Cathedrals? Most are Churches

by Judy King 18. July 2010 13:47

catheral Capillas, Templos, Parroquias, Cathedrals—How do you know the difference?

It’s difficult sorting out all the different types of area churches, even here in Ajijic and Chapala. I’ve noticed that a lot of newcomers and even some folks who have lived here 30 years or more assume that because the Parish churches in Ajijic, Chapala and Jocotepec are grand and old, they must be cathedrals.

Here, in a nutshell are the definitions of the various types of churches in Mexico (and elsewhere):

Catedral Often foreigners refer to “the Cathedral in Chapala” or “the Cathedral in Ajijic” in an attempt to refer respectfully to the larger church in local communities. There is only one Cathedral in the Guadalajara archdiocese, and it is in downtown Guadalajara.

A cathedral is always the seat of the Bishop; in fact, the word comes from a Latin word meaning “the Bishop’s throne.” While the Archdiocese of Western Mexico has thousands of capillas, templos, sanctuaries and parroquias,and is governed by Cardinal Juan Sandaval Iñiguez and five obispos (bishops), there is only one Cathedral.

Basilica About equal in importance to the cathedral are the Basilicas – they’re not neighborhood churches, they are special churches directly under the domain of the Vatican. Where Cathedrals, Templos and Parroquias divide their collection between the home needs and the dioceses, Basilicas divide their income between their own needs and Rome. In architectural terms, basilica indicates a church of special beauty.

A basilica contains a miraculous image, often some advocacíon of the Virgin Mary to which pilgrimages are made. In the third century, Constantine sent his mother to the Holy Lands to supervise the building of the first basilica at the site of the nativity. Later he ordered the building of the basilica of St. Peter. Basilicas are administered by an Abbot or Abad, who is directly accountable to the Pope.

Here in Mexico, basilicas are defined by that miraculous image and as the destinations of peregrinos (pilgrims) who come to see it. The basilicas in this area include the home altars of the Virgin of Zapopan (the patron of the state of Jalisco) and the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos. When you visit Joco-churchPatzcuaro in the neighboring state of Michoacán, you’ll want to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Salud. My favorite Basilicas are the Oaxaca church ion which is housed Our Lady of Soledad (the Virgin Mary in her grief at the foot of the cross) and of course La Villa, the home of the image of Mary as she appeared in Mexico, The Virgin of Guadalupe.

Parroquia  – The large area of the diocese is divided into parroquias (Parishes). In order to become a parish an area much have a fixed boundary, a priest and in addition in Mexico, must schedule a fixed number of masses and mass attendees per week. An interesting example is the church in Lake Chapala’s San Antonio Tlayacapan. For many years, the San Antonio congregation was part of the parroquia of Ajijic. About three years ago, they reached the necessary requirements and became parroquia, with their own Sr. Cura (parish priest). To go back a bit more, the Ajijic congregation (along with San Antonio Tlayacapan) were under the umbrella of the Chapala parroquia, El Templo de San Francisco until the 1970s.

Templo Community church buildings are officially called Templos, even when the congregation has been elevated to the position of parroquia.  For example, in print, the main church in Ajijic is called El Templo de San Andrés.

cajajitlan-chapelSanctuario -- A Santuario begins as a hermitage or a chapel, but it contains a miraculous image, in Ajijic this is the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Capilla The very word chapel brings to mind a small space for worship. In the old days, and in the very large churches, chapels were built along the sides of the space for the congregation. Some of the chapels were dedicated to special saints, others were built over the the burial site of a local church dignitary or family. In old European churches, it was common for a chapel to be used just for baptisms was built a short distance from the church. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one example.

Some of Mexico’s capillas (chapels) were once attached to the hospitales built by the Franciscans as they moved through the area. Most of these capillas predate the templo built a short distance away (usually across the town’s plaza). These ancient hospitales included spaces for a number of activities – there were places for traveling monks to rest and be restores, school spaces, corral, barn and storage space, as well as places for the sick to be treated and the area residents to receive religious san-ceceliainstruction and to learn farming and artisan techniques. 

You can visit very typical capillas in Ajijic, and even older examples in the nearby villages of Cajititlan and Santa Cruz de las Flores. In San Juan Cosalá, and San Antonio Tlayacapan, only the steeples remain from the original capillas.

Hermitages – Once located in caves high on the mountains and inhabited by hermits who retreated from the community to dedicate their life to prayer and sacrifice, today there are hermitages – small gathering places for prayer in most Mexican communities. These can be as simple as an outdoor cross, or be a spot or tiny building dedicated to honoring a favorite saint or Virgin.

This little shrine at left is at the east end of the malecon in Chapala – near the Chapala fish restaurants. The large figure in the center is Santa Cecelia, the patron of the musicians. Other figures in the hermitage is St. Jude, the Virgin of Zapopan, the Virgin of Guadalupe and Chapala’s patron, San Francisco de Asis.

church-ajijic So what are the area churches called? 


  • Templo de San Andrés—the parish church of Ajijic -- This is the main church of Ajijic, and where the local pastors are centered. From this church, named for St. Andrew, the entire network of local churches and services is governed and coordinated by the local team of priests.
  • Santuario de la Virgen de Guadalupe -- The Santuario in Ajijic is the more modern church on Ocampo, near Six Corners.
  •  Capilla de la Virgen del Rosario -- Most foreigners know this as the “old” church— Dedicated to Ajijic’s beloved image of Mary as the Virgin of the Rosary, this chapel is on the north side of the Ajijic plaza.



  • Capilla de San Jose de La Floresta -- When the farmland was sold to begin the neighborhood of La Floresta, the owner made a request, that land be reserved for a church. The chapel, started in the 1960s has recently been refurbished. It is dedicated to St. Joseph.
  • The Hermitage – The tiny “chapel” on the mountain above the village of Ajijic is dedicated to the Holy Cross. The hiking path that leads the way to the hermitage is lined with monuments marking the stations of the cross.


  • Templo de San Francisco de Asis -- the parish church of Chapala – this parish church is one of the few in this area which is not located next to the town plaza. Instead San Francisco occupies a place of honor near the town’s pier and malecon.
  • Capilla de la Virgen del Carmen – This beautiful little jewel is located in the north-central portion of Chapala.

church-san-francisco chapel-del-carmen

  • Capilla de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe – The least obvious of the Chapala Chapels is in the neighborhood by the same name.
  • Capilla de la Señora del Lordes – If you haven’t visited this tiny beauty, take time to see it…When you reach the Hotel Monte Carlo, turn and drive up the hill into the neighborhood settled 150 years ago by a large group of French expats.  You’ll notice that all of the streets are named for famous locations in France.
  • chruch-san-antonioThe Hermitages – There are several of the small hermitages in Chapala. They remember Santa Cecelia, the patron of musicians, The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, The Sacred Heart, and The small building on the Cerro de San Miguel high above the town.
  • Templo de Nuestra Senora de el Pilar – This small church along the highway in Riberas is the area’s newest Catholic house of worship – by about 50 years or more. It is part of the parish of Chapala.

San Antonio Tlayacapan:

  • Templo de San Antonio de Padua – this is the parish church of the village of San Antonio Tlayacapan located between Chapala and Ajijic.
  • The  Hermitages de Santa Cruz – The four crosses along San Antonio streets (San Jose, two on La Paz and Jesus Garcia are locations of observation in this village. Once all towns had boundary marking crosses.

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Mexican Churches, Saints & Virgins

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, 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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