The Chapel of San Lorenzo Tlaltecpan is the heart of one of Xochimilico’s oldest neighborhoods. One of the barrios originarios, it’s recognized by the city for maintaining at least some of its ancient culture. It’s often confused with the Pueblo of San Lorenzo Atemoaya, which has its own chapel a bit further south. “Tlalctepan,” from the Náhuatl, can be translated as tlalí, “land” and tecpan, meaning “palace” or “temple.” Thus, Tlactepan is the Land of the Temple or Palace.
It was in fact a religious center for the ancient Xochimilca people. During the colonial period, the neighborhood benefited much from agricultural techniques being introduced from Spain. It was rewarded for the prowess of the neighborhood fishermen with a grant of lagoon waters. But partly because it was small, and partly because of its history as a ceremonial center, only a humble chapel was ever built. In fact, the neighborhood officially extends rather far north and east, to the Tláhuac border. It’s San Lorenzo’s own system of canals and chinampas that still amazes visitors.
Chapel of San Lorenzo
The 1958 chapel, pictured above, bears an unmistakable mix of Baroque, Modernist, and Military Monastic styles. Like in most of Xochimilco, the Chapel of San Lorenzo faces west.
The façade of red tezontle and quarry, has features of both popular art and some Baroque. There are two niches on each side of the main door with figures which date from more recent years. The octagonal choir window is in carved quarry stone, just beneath a plate that supports the three bell tower arches. The vault is supported by four-sided buttresses. The unmistakable battlements, again, recall the Military Monastic style introduced to Mexico by the Franciscans.
The San Lorenzo neighborhood, sometimes called San Lorencito, is visited for the crooked winding streets and for the views of the chinampas. These are adorned with the colors of the harvests: flowers, corn, and romeritos. But most international visitors will take to the quaint main commercial street, calle Dalia, onto which the chapel opens. It’s a remarkable and almost hidden neighborhood just beyond the Cathedral of Xochimilco.