A ghost temple of the viceroyalty emerges with the drought in Guanajuato

It has been a little over 40 years since the temple could not be seen in its entirety. Photo: (El Paìs)

The town of Zangarro and its iconic church were flooded and relocated to build a dam in Guanajuato in 1979. Now with the drought hitting the country, the water level drops and the memories of a community revive.

Guanajuato, Guanajuato, (May 19, 2021).- In the mid-1970s, Jorge Sánchez took communion in the church in his town. The temple with imposing walls with neoclassical ornaments and baroque dyes was the center of activity of the hacienda where he lived and of the entire southern area of ​​Guanajuato. He still remembers the ceremony, between memories of a simple childhood in the countryside until on Monday, October 15, 1979, the Secretariat of Hydraulic Resources decreed the land where Sánchez grew up of public utility, evicted the residents to flood the town, and built the dam of La Purísima.

The masterful church was abandoned along with the houses and crops of another 500 inhabitants to be buried underwater. With the current historical drought that hits Mexico, the level of the dam descends and brings the building back to the light to commemorate the history of the Zangarro community, recall the splendor of yesteryear and attract onlookers who relive an area that is not easily accessible and stained by the stigma of violence.

The last memories that Sánchez has inside the temple are from when the inhabitants resigned themselves to leaving and left her behind along with the lifestyle they enjoyed on the hacienda. “When we were kids we used to go to the church that was empty at the ball”, remembers this merchant. Now he runs a store in the town a couple of kilometers from the dam, where his parents had an adobe house among the crops of peaches, avocados, alfalfa, and quince. He assures that the place was deserted, and they abandoned the pantheon and the tombs inside the church. With their teenage friends, they used to come over to play as the water level slowly rose. Among the ruins, they found treasures and skulls that hid the walls of the temple dating from the 18th century dedicated to the Virgen de Los Dolores, an architectural example of the late period of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

Local fishermen have had to stop their activity due to the severe drought that hit the place.
Local fishermen have had to stop their activity due to the severe drought that hit the place. Photo: (El Paìs)

The congregation of Zangarro was the most important reduction and close to the hull of the hacienda. The architect José Esteban Hernández documented that its importance was such for the inhabitants of the region in the 20th century that all the communities located to the south of Marfil had to go there to carry out all their civil and religious procedures since in that place there was the Civil Registry and the Vicarage.

Then, life was “simpler and slower” for Sánchez. He and his friends played marbles in the street, went out to chase “Las Chivas” and challenged each other to venture into the lands surrounding the ranch where there were coyotes and other wild animals. That changed one day when they saw heavy machinery that surrounded the stream that fed the crops of the hacienda, one of the many that nourish the Guanajuato basin. “At first they told us they were going to build an airport,” says the man who is now 52 years old. Then the government offices arrived, then the Mexican Army and finally a helicopter in which President José López Portillo was traveling. “We had never seen a helicopter before,” Sánchez recalls.

Historian Dulce María Vázquez Mendiola explains that the flood suffered by Irapuato municipality of Guanajuato, the closest city, six years earlier motivated the Government to build the dam to take advantage of the water tributaries and prevent more natural disasters. In the second week of August 1973, torrential rains that promised good harvests ended up overflowing the Conejo II dam. As a result, torrents of water swept through the city covered it with two meters of water and drowned several people in one of the most recent tragedies that the community remembers. The number of victims to date is not yet defined.

Jorge Sánchez works in his grocery business in the community of Zangarro, Guanajuato.
Jorge Sánchez works in his grocery business in the community of Zangarro, Guanajuato. Photo: (El Paìs)

However, the inhabitants of El Zangarro did not want to abandon their lands or give up their way of life. The crops would be lost, the houses in which they were born would be covered and would force the town to divide into three communities that would settle on the outskirts of the dam, in the area that Sánchez remembers as dangerous by the coyotes. “They assigned us houses depending on the number of people in the family, but there were people who did not get anything like my brother who had just married,” he details. Carrying their belongings on donkeys and on their shoulders, they settled in the towns that today surround the La Purísima dam. However, they never received the title deeds to those houses, and to this day they cannot sell their properties or inherit them.

Meanwhile, the town was gradually covered in water. The abandoned grounds such as the cemetery served as a playground for the children who came to play with the remains of the dead. The houses were lost in the mirror of the dam along with the few belongings that their owners left behind. And the dome of the temple was finally cracked and hidden by the water.

The times of acute drought, such as the one that has maintained Mexico since the end of 2020, cause the level of the dam to drop enough to remember the ancient town of El Zangarro. Among the black mud in which it sits, some curious visitors come to find vestiges of past populations. The architect Isaac Pantoja, a resident of Irapuato, proudly shows some treasures that he has rescued with his metal detector. Among them, he enthusiastically teaches a Macuquina, an old hammer-struck coin that was used between the 16th and 18th centuries.

The temple of the Virgen de Los Dolores is part of the few ghost churches in Mexico, which rise from the water before hiding again among the remains of forgotten towns that perished for the construction of dams. El Zangarro has echoed the new tourist attraction unearthed by the severe drought. However, the violence that plagues the region, the lack of information and access by unpaved roads worthy of prepared vehicles continue to keep the temple hidden in a landscape dotted with herons and hills.

Source: El Paìs



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