Missions of the Yucatan These images are of the Maya Missions in the Yucatan State of Mexico. Located throughout the region in many of the villages and towns that have grown around them, they are the center of the Yucatec Maya community’s life, pride and worship. Mission construction was an important part of the Spanish strategy to colonize the New World and convert the native population to Christianity. Built for the Spanish by the local Maya population under the direction of the Spanish friars, many as far back as the late 1500’s, they served not only as places of worship but as structures of protection for the Spanish colonists during Maya uprisings. Using the limestone rocks from existing Maya structures, several of these churches were built on the sites of earlier Maya religious buildings. Based on a European approach, the architecture of the early structures was kept simple and austere to reflect Franciscan sensibility and the poverty of the region. When completed, they were covered with stucco using Maya pre conquest techniques. Interiors were often covered with murals teaching Christianity to the Maya through pictures. In the artwork, the Maya influence can be seen on many of the designs and details. The Maya kept a number of their religious beliefs by covering them with Catholic iconography. For the Maya of the villages and towns, these churches hold their most important religious artifacts—the altarpieces, crosses and patron saints that define each community. To many Maya, the wooden carvings of the Christian Saints in their local church are endowed with the living presence of specific Maya gods and spirits. These sculptures, called Santos, are clothed, cleaned and taken care of by church groups with great pride and at the caretakers’ expense. In exchange, the Santos watch over and project these supporters. These days, the missions’ physical condition ranges from recently restored to ready to fall down. Most churches are still the stage for the important moments of local community members’ religious and social lives. These missions and the religious iconography they contain are each community’s source of strength and identity. These missions frame the narrative that tells the history of this region and the people that live there today.