for its people.