Following the Spanish conquest of Mexico, various Catholic orders began building convents and missions in the new colony. These orders worked to convert Indigenous people to Christianity, as well as support the faith of European colonists. Dominicans and Franciscans were the two main orders present in the Yucatan Peninsula, and it was the Franciscans who eventually built the Convent of Saint Francis in Kikil, Mexico.
The convent was founded in 1576. Eight years later, the order dedicated a huge church to San Roman that was built beside the convent. The convent and church remained in use for the majority of the next three centuries until the Caste War broke out in 1847. The Caste War is one of history’s longest insurgencies and began when Mayan and mixed ancestry people rebelled against the ruling European class, known as Yucatecos.
There are theories that the name Kikil itself is linked to the convent. According to local lore, a priest was once beheaded inside the church giving the town its name based on the Yucatec Mayan word for blood, k’i’ik’. It is more likely, however, that the name pre-dates the Spanish conquest and is instead derived from k’i’ik’ che’, the word for rubber tree.
Kikil never had a particularly large population, so perhaps it was inevitable that the local Franciscan order would eventually abandon the convent. Between 1855 and 1863, during the Caste War, the Mexican government passed the Reform Laws. The laws targeted the Catholic Church’s possessions and led to a large number of convent and church buildings becoming private or government property. Many others were simply abandoned, such as this Franciscan convent.
While 14 local community members have submitted plans to renovate the building, debate over who exactly owns the centuries-old convent has stalled efforts. Today, the vegetation-covered ruins stand as an impressive reminder of this small town’s place in Mexican history.
Know Before You Go
Various names are listed online for the convent, including: Ex Convento Franciscano, Ex Convento de San Francisco (Former Convent of Saint Francis), Convent of San Francisco Kikil, and others.