Historic Mexican church emerges from lake as drought ravages country

The Temple of the Virgin of Dolores submerged by dam construction in 1979

Justin Vallejo
New York
Thursday 06 May 2021 20:55
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Virgen de los Dolores Temple in Zangarro community, Guanajuato state
Virgen de los Dolores Temple in Zangarro community, Guanajuato state
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A 19th-century church that disappeared beneath a Mexican lake more than 40 years ago has been revealed in stunning new images, illustrating the devastating effects of severe drought on the region.

The images show the crumbling Temple of the Virgin of Dolores breaching the surface of Lake Purisma in Guanajuato, more than four decades after it first disappeared in 1979 with the construction of a dam.

More than 70 per cent of Mexico is currently in drought, with a lack of rain in 2021 depleting the country’s dams to below 50 per cent capacity.

The church, which once housed a rectory and civil registry of Villa Real de Mina, reappeared in July last year as a result of a drought that dropped the country’s water supply to its lowest levels in 25 years, according to Mexico News Daily.

Construction of the dam was ordered by former president José López Portillo after another dam burst six years earlier about 15 miles away in the town of  Irapuato, according to Spanish-language newspaper Milenio, which was first to publish the images.

Dulce Vázquez, director of the community’s municipal archive, told the newspaper that there was resistance from residents of El Zangarro, who were relocated to nearby land to a new town of the same name.

"The place, the parish, was crowded, because there was the civil registry and the vicarage, it had permission to carry out these types of procedures, that is why it was a very important place," Ms Vázque said.

“Oral history tells that it was very difficult for them to leave the place, not just because of the buildings, but because of the sense of belonging to the place… A few resisted until they saw  it was already a reality that the water would arrive to cover the entire town."

Construction of the dam flooded 1,200 hectares and covered the town of El Zangarro, including the church, which some "documentary sources" suggest could date back 100-years earlier to the 18th-century.

The lack of rain in the first quarter of 2021 has prompted Mexico’s National Water Commission chief, Blanca Jiménez Cisneros, to begin water-saving measures as more than 70 per cent of the country remains in drought.

He told a press conference in April that Guanajuato, the region where the Temple of the Virgin of Dolores is located, is among the most affected areas in the country, along with Guerrero, Michoacán and Oaxaca.

He said many of the country’s dams are below 50 per cent capacity, down 23 per cent from 2020, and drought conditions are expected to continue in 2021, according to Mexico News Daily.

Ms Vázque said the receding waters had revealed more treasures than just the church itself.

"Things have been found, although it is already very looted, imagine, we are talking from 1979 until today it has been a long time," she said.

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