The San Lucas Atenco church in Azcapotzalco, officially the Church of San Lucas Evangelista, is among the most unusual of colonial-era temples. The town grew up from an original calpulli, similar to a family-based tribe, and subject to the Tepanec lordship as was most of Azcapotzalco.
The Nahuatl name, Atenco, can be translated as “place at the water’s edge.” Like those in neighboring villages, the townspeople were known as goldsmiths. Thus, legend has it that the famed Treasure of Axayacatl was melted down by the smiths from here under orders from Hernán Cortés. The gold and silver ingots were easier to carry off during the flight of the Spanish from Tenochtitlan in 1520.
Azcapotzalco was then evangelized by both Franciscans and Dominicans. The ancient calpulli of Atenco was assigned, by Dominicans, to St. Luke the Evangelist, and a prior ceremonial site (teocalli) was demolished to build an early chapel. Some of those stones may be visible in the deepest parts of the chapel.
The church we see today was begun late in the 16th or early 17th centuries. It served as an open-air chapel for many decades. The façade of several arches faces the atrium, enclosed by a low wall only in 1973. The temple actually consists of two chapels, the older being the open-air chapel where local people could be evangelized.
By 1616, the workers of the town are known to have been employed making jewelry and similar craft items for the Viceroy, Fernandez de Cordoba. The town also had two textile mills. Most of the area was invested in cattle ranching straight through the colonial era. In 1897, a lawyer named Ángel Zimbrón became head of the Federal District government. A resident of Azcapotzalco and owner of the old San Lucas ranch, he began subdividing the land and selling off the lots which is how the neighborhoods entered the 20th century. San Lucas Atenco, other than the church, was then subsumed within the larger Del Recreo neighborhood.
The small neighborhood between Del Recreo and the Parque Bicentenario is still named for Ángel Zimbrón. That’s where you’ll find Metro Refineria which is convenient to the church and neighborhood as well as to the giant park and orchid farm.
One of Azcapotzalco's ancient neighborhoods is remembered in a stone chapel.
The ancient neighborhood was sacred to the Tepanec people, the chief rivals to the Mexica of Tenochtitlan.