Church In Reservoir: Temple Of Santiago Emerges Amid Mexico Drought

A church, which was submerged in a reservoir, has emerged amid a severe drought. The 16th century structure is usually hidden under the surface of Mexico’s Nezahualcoyotl reservoir. However, the water level has receded an estimated 82 feet. As a result, residents and visitors now have a rare opportunity to view the 400-year-old church.

The church was imagined by Friar Bartolome de las Casas, who traveled to Quechala with several other Dominican monks in the mid 1500s.

As reported by BlogFactory, the Temple of Santiago was eventually built by the monks — who expected the church to become the core of a “great population center.”

The magnificent structure was 183 feet long, 42 feet wide, and 48 feet tall at its highest point — the top of the majestic bell tower.

Historians believe the church was closely tied to a Tecpatan monastery, which had similar architectural features — and was likely built at the same time.

Although the church was built along the infamous King’s Highway, and often drew large crowds, historians do not believe a dedicated priest was ever appointed to the Temple of Santiago. In fact, the church was likely dependent on the Tecpatan monastery for financial and other support.

Architect Carlos Navarete, who has vast knowledge of the temple and its history, said the church was eventually abandoned in the 18th century — amid a devastating plague. Two hundred years later, the church was submerged in a reservoir.

As reported by SnipView, the Temple of Santiago, and surrounding region, were flooded amid construction of the Malpaso Dam.

In the 1960s, the dam was built along the Grijalva River, as a source of hydroelectric energy. In addition to the town of Quechula, the flooding destroyed “hectares of rainforest and farmland… and archaeological sites.”

Although the dam continues to provide the region with energy, the subsequent damage to the surrounding area remains a point of heated controversy. The church is in the reservoir to this day. However, the uppermost portions are often visible when the water levels recede.

In 2002, a severe drought exposed a significant portion of the Temple of Santiago. As reported by Newser, the water level was so low that “visitors were able to walk inside the church.”

This year, another serious drought exposed a large portion of the colonial church. Although the water is not low enough to allow access on foot, visitors can reach the magnificent structure by boat.


Fisherman Leonel Mendoza said he has made several trips to the site in the last week — transporting curious residents and tourists for a closer look.

Although it has suffered irreparable damage, a large portion of the Temple of Santiago remains intact. As evidenced in the eerie photos, numerous ornate carvings and impressive arches still grace the structure’s facade.

In many photos, the grey skies, dark water, and surrounding forest enhance the surreal appearance of the church in the reservoir.

Residents and tourists have celebrated the emergence of the Temple of Santiago with picnics, family gatherings, and small celebrations near the site. Mendoza said visitors “came to eat, to hang out, to do business” — and he provided them with fried fish.

Although the church is in the reservoir, it remains an important part of the region’s abundant, and often devastating, history. The drought has indeed caused numerous issues. However, amid the crisis, the emergence to the Temple of Santiago has provided residents and tourists with a piece of history and hope for a better future.

[Image via Shutterstock / Simon Clay]