San Martín Tlacotepec de Mejía
Another Stop Along the Jesuit Trail in Veracruz

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

9. San Martín Tlacotepec de Mejía

Note: This was the first field trip to one of the villages along the old Camino Real. It is an out of the way town that fired my imagination and somehow made me want to continue exploring this forgotten part of Veracruz.

Tlacotepec is not as famous as Tlacotalpan, but if you would like to visit a peaceful little village in the mountains nestled in the coffee growing country of Veracruz, it is worth seeing. It´s not far from Veracruz and makes a good day trip when you include lunch along the way.

One Sunday, I drove up to San Martin Tlacotepec de Mejía, or Tlacotepec for short. It is the little town settled by the Aztecs where Doña Conchita was born,This little town was founded by the Aztecs, and Doña Conchita has an Aztec look about her. She has a kind of self confident upright bearing, and looks unlike most people from the coastal areas of Mexico.

The Sixth Mexica Lord, or Aztec, Moctezuma Ilhuicamina, predecessor to Moctezuma, conquered the area around Tlacotepec before the arrival of Hernán Cortes, and it came under the influence of the Aztecs. The name of the town is nahuatl, "tlahco": half, "tepetl": hill or mountain, so it means "in the middle of the mountain". The 16th century mission style church is built on top of a mound that suspiciously looks like there might be an old pyramid underneath it.

Sheep and Wool Were Good Businesses
In the 1600s, the Jesuits moved in with Spanish sheep to raise in the high mountain air. Sheep were unknown in New Spain and it was a good business which helped finance the Jesuit high schools and universities. In those days, good quality wool was expensive in Spain so it was a good business.

Later they established the Wool Route down through an old Jesuit hacienda set up at the midway point called Acazónica; then on to the coast at Paso de Ovejas, about 45 minutes from Veracruz where they packed the wool in bales and paid the royal taxes.

It´s beautiful country in an area which is like a land of eternal spring time. They raise coffee in the gentle shade of the tall trees. There is a slight scent of cinnamon in the air.
Old Map Dated 1830
The Early Wool Route of Veracruz
The sheep would grow good quality wool in the mountainous areas around Totutla, and Huatusco, then when shearing time came the route started around Totutla, and Tlacotepec, then went to the hacienda at Acazónica, then to Paso de Ovejas, or "Sheep Pass".

Business went well until 1767, when the Jesuits were expelled from not only Spain, but all of its colonies, including the Philippines, Mexico, and South America in a top secret lightning order that was carried out practically overnight in Central Mexico. It was a real disappointment for many people, and it caused social problems for many years afterwards.

I was always curious about the Wool Trail, and the beginnings of the Route of the Jesuits at Tlacotepec de Mejía and wanted to see what it looks like today.

How to Get There
It´s not hard to get to Tlacotepec. It´s a little less than two hours from Veracruz following the same route to Boca del Monte.

Because of the deep ravines, they call barrancas, the original Camino Real to Paso de Ovejas is impassable by car. Maybe you could do it on a mountain bike.

The Wool Route
The Stories of An Old Lady
For many years Doña Conchita ran a successful magazine stand in front of the Regional Hospital.

When she got older, she gave her business to a nephew to run, and lives from a little rent he gives her each month.

Growing Up in Tlacotepec de Mejía
Doña Conchita told me a lot about her childhood in the 1940´s in San Martin Tlacotepec de Mejía.

She said her little town was like spring time every day and you could smell the canela in the cinnamon trees in the nearby plantations.
An Old Map from 1831
Years later her family moved to the coast, and lived in Paso de Ovejas until she got married and moved to Veracruz.

One day, I looked on my road map, and could barely find Tlacotepec. Then one day I found it on a very old map.

An Old Map
About half way between the old Camino Real to Xalapa and the other through Córdoba I found another road going straight to the mountains from the coast and wondered what it was used for because it was a dead end road.

Maybe a gold or silver mine on the downside of the nearby extinct volcano, El Pico de Orizaba.

Later I discovered that this was a sheep trail, established by the Jesuits in 1600 that brought valuable wool from the coast during the days of the Spanish colonial rule.

Sometimes old maps have mistakes. I decided to take a closer look.
A Closer Look
I could make out the old names for Totutla, Santiago Totutla, and what looks like Acazónica.

San Martín must be San Martín Tlacotepec. San Bartolomé has been lost from history. Tlacotepec is a very old town along a sheep route.

On the Road
One Sunday, I drove up to San Martin Tlacotepec de Mejía, which is the little Aztec town where Conchita was born, or Tlacotepec for short.

Even though my car wasn´t in good shape, I felt an urge to get out of town.
To Tlacotepec
The "check engine" light had been on for a couple of days, the shocks were bad, and the tires were a little thin.

These are only minor irritations especially when you want to travel.

The Names of Towns in Mexico
The names of towns in Mexico reflect many things. Tlacotepec is one of them.I don´t know if the Totonacos had a name for the area before the Aztecs conquered the area.

It is said they populated the area with other Aztecs brought in from the outside and named the town Tlacotepec.

San Martín
When the Spaniards arrived and conquered the Aztecs, they added a Saint´s name, so it became San Martín Tlacotepec.
Country Road
In this case, it was the Peruvian, San Martin de Porres, whose saint´s day is celebrated November 3, the day after the Día de los Muertos.

Don Pedro de Mejía
In 1867, Pedro de Mejía Luna was born.

Later, he became the "benefactor" of Tlacotepec de Mejía and served as mayor for 30 years.

He is known for having paved the streets with cobblestones among other things.
Roadside Flowers

So, in 1901, the official name of the town changed to Tlacotepec de Mejía. San Martín was omitted.

Nowadays, only the local people call it San Martín Tlacotepec de Mejía.

October is the end of the rainy season along the coast of Veracruz.The people of Mexico are surrounded by flowers and flowers seem more abundant after the Conejos cut off.

The people in the little hard scrapple villages along the way have planted trees in their front yards with pink, red, and yellow flowers blooming this time of the year.

Beginning the slight climb into the mountains, you begin to see the flaming red "framboyan" flowers, which in Veracruz bloom in May.

Along the highways of Veracruz wild flowers are everywhere, and people can pick them, too.
Coffee Trail
Coffee Growing Beside the Road
The weather becomes refreshing, and there is a slight scent of cinnamon in the quiet mountain air.

This is coffee country, and it grows along the highway to Tlacotepec.

I stopped at a little brook and looked past one of the coffee trails that leads back into the mountains.

It looked like some of the beans were turning red.

That means they are ready for harvest.

Coffee Bushes
Coffee Beans
Main Street
Main Street in Tlacotepec
A Quiet Sunday
After a couple of more miles, I pulled into the quiet little town. Tlacotepec is a long town along a ridge with houses beginning about 3 km. from the downtown area. Not was much going on.

When you get closer to downtown, it looks like the road dead ends into a hill, more like a mound, It has a small church on top of the wide mound.

It´s not a dead end and the road turns left and then right, around the hill, the suspiciously looks like an ancient pyramid.

I took a picture of main street from on top of the hill.
Front Church
The Church of San Martín Caballero
A Very Old Church
Behind me on top of the hill was the little church,

The original church was probably built by Jesuit missionaries in the early 1600s, but it is said this church was built in 1776, dedicated to San Martín Caballero.

Like many village churches built during Spanish colonial rule, they are spare, yet attractive.

In Mexico, they are called California Mission style churches.

The belfry is off to the left instead of being in the middle.
The Belfry on the Side
The Side Yard
La Virgen de Guadalupe
La Virgen de Guadalupe
The Virgin of Guadalupe is a standard in most churches in Mexico.

She is the patron saint of Mexico.

Her image was in one corner above the casket of Christ.

The original image of the Virgin de Guadalupe on Juan Diego´s serape dates back to December 12, 1531.

This picture in Tlacotepec de Mejía looks very old.
Inside the Church
Inside the Church
Inside the Church
Inside the church it was cool and peaceful.

And, empty, except for me.

Off to the left was the traditional Christ in a glass casket that you see in almost every church in Mexico.

It is a graphic depiction.

This looks like the corner for people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, or the loneliness of a broken heart.
Inside the Church
The Christ
Inside the Church
The Mother Mary
Inside the Church
The Mother Mary
Country Churches in Mexico
Many of the little country churches in Mexico are often centuries old.

In spite of the political turmoil over the years, the people have protected and cherished their statues and relics. Many are antiques.

You can see this in the way the statues of the saints are cared for. The flowers are always fresh and new, and the clothing is carefully cleaned and pressed.

Each one has a special meaning for some phase of life.

For those who suffer, the church is a special comfort. You can see it in the peaceful understanding eyes of the saints.

People in Mexico seem to accept the things they cannot change, and can only hope not to be alone in their time of need.

The church will always be there.
The Sanctuary
The Sanctuary
The Sanctuary has a variety of saints and religious images. It looks like real gold, but I don´t think it is. It sure looks real.

One of the predominant themes is the Sacred Heart of Jesus which is popular in the mountain areas.

In the middle is Jesus with his sacred heart.

He welcomes those who have a heavy heart and offers to share the load of your suffering.

Off to the right it looks like the Virgen de Juquila of Oaxaca.
Jesus Invites
Sacred Heart
Madonna and Child
Sacred Heart
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart
I don´t know the subtleties of the church, such as Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, and find these things interesting.

I guess She is widely accepted in this area of the mountains of Veracruz.

Then I remembered this painting looks very similar to the one done freehand by Don Pedro Jácome in nearby Boca del Monte.

The Atrium Cross
It is said the Jesuit missionaries built the mission in Tlacotepec around 1600 as one of the way stations along the wool route in Veracruz.

I wondered how many people had passed through this doorway over the centuries.

Front Door
The Entrance
In the background you can see the customary atrium cross.

Most of the very old atrium crosses are make of cut stone, and many have elaborate images carved into them.

This one, dated 1910, is made of iron pipe modern for those times, and probably replaced the original one made of stone.

Back to the Plaza
After talking to a couple of men next to the atrium cross, I walked back down the steps to the plaza.

Near the car some policemen were standing around a park bench talking. I stopped and we chatted for about 20 minutes.
To Serve and Protect
They told me to get to Acazónica I would have to go back through Paso de Ovejas.

Further down the road there was a deep barranca and vehicles can´t make it through.

The state policeman told me he tried to make it last week in his police pick up truck and couldn´t make it. Maybe a higher bottomed bus could make it.

I thanked them and asked if I could take their picture.
Down the Old Camino Real
The Camino Real Towards Acazónica
On the way back I was thinking about the expelled Jesuit missionaries, and my next trip to explore the hacienda at Acazónica abandoned in 1767.

And maybe how Doña Conchita would enjoy seeing the pictures of the town where she grew up.

Heading Back to Veracruz
Further down the highway, off to the right, I noticed a large cross leading into a coffee plantation.
A Cross On the Way Back
It kind of looked like one the crosses from La Cristiada, a book about the Cristero Rebellion by Jean Meyer. I guess there´s people who still remember the rebellion years ago.

The "Check Engine" Light is Still On
The "check engine" light is still on. The shocks still need changing, and the tires are still a little thin.

But, somehow I feel like I can rest a little easier now that I got Tlacotepec out of my system. The name still intrigues me, and I think there´s more to see.

In the meantime, I need to find more information about 17th century Jesuit missionaries in preparation for a trip to see what´s left of the Acazónica hacienda.

If the policeman was right, the old road is probably rough, and I need to get the "Check Engine" light looked at.

Right now, I think I´ll go get a taco, and talk to Doña Conchita some more this evening about my visit to her little town.

Corrected Map
A Final Note:
Later, when looking at the map, I noticed it wasn´t entirely correct.It may have been an error made by the mapmaker.

The Route of the Jesuits ended in Paso de Ovejas.

So, I got out my red pencil and made my own corrections.

Over the past months, I have talked to residents of the area around Totutla, and I still haven´t found San Bartolomé.

Perhaps one day, I will have a chance to go back to the area and continue the search.

The Corrected Map

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