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The Church of Santiago Apóstol is the parish church of Tepalcatlalpan. It was for many centuries the center of public life in the town. Today, the church is at the center of a well-known Sunday market that overflows the surrounding streets. The town itself traces its roots as far back as 1300 CE.
The church is thought to have begun with Franciscan missionaries around the middle of the 16th century. They built a chapel and several supporting buildings on the site of the presentday temple.
Hernán Cortés himself, according to legend, dedicated a small chapel to Santiago Matamoros (Saint James the Moor-slayer). This was after being surrounded and nearly killed by the defiant Xochimilca people.
The church rebuilding in 1711 marked its first appearance in the historical record. This new temple was adjacent to the existing 17th-century sacristy and hospice. The oldest of the church’s five bells dates from 1717. The church needed rebuilding again in 1770 and 1896. Builders seem to have done a good job at replicating and rehabilitating the older structure. It became a parish church only in 1972.
The church collection includes three important paintings: One depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe dates from 1764. The painting of Christ dates from 1720 and bears the signature of painter Hipólito de los Olivos. That of Saints Peter and Paul is also from the 18th century. The atrial wall went up in about 1949.
The church interior is in good condition. Visits combine well with trips to the nearby UNAM-FAD campus and galleries.