Cuilapam de Guerrero

Cuilapam or Cuilapan?

The mystery is now solved: There are some signs on the highway and in tourist brochures which differ in the name of this quiet town near Oaxaca city, only 20 kms. from it; some could be read as Cuilapam and others as Cuilapan. The explanaition is the following: First at all, the name of the town comes from the Nahuatl language and it refers to the place or valley of Cocoyoles. If we say Cuilapam the ending "Pam" means valley of and, if we say Cuilapan with the ending "Pan" it means place of. Both names are officially accepted so, both are correct. Cocoyoles is a type of small coconut which was a common tree at this place at the arrival of Spaniards.

Ex-convent of Cuilapam

The Dominic temple and ex-convent of Cuilapam de Guerrero seem, at the distance, as a fortress dominating the valley in which it is located. It was built on a small hill and has a spectacular view of the surroundings. The wide walls of green quarry stone and blocks of boulders keep silently part of the great history of the encounter of different cultures: the Spanish, the Mixtec and the Zapotec. The ex-convent is today a tranquil place where footsteps echoed in the halls and chambers but, it is also easy to imagine the place in full movement of Dominic Monks walking through the halls, praying, preaching, studying or just doing their chores at any given day.

There are mural paintings, most in black and white, on the inner walls of the ex-convent. There are also oil paintings of priests which are almost lost by the pass of time on the second floor. The Anthropology and History National Institute (INAH) occupy many rooms of the second floor as restoration workshops.

Open Chapel

The temple and convent are dedicated to Santiago Apostle who is celebrated on July 25th each year. This place was the most important evangelizing center in the Central Valleys. The open church, which has no ceiling, is due Indian people were afraid of closed spaces and, because it was very important to converse local people to Christianism, the chapel was built that way in order to offer the service to indigenous people.

The history of Princess Donaji

The history says that Zapotec king Cosijoeza and queen Coloyocaltzin had a son, Cosijopi, who was sent to rule the region of the Istmo of Tehuantepec. Cosijopi had a daughter, the princess Donaji, pronounced in the soft Zapotec language as Donashi. At those times, there were constant wars between Zapotecs, who were established in Zaachila, the political capital of Zapotecs, and Mixtecs, who were established in Monte Alban after the Zapotecs abandoned that place. The Mixtec attacked Zaachila and, in order to finish the war, they take Princess Donaji as a hostage of peace. Then the Zapotec stroke back Monte Alban and, because it was a sudden attack, the Mixtecs ran away and decapitated the Princess. After that, they only confessed where the body was buried but, they didn't say where the head was at and it remained as a secret which gave birth to the legend.

The legend of Princess Donaji

The legend of the Pricess Donaji says that a young shepherd who took animals to pasture where today is known as San Agustin de las Juntas, near the international airport of Oaxaca city, found a Madonna lily flower, also called Lirio, and, instead of cutting it off, he dig in order to take it with the whole roots. When he was doing it, he could see a human ear, in fact the root was at it, then he discovered the human head which was presumably the head of the princess. It is said that the head was in perfect conditions and, because of the rich decorations, it was thought to be the princess. Then the body and the head were buried in the temple of Cuilapam. It is believed that this was done in order to attract more indigenous people because of the importance of this person in the local culture. In fact, this Princes was baptised with the name of Juana Cortes.

Vicente Guerrero

At the backyard of this ex-convent, an important page of the Mexican history was written: Vicente Guerrero, the second president of Mexico, was killed by a firing squad after being betrayed in Acapulco and taken to Huatulco, today La Entrega beach, the place where he was turned in to Spaniards and then brought to the ex-convent of Cuilapam where he was imprisoned and killed on February 14th 1831.

Special thanks to Mr. Javier Patiño Bailón, guardian of INAH, who provided very important facts of this enigmatic place.

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