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Worship Below the Waves: A Drowned Church Surfaces

Drowned Church
Templo de Quechula in Chiapas, Mexico, revealed this month due to drought (photo by René de Jesús, courtesy Notimex)

A 400-year-old church drowned in 1966 has reemerged in Mexico. As reported earlier this month by Notimex, Mexico’s official news agency, and picked up this week by English-language press, the Temple of Quechula was revealed when the water level in a reservoir in the Chiapas state fell more than 80 feet.

The church was flooded due to the construction of a dam on the Grijalva River for the Nezahualcóyotl reservoir, and previously reappeared in 2002 when water levels were so low people could walk inside the crumbling stone walls. Despite the decades underwater, the church’s arches and other architectural details are still surprisingly intact, the chalky color of the stone contrasting to the ripples of blue-green waves on all sides. Architect Carlos Navarete told the Associated Press that the church, likely built in 1564 by Spanish colonists, was abandoned following a plague that hit the area from 1773 to 1776. Now local entrepreneurs are leading visitors out on boat tours for some surreal photography, as shown below.

Droughts around the world periodically exposes these ghosts of the past, often lost to the waters when progress demanded towns and their old structures be submerged for dams and reservoirs. For example, this August a Mormon ghost town appeared in Nevada’s Lake Mead due to drought, and in 2004 the Old Kernville ghost town materialized in California’s Lake Isabella. Back in 2013, I wrote a round-up of five drowned towers for Atlas Obscura. It included the beautiful Neoclassical “Flooded Belfry” of St. Nicholas Cathedral in the Uglich Reservoir of Russia, a project carried out under Stalin, as well as the Romanesque San Romà de Sau and the 16th-century church of Mediano, both lost to Spanish reservoir construction.

The most famous might be the church of Potosí in Venezuela, which slowly reemerged in recent years with its cross-adorned tower until the whole structure was revealed. And then there’s the bell tower of Campanile di Curon in the Italian Alps, where three lakes were united into one to created Lake Reschen. There are legends that its bells, long ago removed, are still heard eerily chiming, conjuring Debussy’s mythical “Sunken Cathedral” that rose with bells ringing from the sea.

Drowned Church
The drowned church of Mediano in Spain (photo by Juan R. Lascorz/Wikimedia)
Drowned Church
The drowned church of Potosí in Venezuela (photo by Juan Tello/Flickr)
Drowned Church
The submerged church of Sant Romà in Spain (photo by DagafeSQV/Wikimedia)
Drowned Church
The submerged bell tower of St. Nicholas in Russia (photo by JegSvart/Wikimedia)
Drowned Church
The submerged bell tower in Reschensee, Italy (photo by Reisender1701/Flickr)
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