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Iglesia de San Juan

An unusual church where Catholic service is combined with animal sacrifices and other indigenous beliefs


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The Mexican town of Chamula is home to a beautiful centuries-old Iglesia de San Juan in the middle of town square. The building catches the eye with whitewashed walls and a colourful entrance. The most unusual thing about it is that believers practice peculiar rituals that are based on magic rather than official Catholic practices.

Organized tours are available to San Juan Chamula Church from San Cristobal de las Casas. Bear in mind that locals don't like to be photographed and don't allow pictures inside the church. The best time to visit the church is St. John the Baptist Day on June 24th when thousands of worshippers gather in Iglesia de San Juan Chamula.

Worshipers attach candles directly to the tiles and drink Coca-Cola and “pox”—the regional distillate—to burp as they believe it wards off evil spirits. Other rituals include absorbing maladies into a chicken egg or waving a live hen overhead. Sometimes small animals are killed in the church.

These rituals are a blend of traditional Mayan beliefs with the Catholic ones introduced by missionaries over 500 years ago. The church tried to stop these practices as inappropriate, but Chamulans appointed their own religious leaders and continued to follow their beliefs.

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