Hundreds of years after the Spanish brought Catholicism to Yucatan, los gremios — the church guilds — carry on.
Among other duties, the guilds every August prepare delicious feasts to mark the transfiguration of Christ.
“They are tributes that are made in honor of a saint as thanks for some good received or a promise,” historian Adolfo Camilo Góngora López told the EFE news service.
The longest-running guilds are carried out in the Cathedral of Merida, one of the oldest in the Americas, as well as in Izamal and Dzoncauich, where ancient Mayan foods are included. Several kilos of chili are scorched to make a dark paste which is the main ingredient of a traditional relleno negro with turkey, chicken or pork.
“I started to learn how to cook the corn, grind it and make tortillas by hand since I can remember,” says María Isabel Ancona Dzul, chef of the Farmers Guild of Dzoncauich, when describing another important gastronomic legacy of their Mayan ancestors.
Around it, in Leovigildo Dzul Escalante’s courtyard, ladies make tortillas over several campfires. Others slaughter turkeys and chickens, while some set up natural and artificial flowers for the procession.
Behind them, others prepare firewood to cook a huge side of beef that will be used for chocolomo and xix (fried meat chunks).
On the second day, guests and organizers walk in procession carrying a colorful wooden arch lined with flowers to the church of San Isidro Labrador in honor of the Christ of the Transfiguration.
At 54, María Isabel Ancona is considered one of the best cooks in the Farmers Guild of Dzoncauich. She learned from her parents “the love of tradition.”
The guilds hope that future generations will embrace the faith, and the rituals, that have endured for so long. Father Jorge Martínez Ruz, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Yucatan, is optimistic.
“The tradition of the guilds will continue, because young people are believers and the state is a town of faith, in addition to the joy that they characterize,” said Father Martínez.