Princess Donají Tomb – San Juan, Mexico - Atlas Obscura
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San Juan, Mexico

Princess Donají Tomb

This abandoned convent keeps the tomb of a legendary beheaded princess. 

Within the ruins of the abandoned convent of Santiago Apóstol, inside a small church, lies the supposed grave of the Princess Donají. The story of her life and grisly death is one of the most emblematic legends of Oaxaca.

The legend tells that during the pre-Hispanic era, the Zapotecs of Zaachila and the Mixtecs of Monte Alban lived in constant war. When the Mixtecs won, they forced the Zapotec king to deliver his daughter as proof that they would not attack more. This prisoner daughter was Princess Donají. The Zapotecs tried to rescue her, but before they could, the Mixtecs decapitated her and hid her body so that she could never be found.

The years passed until, during the Mexican viceroyalty, a shepherd boy who was walking near the Atoyac River (by the current Oaxaca Airport) discovered a lily. At that time of year, the lilies were so exotic that he decided to uproot it to take it with him. His surprise when digging up was that the flower was born from the head of the corpse of the lost princess.

When the people discovered that the body was incorrupt, it caused such admiration that it was buried with a great ceremony inside the convent of Santiago Apóstol. The princess was seen as a heroine of the defense of her people, and since then her head has served as an emblem of Oaxaca.

Currently, the convent is abandoned due to the frequent earthquakes in the area. The site preserves vestiges of mural paintings and its original architecture. It was used as a prison for the caudillo Vicente Guerrero, and even Pope Juan Pablo II gave a mass there. However, the most visited section is the tomb of the legendary princess.

Know Before You Go

The abandoned convent is located about 6 miles (10km) south of the city of Oaxaca, in the village of Cuilápam de Guerrero. There is a small parish church on the grounds that is in use today. The tomb is located at the front of the church to the right of the altar.

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