On the site of a former Maya temple is Mérida’s hulking, severe cathedral, begun in 1561 and completed in 1598. Some of the stone from the Maya temple was used in its construction. The massive crucifix behind the altar is Cristo de la Unidad (Christ of Unity), a symbol of reconciliation between those of Spanish and Maya heritage.
To the right over the south door is a painting of Tutul Xiu, cacique (indigenous chief) of the town of Maní paying his respects to his ally Francisco de Montejo at T’ho. (De Montejo and Xiu jointly defeated the Cocomes; Xiu converted to Christianity, and his descendants still live in Mérida.)
In the small chapel to the left of the altar is Mérida’s most famous religious artifact, a statue called Cristo de las Ampollas (Christ of the Blisters). Local legend says the statue was carved from a tree that was hit by lightning and burned for an entire night without charring. It is also said to be the only object to have survived the fiery destruction of the church in the town of Ichmul (though it was blackened and blistered from the heat). The statue was moved to the Mérida cathedral in 1645.
Other than these items, the cathedral’s interior is largely plain, its rich decoration having been stripped away by angry peasants at the height of anticlerical fervor during the Mexican Revolution.