Mexican officials said Tuesday they have filed a criminal complaint after villagers in the central state of Tlaxcala bulldozed a chapel from the 1700s.
Arturo Balandrano, the head of the historical monuments for the National Institute of Anthropology and History, said he doesn’t know why people in the township of San Pablo del Monte tore down the Chapel of Holy Christ late Saturday and early Sunday.
“We don’t understand how a community that is eminently Catholic, that traditionally follows the rites of the Catholic Church, could have committed this barbaric act,” Balandrano said.
Calls seeking comment were not answered at the diocese of Tlaxcala, the local parish in San Pablo del Monte or the municipal government. Local media quoted villagers as saying the chapel was falling apart and describing it as not that old.
The church building, like most in Mexico, is actually state property and is ceded temporarily to the Catholic Church to use for religious celebrations. Destroying it, or any other historic monument, is punishable by prison terms of three to 11 years, Balandrano noted.
With 110,000 historic monuments and buildings to look after, authorities didn’t discover what had happened until it was too late, and the chapel had been bulldozed flat and the rubble cleared, he said.
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The one-story Chapel of Holy Christ was originally built during colonial times by the Franciscan order and added on to in the 19th and 20th centuries. It had a simply facade, two squat bell towers, an arched nave and a small dome and its walls were almost a meter (yard) thick. Painted bright blue and yellow, the chapel stood in front a much larger, newer church that residents built about a decade ago in an exuberant mix of styles.
Balandrano said the chapel was not big enough for the community’s religious needs, but he denied it was falling down. “It was a solid building that wasn’t at risk. It had some small cracks, as all historic buildings have, but it wasn’t structurally at risk.”
Raul Delgado, who heads historic site protection for the National Arts Council, expressed dismay at the chapel’s destruction. Mexican towns and villages typically protect such simple but stately old historic structures fiercely, he said. “This is unheard of.”