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.


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.


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, 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.


4/16/2010 7:39:10 AM #

I took a photo of that very steeple with the cactus growing out the top yesterday and wondered about it. It's so nice to have a bit of background.

We had a Red Hat luncheon at Postres la Antigua - Dulce Tentación. That old steeple overlooks their garden where we ate. Do you know about the place? It's a pastry shop but will arrange group affairs. The meal was excellent. The shop is run to teach local women restaurant and business skills.

Eileen Mexico |

4/16/2010 10:01:31 PM #

I had heard that a coffee and pastry shop had opened out there some time ago, but didn't know about it. I wonder is that is part of the program that used to be in the gold building across from the "town hall". There were sewing classes, training for hairdressers, child care, English lessons, etc happening there a couple years ago.

thanks for the heads up. Love the name of the shop. I'll have to stop in.

judyking Mexico |

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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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