Fiesta de San Juan Cosalá

by Judy King 23. June 2010 11:35

SJC-flowerdisplay The most traditional patron saint fiesta, the novena in San Juan Cosalá honoring San Juan Bautista is building to its annual dramatic conclusion. The celebration in this oldest of the north shore Lake Chapala villages began June 16 with the faithful parishioners gathering to the sound of bursting sky rockets early every morning to walk in a pilgrimage to the village church.

The fiesta in San Juan Cosalá is filled with some of the most devout customs seen on Lake Chapala's north shore – including a host of special Masses which attract enough participants to fill the town church to the point of bursting.

There is a special Mass with services for the sick, in another the children receive first communion. There is a Mass for the Hijos Ausentes, (those San Juan Cosalá natives who have gone to the United States or other areas to work and live) and a Mass for those members of the community who have died during the year. It’s not unusual for as many as 18 priests from nearby communities to take part in the special noontime High Mass on June 24, the fiesta's final day. One night during the fiesta (usually on a Saturday night), townspeople take shifts to keep an all-night vigil in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the church.

Many of the traditions exhibited here in the fiesta are more reminiscent of the old-time fiestas than those we see in other Lakeside villages. Villagers erect altars honoring San Juan Bautista in front of their homes. Even the early morning activities in San Juan Cosalá are more focused on the activities in the church than on beginning an all-day party.

Each morning the village is awakened by cojetes (skyrockets) and music so that as many people as possible can hurry to the procession's starting points at alternating ends of the village for the walk to the church reciting the rosary. The early morning service begins at 6:30 a.m. At noon, skyrockets call townspeople to the church for meditation and another recitation of the rosary.

The daily 6 p.m. procession of pilgrims to the church is accompanied by one of the local bandas and is always lead by villagers who dance in the style of the indigenous people who lived in this area long before the arrival of the Spanish. The procession begins on alternate days from the east and west ends of Calle Porfirio Díaz.

Each evening, the day’s sponsors and others in the procession carry offerings of flowers, wine, bread, food and other items to the church. One night, a year's supply of sirios (large candles) is carried in the procession and presented to the church.

SJC-allages SJC-offering SJC-float 

The daily 6 p.m. procession of pilgrims to the church is accompanied by one of the local bandas and is always lead by villagers who dance in the style of the indigenous people who lived in this area long before the arrival of the Spanish. The procession begins on alternate days from the east and west ends of Calle Porfirio Díaz.

Each evening, the day’s sponsors and others in the procession carry offerings of flowers, wine, bread, food and other items to the church. One night, a year's supply of sirios (large candles) is carried in the procession and presented to the church.

As the evening procession arrives at the church, the band goes into the church first to play "Las Mañanitas" at the altar for San Juan.

When the band leaves the church, the dancers file in to dance at the altar in honor of the patron saint. They leave and then dance in the church's front atrium after Mass.

Each day of the fiesta is organized and sponsored by individual families and by local trade unions, businesses, and employees. Those who take an active part include the brick masons and construction workers, the restaurant owners from the Piedra Barrenada area just east of town, the shop owners, the Cosalá fishing union, the chayoteros (growers of chayote, a pear-shaped squash) the owners and employees of the balnearios (hot springs), and the achioteros (makers of achiote, a spice rub for meat and fish).

SJC-dancers SJC-beheading-juan

Some years I round up a group of friends so we can go to San Juan Cosalá for the final enormous solemn procession honoring St. John the Baptist on the evening of June 24. The procession begins at the village church, moves to the west end of town, then goes east on the carretera (highway) to Calle Porfirio Díaz and then moves back west along that street  to return to the church.

The ages of the participants ranges from newborn babies to the most elderly of the community. During the procession, young girls wear their white First Communion or confirmation dresses. You'll see figures representing the animal skin-clad John the Baptist riding on carros alegóricos (elaborate floats with Biblical themes) depicting moments in his life).

Leading off the pilgrimage are dancers, a band, and the village priest. Three or four bands, elaborate floats depicting Biblical scenes, three or four other troupes of dancers, and hundreds of pilgrims jostle for space in the narrow streets.

It is easy to see the great devotion the people hold for San Juan. Their feelings are demonstrated by the enormous attendance at the last procession and in the sacrifices of some of villagers for the patron.

SJC-blindfold SJC-baby1 SJC-baby2

Each year I spot pilgrims walking on the harsh cobblestones with bare feet—in penance or in an act of thanksgiving. Some walk the whole route blindfolded, holding to the arm of a friend, as an act of blind faith in payment of a manda (a solemn petition or vow). You'll spot many of the town's tiny tots dressed in skins (or fake fur); their parents are also carrying out their manda.

SJC-velvet There are so many walking in the procession that trying to watch from the sidewalks along Calle Porfirio Díaz just isn't comfortable and getting pictures becomes nearly impossible with people spill out of the streets to fill the sidewalks.

Over the years, I've found that my favorite spot for watching the procession is along the highway near the Telmex installation at the intersection with Calle Porfirio Díaz at the east end of town. I arrive early, find a parking space just east of the turn into the village and wait in the car in the shade until I hear the procession arriving. Then I can walk along the highway a bit and set up a great spot for viewing and picture taking.

 

The procession begins about 6 p.m. on that last day, and arrives at the church in time for 7 p.m. Mass .

The castillo (set piece fireworks) in San Juan Cosalá is usually burned earlier in the evening than it is in other towns to protect it from getting wet from an evening rainy season shower. Sometimes it is set off soon after the evening Mass, especially if it looks like a storm is approaching.

There is always a paseo and music for dancing at the plaza. In one year's grand finale, six village bandas played for the serenata (serenade) and dance, until they were rained out sometime after 1 AM.

Want to know more about San Juan Cosalá?

You may enjoy reading these other articles we’ve published about Lakeside’s most traditional village, Just click on any of these three titles:


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

San Juan Cosalá: The Name’s Clues to the History

by Judy King 15. April 2010 09:14

How were Lake Chapala Villages Named?

sjc-dancer-with-incense When the Spanish Franciscan missionaries reached the shores of Lake Chapala they were already proficient in renaming the indigenous towns and settlements, and they had learned to select a patron saint that would resonate  with the work, location, or geographic surroundings of the people and simply attach his name to the familiar old indigenous town names.

Here at Lake Chapala, the Saints selected have close associations with water, boats, and fishing. San Antonio Tlayacapan’s Saint Anthony was from Italy, and twice took ships trying to reach Africa where he could teach and preach and die as a martyr.

Ajijic was renamed San Andrés Ajijic to honor the fisherman who left his nets to follow Jesus. One of the legends about San Francisco, the founder of the Franciscans and the patron and namesake of Chapala was said to be such a fine teacher and preacher that the fish stood up in the water to listen to him.

San Cristobal Zapotitlán on the lake’s south shore, honors Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers who was said to have carried the Christ Child across a river. And San Nicolás de Ibarra (and two villages named San Nicolás on the south shore are named for good old St. Nick. Legend says he is the patron of children because he rescued three kids floating in a wash tub in the sea.

sjc-child-baptist Then there is San Juan Cosalá and San Juan Tecomatlán on the lake’s north shore and another pair of villages named for St. John the Baptist on the south side of the lake. Even more fascinating are the variety of meanings of Cosalá, San Juan’s indigenous name, according to the menu from Restaurante Viva Mexico! Tia Lupita in this village of approximately 12,000 on Lake Chapala’s north shore. 

The restaurant’s colorful menu is full of photos of the mural and includes the origins of the name of this town now home to approximately 12,000, and home in ancient times to many times more.

San Juan (Saint John refers to Saint John the Baptist, patron of the community. The meaning of the name Cosala has been interpreted by many different authors. One theory is that it is derived from an indigenous name which was spelled Cuzala, Cozala, Coslan or Cuzalan.

When you break the name into the two roots: tzalan (between) and Coatl (Serpent), this place becomes place full of serpents or is place between two serpents. Some historians have suggested the name is derived from the spelling Cutzalan or Cotzalan which means between pots.

At one time the town was known as Tlateloacan, which means Place where water flows and falls – perhaps for the waterfalls on the mountainside above the village. The region also was known at one time as Quetzali, an adjective used to describe the beautiful bird – the Quetzal and means a thing that shines, is beautiful, clean and shiny, thus it could be the “in the green water or emerald water” or “place of clean water.”

On the coat of arms of the Tlaxcalla, the name Quetzalla or Cotzallan is represented with a bundle of feathers, which was a nahuatl (indigenous group of people) symbol of beauty. We can therefore hypothesize that Cosala was named as a place of great beauty or beautiful place.

I’m stuck on one of these suggestions. In spite of knowing that back in the really old days the people of San Juan cooked some of their food by suspending pots into holes in the ground so that the heat and steam from the area’s hot springs made a natural early Crock Pot (which would normally put my favorite the words about water and pottery) I’m voting for the meaning “Place Between Two Serpents.

SJC-DamageThe Place Between Two Serpents

In the years I’ve lived at Lake Chapala there have been two storms featuring amazingly powerful waterspouts which are called serpents by area residents. The first hit up above El Limon – at the extreme west end of San Juan Cosalá, covering fields of crops with boulders that washed down the mountain in a sea of mud. Two years ago a similar storm hit following 10 days of heavy rain which super-saturated the upper mountainside. That wall of mud and rock was more than six feet deep as it rushed down the mountain from the upper reaches of the Raquet Club at the eastern end of the village.

This name makes me wonder if this natural phenomena “hasn’t happened before – maybe even frequently, back in the years between 1200 A.D. and the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500s.  The Place Between Two Serpents…what an interesting thought.


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

The History of San Juan Cosala

by Judy King 14. April 2010 10:32

mural In the Mexico Insights post yesterday I told you about the wonderful lunch Chef Lorraine and I had at Viva Mexico Tia Lupita Restaurant in San Juan Cosalá.  Our host at the restaurant, Agustín is an avid supporter of the village of San Juan, of the artists there and the town’s activities and residents.

You’ll know that, too, as soon as you walk into the restaurant and see the wonderful mural that fills one of the long walls of the dining room.

Created by painter, sculptor and muralist Isidro Xilonzóchitl, this scene features all of the traditional events of Mexican fiestas. From the little village church, through the bridal party and the castillo (fixed fireworks display) and the torito (firework-loaded papier mache bull worn on a man’s back as he runs through a crowd with colored displays of fireworks shooting off into the crowd) to the children playing at the water’s edge and the ladies (could they be Agustín’s Aunt Lupita and her sisters and relatives), this enormous work tells the story of a Mexican celebration.

  mural-churchmural-bride

Take time to study it. The more you look , the more you’ll see in this wonderful display of this country’s traditions and typical small town life.  

The History of San Juan Cosalá

You’ll learn more about this pleasant close-knit village as your read the short history in the pages of the menu at Restaurant Viva Mexico Tia Lupita. The restaurant’s owner and Lic. Professor Gabriel Chavez Rameno, the chronicler of San Juan Cosalá assembled this story of how the town has evolved from it’s beginnings in about 1200 A.D.

The history of the founding of San Juan Cosalá is not precise. From the type of ceramics found in the region, it is clear that the land was already inhabited during the pre-classic period.

San Juan Cosalá was an important town on the lake and was ruled by Tlatonani. When the population of San Juan Cosalá grew too large, he ordered many of the inhabitants to found new towns including Ajijic, Tomatlan, Jocotepec and Tzapotlan (today San Cristobal).

Before the Spanish conquest, Ixtlacateotl was the main god of this region, but each family also worshiped their own set of gods.

In 1524, Alonso de Avalos conquered the region. It was 1531 before Franciscan Fray Martin de Jesús, the first missionary arrived and declared Saint John the Baptist to be the patron saint. He converted Tlatonani and baptized him, giving him the name of Don Andrés Carlos (Andrés for Fray Martin’s favorite saint, and Carlos in honor of the King of Spain.)

Mural-steepleTo have a place to perform baptisms, Fray Martin ordered the construction of a small church made of branches, sticks and sacate. Later Fray Martin wanted to build a grander church and convent to facilitate the teaching of the gospel. Though Don Andrés Carlos agreed to the construction, it was decided that it not be built in San Juan Cosalá due to a lack of water. Instead it was located in Ajijic where there were many springs.

In 1531, Fray Martin de Jesús build the chapel of San Juan Cosalá and later next door he built the Hospital (Hospice) of the Conception. In 1940, the canon of Guadalajara, Luis Enrique Orozco visited the chapel and described it as “too much beauty for such a small place and at the same time, too rough in it’s construction. In front there is an atrium surrounded by short adobe fences which used to be the graveyard of the town.”

One of San Juan Cosalá’s principal ceremonial centers was Pipiltitlan (a place of children or the place of children’s tears). There the hot water flowed from the earth (today this spot is at Motel Balneario San Juan Cosalá) Nearby is another of the ceremonial centers – where there was a camichin tree which was known as the tree of Vieja Machi. There the people would gather to make offerings to the goddess Teo-Machis Xihualli (the fish woman or the spirit of the lake).

The Old Church

In addition to the hot mineral water which still steams from the earth in the Balneario areas of eastern San Juan, there are other markers from the ancient settlement and the town’s early days. Diagonally across the street from the Templo de San Juan (at the town’s plaza) you’ll spot the old steeple from one of the community’s very early churches. The building is long gone, but a cactus grows from the tip of the small tower.

Art with Your Meal

As you look around Viva Mexico Tia Lupita, you’ll see many other pieces of framed art, the work of local artists. Ask about the works you like – we hear that these days Augustín is selling almost as many paintings as chile rellanos.

guadalupe-augustinGuadalupe-flowers

A Special Gift!

I left the restaurant with a new framed piece of art – Augustín gave me the Virgin of Guadalupe right off his wall for my collection at home once he found that I don’t have one just like this. I hated to take it right off the wall, until he assured me that he has a larger version of this particular imaginative variation that he will hang on the wall above the flowers he picks up at his daughter’s flower shop just down the block.)

While you are in San Juan Cosalá, take a few minutes to head towards the lake from the plaza to see the new malecón being developed at the water’s edge.

Enjoy your visit to this very traditional Lake Chapala puebla, then come back tomorrow for more – this time we’ll be talking about the of this village.

Don’t forget to Visit Restaurante Viva Mexico!! Tia Lupita at Porfirio Díaz #92 – a block and 1/2 west of the San Juan Cosalá Plaza. They’re open Noon to 10 p.m. on weekdays (closed Thursday) and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. Call for reservations: 044-33 3156-2245.


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Getting “Away:” Lunch at San Juan Cosala’s Viva Mexico!

by Judy King 13. April 2010 10:15

Tia-Lupita Even when we live in paradise, it’s fun to get away – it doesn’t have to be an elaborate plan – sometimes lunch in another setting feels like a mini vacation.

My best friend at Lakeside is Lorraine Russo, for 19 years, the executive chef of Ajijic’s La Nueva Posada. For more than 10 years, she and I have gotten together for a mini adventure on her day off – Monday. With more home and pet chores than usual and crazy-busy schedules we’ve been missing day trip adventures. On Easter Monday we found we both had time for lunch, so we headed six miles west – to San Juan Cosalá, the oldest of the towns on Lake Chapala’s north shore.

Viva Mexico!

We’ve been wanting to eat at Viva Mexico! The Restaurant of Tia Lupita which is owned by Agustin, a San Juan native and our old friend. We loved his place, and it’s wonderful ambiance – that doesn’t mean it’s fancy or that it has ferns hanging from the ceiling or ceramic chile dangling in bunches.

Agustin This is a real Mexican restaurant, with real Mexican food and service provided by a warm and generous man. Those of you who remember our former blog’s coverage of the storm, water spout and ensuing mud slide that hit the town of San Juan Cosalá a few years ago may also remember that Agustin and 10 of the ladies of his family served 20,000 meals from this small restaurant during the first 10 days after the storm. At first they cooked all the food, then as time passed and cars and trucks could get to the restaurant (which is the front section of Agustin’s Aunt Lupita’s home), the family kept on cooking and serving the emergency workers, volunteers and displaced residents.

While the boveda ceiling covers the dining area filled with equipal tables and chairs (traditionally-styled furniture made from pigskin and local woods) there’s a section toward the back that is open to the sky. The small galley kitchen is spotless and efficient, the floor is paved in native slabs of slate, and one whole wall is filled with a mural of a traditional fiesta painted by accomplished San Juan artist Isidro Xilonzochitl.

MMMMMMMM – The Food

Lorraine and I poured over the menu, torn between a number of tasty-sounding options. We wavered, we thought, we imagined, we longed for a variety of the plates and finally decided that the only solution was to start somewhere and then to return and return to sample other options.

With the very reasonable prices (we chose the two most expensive plates – El Patron and La Mexicana – were just $75 pesos or about $6 US) we can afford to come back and back, even during the months we’re trying to mind our budgets.

La-Mexicana La-Patron

In addition to a vast array of real Mexican specialties including chiles rellenos, enchiladas, queso fundido, pozole, burritos, quesadillas, tostadas, sopes, tacos,  you’ll find a number of great meals.

Try the barbecue ribs, Puntas de Abanil, Arrachera, chiles en Nogada or one of a whole series of combination plates.

According to this very well produced menu:

To speak of Mexican cooking is to speak of a rich culture that has been passed on for centuries. In particular, the Cuisine of Jalisco is a representation of a culture full of traditions, history and color. The Town of San Juan Cosala is the ideal place to immerse yourself in the cuisine of Jalisco.

At Viva Mexico Tia Lupita Restaurant, our famous Pozole embodies the color and tradition of old Mexican Cuisine. This dish has become a weekend tradition. The combination of white and red corn is prepared by Tia Lupita using the same method our family has used for generations.

At Viva Tia Lupita Restaurant we provide you with the service you deserve and bring you great flavor in every dish. Our 20 years of service ensure that you and your family will have a great experience.

Want to know more about San Juan Cosala?

Come back for our other posts this week. Not only will we be featuring the history of Lake Chapala’s oldest town (and Isidro’s mural), we’ll also share information about the name of the town, the annual fiesta and more…

Watch for another new blog soon which will focus on each of these special Mexican dishes – this is the real Mexican food tourists and residents want!

Meanwhile, Head out to Restaurante Viva Mexico Tia Lupita

Porfirio Diaz Pte. #92 in San Juan Cosala (A block and a half from the Plaza)

Open Monday to Friday from Noon to 10 p.m. and Weekends from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

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