Historic San Juan Cosala
By Carol Curtis
What started as a very windy March morning turned into a perfect day for a walking tour of San Juan Cosalá. This traditional, small Mexican village is often overlooked by the expats who know it only for the fish restaurants, the strip of topes, and Viva Mexico. But if you listen to the pride and enthusiasm in Gerardo Tolentino Zamora’s voice when he tells you about his birthplace, you will understand that there is much more to this town than one sees cruising through it on the carreterra.
In an effort to raise funds to provide activities and support for the children, Gerardo gives historic tours of San Juan Cosalá. At the first stop, we were introduced to the oldest church in Lakeside and older than all in Guadalajara. It was built in 1529 by Alonso de Avalos, the cousin of Hernan Cortes. The Franciscan friar Martin de Jesus oversaw the building of this church in order to bring about the change from worshipping many gods to celebrating Christianity. This church was dedicated to St. John the Baptist. In the 1920s, the main area in front of the church was used as a hospital during the war in Mexico. Due to a lack of government funding from the National Institute of Anthropology and History and the Catholic Church, this lovely historic monument has become dangerously close to collapse. Although many attempts have been made to gain funds to preserve this piece of history, none have come forward.
Next we were treated to the Aztec Dance of San Juan Cosalá. This group is open to all area children who are interested in learning the historical dances under the direction of Simon Rameno Casillas. The dances are a mixture of Catholic and Aztec religions. These children perform throughout the lakeside communities and are often requested to perform around the lake at special events and in parades.
A quick stop to see a traditional bakery named San Juan was next. The family was following the tradition for making bread known as tachiual, which is over 400 years old. Although originally this was made by the women, it is now something in which all family members participate. This popular bakery makes the regular bolillos (or what SJC residents call birotes) that are sold in the local stores and from the bread trucks that cruise the streets.
Before we returned to the plaza for a wonderful meal prepared by local women and a look at some of the children’s art, we learned about five very special crosses in San Juan. The crosses are from the time this area was converted to Christianity. Prior to Christianity coming to town, every neighborhood had a special god. A circle stone was set for human sacrifice to honor this god. When Martin de Jesus arrived, he began the process of destroying the altars and installing a cross. The cross was the visual reminder that the village neighborhoods were Catholic. One of the local gods was Ixtlalcateotl, which means man that turns his head with anger. It’s fitting that he is no longer honored. Rather San Juan Cosalá has people like Gerardo who remind us to turn our heads with joy as we visit the unknown corners of this traditional Mexican village.