San Bernabé Ocotepec is another of the colorful mountainside pueblitos that seem simultaneously cut off from the city, and a throbbing, vital part of it, too. One of the pueblos originarios of Magdalena Contreras, it’s name betrays something of the town’s fascinating history.
The present church has been the parish church here only since 1990. The building suffered significant damage in the earthquake of 2017.
The “hill of ocotes” refers to the types of pine trees growing in the area and at higher altitudes straight south through Central America. The town of Ocotal in Nicaragua gets its name from the same tree. Ocotepec was named by Tepaneca and Otomí or Chichimeca peoples and served as something of a borderland between hunter-gatherer peoples who lived at higher altitudes, even after the Spanish conquest.
By 1535, a temple had already been built here in honor of Saint Barnabus the Apostle. In this case, it was Dominican friars working with the local Chichimeca people. The atrium of the church to this day holds one of the ancient ballgame rings and a ceremonial urn also carved from stone.
The town still celebrates the feast day of Saint Barnabus on June 11 of each year.
The church is also very well regarded for having protected the Lienzo de San Bernabé Ocotepec, a legal document for more than 450 years. Its intent is to protect the people’s title to the land, but it’s ended up strengthening cohesion across the community. Although the original from the 16th century was eventually lost, an 18th century copy is believed to be both accurate and legally binding. It contains a description of the congregation, its size and territorial nomenclature. Written on a piece of linen some 195 x 150 centimeters, the document’s oil painted drawings depict the scenes, characters, landscapes and description of the entire area.
International visitors very often arrive here after a visit to Mazatepetl and the ruins at the very top of the hill. It’s increasingly common though to spend an afternoon touring this and some of the other pueblos that occupy the rugged lands leading up to Los Dinamos and the national park there.