Sunday, July 24, 2016

Mexico City's Original Villages-Coyoacán: Pueblo of Tres Santos Reyes and the Lord of Compassion

Fiestas on All Sides

As we've noted in previous posts, we live in the Colonia Parque San Andrés, St. Andrews Park, in the Delegación of Coyoacán. It is an upper-middle class neighborhood whose development began in the 1980s. Although its buildings have a contemporary Mexican look, with straightforward, "functionalist" walls, sometimes painted in bright colors, it could be a neighborhood in any modern city.

But from our fifth-floor apartment we can hear the announcements of another, more traditional Mexican world. From our balcony, we can often see the announcements, the puffs of smoke from explosions of cohetes, large, rocket-style firecrackers shot into the air to announce a pueblo's or barrio's fiestas. For modern Parque San Andrés is virtually surrounded by pueblos originarios, settlements that were original indigenous villages when the Spanish arrived in the Valley of Anahuac, now the Valley of Mexico, five hunded years ago.
[In 2017, at a fiesta in our neighboring, originally indigenous Barrio San Mateo Churubusco, we learned from a life-time resident that Parque San Andrés was built on part of San Mateo's former ejido land, communal lands granted back to indigenous communities after the Mexican Revolution. Before that, it was a Spanish hacienda, a large estate granted by the Spanish crown to some wealthy Spaniard. Another neighbor, who has lived in our colonia for sixty years in one of its few old houses, remembers when it was fields with cows grazing.]
Cohetes, rocket-type fire crackers explode
above the Church of Los Tres Santos Reyes, the Three Sacred Kings
to announce a fiesta.

One day in September of 2011, shortly after we arrived, the explosions of cohetes sounded like they were just outside our front window. They were from Barrio San Mateo Churubusco, whose small church is just three short blocks to the north pf us. They went on several times a day, every day, for a week.

Immediately north of San Mateo is Barrio San Diego Churubusco. To the west is Barrio San Lucas and to the south are the Pueblos Candelaria and Tres Santos Reyes, Three Sacred Kings. About two miles off to the east are the several barrios of Pueblo San Francisco Chulhucan and Pueblo Culhuacan. With barrios and pueblos often having more than one fiesta a year, the sound of cohetes is pretty common. In fact, they serve as the accompaniment as we write this.

So, with our attention turned to our own surroundings, when, one Sunday moring this past April we heard cohetes exploding, we went out onto our balcony to see if we could locate the origin. They were to the south, so they likely came from Candelaria or Tres Reyes. On the spur of the moment, we called a taxi from our nearby sitio and grabbed our camera. The taxi arrived, as usual, in diez minutos, ten minutes. The driver was Andrés, one of our favorites. A man in his sixties, he is jovial and loves to talk with us, so we always have great conversations on our way to wherever.

We told Andrés that we were trying to locate the fiesta where the cohetes were sounding. Our guess was that it was probably Candelaria, a short ten-minute drive down Division del Norte, the tree-lined boulevard that cuts diagonally across Coyoacán from northwest to southeast. We soon arrived at the arch marking the entrance to Pueblo Candelaria. Getting out of the cab, we approached a matron coming around the corner from the neighborhood and asked if the fiesta were there. She told us that no, it wasn't. It was in Pueblo Tres Reyes, a few blocks to the west. It was, at most, a five-minute walk for a "senior".

Pueblo Tres Santos Reyes, Three Sacred Kings

Walking along a main cross avenue, we spotted the towers of the church, its back wall facing the avenue. Turning into a narrow, one-lane street beside the church, we knew we had arrived in an old barrio. Stalls selling food lined the way.
[We have since learned that the full name of the pueblo is Tres Santos Reyes Hueytlilac. Hueytlilac (place of the old swampy waters) is its original Nahua name. It was marshland along Lake Texcoco. People have lived in Hueytlilac since 2,000 BCE. The pueblos of Coyoacán seem, for the most part, to have dropped their indigenous names.]

Stall selling "The original Fair Bread", traditional at fiestas.
"Bread everyday gives you energy!"

Rounding the corner of the church, we entered a small triangular plaza, formed by the intersection of two laneways.

Plaza in front of Iglesia de los Tres Santos Reyes,
Church of the Three Sacred Kings.
Papel picado, paper with 
cut designs, hanging from lines, is traditional from indigenous times.

The plaza was lined with more puestos, stalls, selling food. Through the arched wall of the church's atrio, we could see its facade, covered with a floral portada.

On the floor of the atrio, a tapete de aserrín, a carpet made with colored sawdust

The Saint being honored is a Christ figure during His Passion, 
His torture, before His Crucifixion.

"Congratulations, My Father"

Three, or actually four representations of the same Christ figure as in the sawdust drawing are portrayed, surrounded by hundreds, no, thousands of fresh flowers: chrysanthemums, carnations, daisies. 

Clock is surrounded by lilies

The Mystery Christ

It is all remarkably beautiful, full of life and mysterious. Who is this Christ or multiple Christs that are being honored today with such abundance? And why? This is the Pueblo of the Three Sacred Kings, the Wise Men or Magi who came to see the Baby Jesus on Ephiphany, marking the first manifestion of Jesus the Christ to gentiles. El Dia de los Tres Reyes, Three Kings Day, is a major fiesta on January 6.

So why a fiesta in April, and honoring a particular manifestation of the Christ? Given his semi-naked state and the bloody wounds, it is evidently during his Passion, the week of Semana Santa, Holy Week. But, this year, that was a few weeks earlier.

Eveyone seems to be waiting, eating at a puesto or just standing around, "hanging out". 

The guys

La familia: la abuela y el abuelo - grandma and grandpa;
la madre y el padre- mom and dad,
y el bebé, baby (dressed in blue, so definitely a boy).

The church sanctuary is full of more flowers, white lillies, as if for a wedding, with a few people, also waiting.

A team of men is beginning to construct a castillo, castle, a tower which will be covered with fireworks for a traditional pyrotechnic display after dark, the finale of every fiesta. 

Castillo begins to take form in the street,
in front of "Adriana's" fruit and vegetable store and "La Michoacana" ice cream shop.
For some reason, all across Mexico, ice cream is presented as coming
from the southwestern state of Michoacán, where we lived for three years.
Apples and pears in the boxes are from both Mexico and the U.S.,

showing how economically intertwined the two countries now are.

We are puzzled by what this is all about, but since it is noon-time and tenemos mucho hambre, we are very hungry, we stop at a puesto and buy a taco of cochinita pibil, barbecued, shredded pork served with pickled onion. ¡Muy sabroso! Very tasty! We find a spot on a low wall and sit down to eat, and like everyone else, wait for whatever is going to happen.

An Angel Arrives

Suddenly, a middle-aged man approaches us and begins speaking to us. He doesn't offer the usual "Buenos días", "Good day" greeting, ask our name or why an obvious güero, pale-skinned extranjero, foreigner is visiting his pueblo's fiesta.

Instead, he just starts telling us that, if we are interested, a block or two up the street is a building with an ancient well inside that goes back to before the Spanish. Once, when the well was being cleaned, "idols" were found in it. They are now kept, he believes, somewhere in the church.

Señor Roberto Llanos (Yanos),
Resident of Pueblo Los Tres Reyes

Somewhat taken aback by his directness, not common among Mexicans, especially on first contact, we give him our name and ask his. He is Señor Roberto Llanos (pronounced 'Yahnos'). He is a life-time resident of Tres Reyes and works in "training" in Delegación Cuajimalpa, a largely rural, indigenous borough in the mountains on the west side of Mexico City. He is married, with one adult daugther who is unmarried. He has ojos los más amables, the kindest eyes.

I proceed to inundate him with my questions about the fiesta.

Señor de la Misericordia, Lord of Compassion

The Christ being honored, all three of them apparently, is/are el Señor de la Misericordia, the Lord of Mercy or Compassion. An acquaintance in Coyoacán had told us about him, adding that he was the most important saint in the entire delegación and that he "visited" many barrios and pueblos during the year, but we did not know how to track him down. Today, we appear to have hit the jackpot. Tres Reyes is his home. Sr. Llanos tells us that today is his "birthday."

Sr. Roberto explains that it is the commemoration of when, some centuries ago, this image of the suffering Christ saved the Pueblo Tres Reyes, and all the pueblos of what it are now Coyoacán from an epidemia. When his image was carried throughout the pueblos, the sickness killing many of the residents went away. I remembered el Señor del Rescate, Lord of the Rescue, another image of a suffering Christ in Tzintzuntzan, an indigenous Purépecha pueblo near Pátzcuaro, Michocán, who had saved the community from an epidemic. Such plagues were common after the Spanish arrived and brought diseases like smallpox, to which the indigeneous had no immunity.

Image of Señor de la Misericordia, Lord of Compassion.
The wide cloak reminds us of those on we've seen on other images of Christ.

"Why the three images?", we ask. "Oh, they're all the same." We still wonder about the repetition.

Sr. Roberto tells us that everyone is waiting for el Señor to return to the church. Earlier this morning, the image was taken out for a procession through the streets of the pueblo, so the holy presence could bless his hosts. el pueblo, and the people, el pueblo, could pay him honor. The procession would be returning en un rato, in a little while. 

Living in Mexico for eight years, we have learned that un rato could be anything from a few minutes to about an hour. So now having some understanding of what was going on and why, we settled down in a shady spot to join el pueblo esperandolo, the people awaiting him, el Señor.

Soon cohetes could be heard exploding not far away. Suddenly, everyone becomes animated and gathers around the sawdust "carpet" with el Señor's image. "¡Viene, viene!", "He's coming, he's coming!"

Two priests, one clearly African (therein must lie another story), an altar boy and two adult attendants emerge from the church. At the gate to the atrio, three images appear, one above the other, surrounded by more flowers. Two are suffering Christs, wearing elaborate crowns of thorns and their hands tide but holding scepters, ...actually a stalk of corn, the primal source of life in Mexico! The figure at the bottom is tiny and enclosed in a polished wooden box,

Soon, the three images are lowered from their palanquin and carried by feligreses, parishioners, into the atrio. There, the priest blesses them with holy water and incense, and they are carried into the church. Mass begins.

El Señor de la Misericordia returns to his sanctuary.

Outside, children engage in timeless play in the sawdust, as if playing in the sand.

Despedida, departing Los Reyes, and Bienvenida, we are welcomed to come back

We have been here, in the atrio of the Church of the Three Sacred Kings, for probably three hours or more, in the hot April sun (in a couple more weeks it will be at the zenith, directly overhead, on its way north). We are hot and tired.

Nevertheless, we are not only tremendously satisfied with today's encounter with el Senor and el Pueblo Los Reyes, but we are especially thankful for our "angel", Sr. Roberto Llanos, who welcomed us tan calurosamente, so warmly, and gave us his gift of understanding about what we were experiencing.

As we leave, we see him sitting with his wife and daughter at one side of the atrio. Approaching him, he makes the introductions, then gives us his phone number and tells us we have to return to Los Reyes at least two more times. 

In late May, el Señor begins his "visits" to other pueblos in Coyoacán, so there is a Despedida, a Farewell, and, on the first Sunday in September, a Bienvenida, a Welcome home. That, Sr. Roberto tells us, is the biggest fiesta of Pueblo Los Reyes, even bigger than Three Kings Day. We tell our host that, ojalá, God willing, we will come back. And, of course, there will be Three Kings Day next January. 

We ask one more question: "The little figure, in the box?" "That's la demandita." The Little Demand. It is a tiny version of el Señor de la Misericordia. This strange name and the reason for the small version presents another mystery whose clarification will have to wait for a return visit. And, of course, there is the ancient, sacred well and its idols, stored, perhaps, somewhere inside the church.

Festejemos, Let's Party!

As we walk out the gate of the atrio, mariachis arrive for after-mass fun. Spotting us, they demand we take their photo. Then, on the gate, we notice a sign announcing more activities in the fiesta. 


On Monday night, in the plaza, closing the fiesta, there will be Rumba caliente, a hot rumba dance. The Lord of Compassion hosts a good party, too! That's Mexico!

Pueblo Tres Santos Reyes (green, starred)
southwest of our home base, Parque San Andrés (gold, "arrowhead" shape)


  1. pueblo de los reyes hueytlilac esta conformados por sus barrios y sus pueblos pueblo la candelaria tlanancaleca pueblo santa ursula coapa pueblo san pablo tepetlapan barrio santo domingo huayacatitlan barrio san francisco hueytitlan barrio san lucas quiahuac barrio niño jesus tehitzco

  2. The above comment translates as, "Pueblo los Reyes Hueytitlac is composed of its barrios and its pueblos (Editor's note: these are actually distinct pueblos from los Reyes) Pueblo la Candelaria Tlanancaleca, Pueblo Santa Ursula Coapa, Pueblo San Pablo Tepetlapan, Barrio Santo Domingo Huayacatitlan (Editor's note: It is our understanding that Santo Domingo is a new colonia established by squatters in the late 20th century.) Barrio (Quadrante de)San Francisco Hueytitlan, Barrio San Lucas Quiahuac (Editor's Note: This is the first time we have seen an indigenous name for San Lucas, for which we thank the author) and Barrio Niño Jesus Tehitzco. See our post, Coyoacáns Many Pueblos for a discussion of all of these

  3. Pueblos originarios de Coyoacán . pueblo San Juan Coyoacán pueblo San Sebastián axotla pueblo San Mateo Churubusco pueblo San Francisco Culhuacan pueblo San Pablo Tepetlapa pueblo los reyes hueytlilac pueblo la Candelaria tlancalecan pueblo Santa Úrsula Coapa pueblo San Sebastián Xoco pueblo Santa Cruz Atoyac