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Santa Maria Nativitas de Zacapan is a church and town in Xochimilco. Although it’s known as the “place between piers and flowers,” the town was known as Zacapan in the ancient period. That name translates from the Náhuatl as “atop the straw.” In the 1920s, the town was considered a mandatory visit by many of those who rode the canal boats, a leisure activity only catching on at the time.
The original settlement of Zacapan can be said to extend as far north and west as the Embarcadero de Nativitas, including the outstanding Felix Candela Manantiales Restaurant visible from the Nativitas Zacapa boat launch. Today, the northern neighborhoods are generally treated as colonias in themselves. Most people will refer to Santa Maria Nativitas as the area more immediately surrounding the church and kiosk.
An original church on this site dates from the 16th century. The sacristy and hospice were fully working by the 17th century but the church was not completed until 1808. The bell tower was built in the 18th century. The remarkable atrium opens at the town center and kiosk, but the cemetery is officially in the neighboring town of San Lorenzo Atemoaya. (It’s about a 15-minute walk directly west on Calle Vicente Guerrero.)
The church was severely damaged in the 2017 earthquake. A five-month rehabilitation was finished in late 2020. Parts of the stones from an ancient temple preceding the 16th century structure were noted during this most recent re-construction. These works were carried out in coordination with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and the Mexico City Secretary of Culture.
The town feast day is on January 6 of each year. It’s one of the oldest religious traditions in the area. An image of the Crucified Christ from the main altar is celebrated. The local people will tell you that the festival is held in conjunction with followers of the Lord of Chalma. That temple is in the State of Mexico, but devotion to the Lord of Chalma is especially strong in the south of the City, especially in Milpa Alta.