VERACRUZ, Mexico – The Ermita del Rosario chapel, a small church in the eastern Mexican city of Veracruz built nearly 500 years ago, is considered to be the cradle of Christendom in the Americas.
Located on the shores of the Huitzilapan River, in the town of La Antigua, the parish is the first church built in the mainland Americas, planting the seed of what would become the origin of Catholic evangelization in the continent.
Virginia Rosas Delgado, a 54-year-old fruit seller, makes the sign of the cross in front of the tiny edifice barely 20 meters (65 feet) tall and five meters (15 feet) wide.
“It is very important due to religion and everything else (Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes) taught us,” she said of the white stucco chapel located in La Antigua, which marked a watershed in the history of the continent’s Pre-Columbian peoples.
According to legend, the chapel was built between 1523 and 1524 using a special adhesive made by Totonac Indians, which included snail slime, cactus, sea water, calcined lime and bee honey.
Less than six months away from the 500-year anniversary of the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in America, Mrs. Rosas said that she is proud of living near the chapel, which, according to local historians, was remodeled and expanded in 1604.
“That’s the beginning of Christendom,” Omar Ruiz Gordillo, an anthropologist with the National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) and one of the foremost experts on the Spanish Conquest, said. “Cortes arrived, as well as the famous twelve (missionaries).”
The stories and legends speak about 12 Franciscan priests led by Friar Martin de Valencia, who docked in the New Spain and decided to build the first church for travelers who entrusted their soul to God before entering Indian territory.
Today, Mexico has the world’s second largest number of Catholics, with some 111 million believers, trailing only Brazil, with 172 million, according to the Vatican’s latest Pontifical Yearbook.