Temple of San Nicolás Tolentino – Tlaxiaco, Mexico - Atlas Obscura
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Tlaxiaco, Mexico

Temple of San Nicolás Tolentino

After a partial collapse in the 1950s, this small church's historic facade lives on.  

The city of Tlaxico is home to a number of historic churches. But the strangely truncated Temple of San Nicolás Tolentino, while not the grandest place of worship in the area, might be one of the most unforgettable.

Following the arrival of Spanish conquistadors to the territory that is now Mexico, many Catholic orders divided up the land for evangelization. The current state of Oaxaca—especially the northern region, home of the Mixtec peoples—was commended to the Dominican order. This religious order oversaw the construction of impressive convents and churches in towns like Yanhuitlán, Teposcolula, and Coixtlahuaca, as well as smaller temples intended to help spread Catholicism in more remote populations like Tlaxiaco.

Dominican constructions in the state date from the late 16th century through to the early 18th century. In Tlaxiaco, the main site of worship was (and still is) the Parish of Santa María de la Asunción in the center of town, but smaller churches in neighborhoods like San Nicolás were built in the same period. Consecrated to Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, this church would later be semi-abandoned and left to decay, causing its partial collapse in 1952.

While the belfry that crowned it did fall, the facade was one of the few original Dominican architectural elements to remain relatively unscathed. The church would be rebuilt using this original facade, but funds to replace the belfry have yet to materialize, despite Tlaxiaco’s growing reputation as a modern indigenous cultural center—it is the birthplace of celebrities of Mixtec ancestry like actress Yalitza Aparicio, and signer Lila Downs. Without a belfry to hang in, the bell that calls churchgoers to mass is located outside the church instead, under cover of a small cement structure.

Know Before You Go

Starting every September 10 and usually lasting a week, celebrations in honor of Saint Nicholas are centered in this church and the surrounding homonymous neighborhood, north of Tlaxiaco's city center.

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