The Santa Cruz Xochitepec Chapel shares status as the center of town with the Cerro de Xochitepec. The mountain looms over the background. Most of the year it hosts a giant wooden cross on its summit. The cross returns to the chapel atrium, for the Roman Catholic Feast of the Holy Cross each May 3rd. It’s been the most important day in the town of Xochitepec going back some 400 years.
The chapel atrium becomes a community center as participants re-store the cross, and festoon it with ribbons. This is all in preparation for its procession back up the mountain. The community broadly understands the cross as a protector of the town and valley below. The atrium also contains the old community graveyard.
The church was once a visiting chapel, dependent on Tepepan (to the north). It became a parish in its own right at the end of the 19th century. The building dates from 1794. The separate bell tower is from much later. Most of the church treasure was lost during the Mexican Revolution. The area was a particularly hot zone as Tepepan was a known Carrancista stronghold. Most of Xochimilco and the south of Mexico City aligned with the Zapatistas of the neighboring state of Morelos.
The Feast of the Holy Cross celebrations include fireworks, music, and traditional dances and processions. The town closes many streets to vehicular traffic and people eat, drink, and take in the crowds. At that point, the Santa Cruz Xochitepec Chapel is less the focus of community engagement, as attention returns to the summit of the mountain.
Visible from nearly the entire community, it’s an important presence in the life of one of Xochimilco’s most traditional original settlements.