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The Monastery of Izamal

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Mexico.

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East of Merida, the capital of Yucatan, is the colonial town of Izamal. In the center of town stands the Monastery of Izamal, containing one of the most venerated Marian statues in all of Mexico. To this statue are attributed thousands of miracles of healing. Examining Izamal's pre-Colombian history however, another explanation for the healing miracles presents itself. Prior to the time of the Spanish conquest of Yucatan (1527-1547), Izamal was one of the most important cities on the peninsula. A Maya pilgrimage site since as early as 1000 BC, Izamal was considered to be the abode of Kinichkakmo, a manifestation of the Sun god, and of Itzam Na, a deity of healing and the arts. Itzam Na was also known by the title Ahaulil or ‘Lord’ and was sometimes shown presiding over lesser deities.

Following the capture of Izamal by the Spanish, the local population were enslaved and forced to dismantle the top of an enormous pyramid in the center of the city. Upon the now flattened pyramid, at the place where previously had stood the sanctuary of the god Itzam Na, the Indians were forced to erect a monastery and church in 1553. This was done because of the Christian belief that a church would discourage the Indians from their 'devil worship'. Soon after the consecration of the church and the installation of the Marian statue, miracles of healing began to occur. These miracles were explained by the Christian authorities as resulting from the grace of Mary. But were the miracles actually caused by the wooden statue of Mary inside the church or might they be better explained by reference to the Maya beliefs regarding the healing power of Izamal? The town is much visited twice each year when thousands of pilgrims come for the October 18 Procession of the Black Christ and the December 8 Procession of the Virgin of Izamal.

Photo: The monastery of Izamal, Yucatan

information from Sacred Sites on the Monastery of Izamal.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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