Tag Archives: Zinacantan

Zinacantan + San Juan Chamula, Chiapas: Magic Towns

My friend Chris Clark writes a blog called Color in the Streets. It is her musings about living on Lake Chapala, Jalisco, and visiting many regions around Mexico during the last six years since she moved there from North Carolina, where I first met her. Chris’ partner Ben died almost two years ago and she has decided to move back to North Carolina where she has a strong support system. She will return in August.

In February, Chris came with us to Chiapas to explore the villages she had always dreamed about visiting. She has been writing a three-part series about her experiences there, and I published her first piece earlier this spring. You can read all three posts HERE.

Chris has a way with words. Her descriptions are detailed and luxurious. Reading what she writes is almost like being there. She has a big heart and makes instantaneous connections with the people we meet along the way.

Here is an excerpt about Zinacantan:

The village is the largest supplier of flowers throughout Mexico and parts of the United States. The hillsides are covered with greenhouses. Most residents wear indigenous traje (costumes) handwoven and then embroidered with each year’s current colorful display of flowers. The designs are hand-drawn and then machine embroidered. The colors change regularly. On our visit we saw deep green, burgundy, black, and brightly colored accents.

Here is an excerpt about San Juan Chamula:

This is the village I’d heard most about from friends and neighbors in Ajijic, where I live, who’d visited the church of San Juan Chamula, noted for its mix of Christianity and Maya beliefs (syncretism). For some reason, I had expected a small, simple structure, maybe made of wood, with little space inside. Church pews, of course. But pine needles and candles? Surely not. Inside felt immediately sacred and mystical. The walls were lined with small, lifelike statues of saints. The floor covered with pine needles, brushed aside to hold tall, skinny candles creating “pop-up” altars honoring those in need of healing…unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

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Zinacantan Textile Flowers, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas

They speak Tzotzil here in the Maya highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.  San Lorenzo Zinacantan is a village nestled in a beautiful valley about thirty minutes from San San Cristobal de Las Casas.  It is a popular Sunday tourist destination combined with a visit to the mystical church at San Juan Chamula (which I will write about in another post), just ten minutes apart.

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Zinacantan people yielded to the Spanish during the conquest.  They enjoyed more favors and received fertile land in exchange for their loyalty. Today, the Zinacantan hillside is dotted with greenhouses where flowers grow in abundance to decorate church and home altars, and are a key part of festivals.


The village replicates these flowers in their embroidery that embellish cloth created on back strap looms.  Over the years we have seen the patterns change from simple red and white striped cloth to sparkly textiles that incorporate synthetic glitzy threads of gold and silver.  Much of the embroidery is now machine stitched, though the designs are guided by expert hands.

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I’ve been coming to San Cristobal de Las Casas for years searching for a chal embroidered by hand to no avail. This time, Patrick, our guide took us to the home of Antonia, one of Zinacantan’s most accomplished weavers and embroiderers.  Among the hundred chals (shawl or tzute) available for purchase, I found a blue one all hand embroidered. Technology is winning out over the made by hand ethos.


Identity is defined externally by the indigenous garment.  Some say the Spanish imposed this upon local people in order to know where they came from and to keep them in their place. Others say the design of the garment endures because of cultural pride.  The young woman above is from the village of Chenalho.  I can tell because of the design of her beautiful huipil.

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She is the tortilla maker at Antonia’s home, who keeps the fire going, makes us a fresh quesadilla of local cheese, cured chorizo, avocado and homemade salsa to remember the visit. Food is memory, too.

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Nothing is wasted, not even the smoke. It curls up from the comal to cure the meats that hang above it. The corn is criollo, locally grown and ground by hand, pure and wholesome. Here in the shadowy adobe kitchen there is magic.

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It is impossible to take photographs inside the church at Zinacantan. It is forbidden and cameras can be confiscated if you are found to violate this. Can you imagine a church altar spilling over with flowers from ceiling to floor, fresh, with an aroma of lilies, roses, gardenias and lilacs. The swirl of scent is like an infusion of incense, designed perhaps to bring one closer to god.

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I organized this art and archeology study tour for Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.  If you have a small group interested in coming to Oaxaca or Chiapas, please contact me.  I have over 35 years experience organizing award-winning educational programs for some of America’s most respected universities.