San Juan Cosala is a small town
of approximately 12,000 people located on the North shore of
Chapala, known for its hot spring mineral waters and natural
steam baths called temazcalli. It is the oldest town in the
area and was originally a fishing village established by the
Indians, a Nahuatl-speaking
people, related to the Aztecs.
The exact foundation of San Juan Cosala is not precise. According
to a type of ceramics found in the region, it is clear that
the area was already inhabited during the Preclassic Period,
prior to the Spanish Conquest. The name 'Cosala' is derived
from the indigenous name spelled Cuzala, Cuzalan or Cozala-Cuzalan
and has been given many different interpretations, including
'place of many warm springs', 'place of clean
water' or 'place full of serpents'. Some authors
believe it came from the spelling Cutzalan or Cotzalan which
means 'between pots.' The indigenous peoples were
ruled by Tlatoani and worshipped many different gods, including
their main god, Ixlacateotl, Tlaloc, goddess of rain, Ehecatl-Quetzacoatl,
god of wind, and Michicihuatl, the mermaid goddess and guardian
of Lake Chapala. The village contained ceremonial centers at
the four cardinal points where human sacrifices took place.
Small clay pots containing blood collected from the earlobes
of the indigenous people were thrown into the lake as offerings.
In 1523 or 1524, the Spanish conquistador Captain Alonso de
Avalos arrived in Cuzalan and conquered the region. Chief Xitomatl
who controlled the area from Ajijic to San Luis Soyatlan surrendered
peacefully. In 1531 the first missionary, Fray Martin de Jesus
of the Franciscan order, arrived in the region and ordered the
construction of a small chapel and the Hospital of the Conception
next door. He converted Tlatoani and baptized him as Don Andres
Carlos, in honor of the King of Spain. St. John the Baptist
was declared to be the patron saint of the region and the name
of the town was changed to San Juan Cosala.
During Holy Week, preceding Easter, religious processions
take place daily in the late afternoon. The homemade floats
transport costumed residents; each float is a representation
of the last days of Christ's life. In nearby Ajijic, on Maundy
Thursday and Good Friday, there are live, elaborately costumed,
passion plays re-enacting Jesus' trial, the Way of the Cross
and the Crucifixion, an amazing spectacle not to be missed.
June 24th is the Fiesta Patronal honoring St. John the Baptist.
The community begins each of the nine days preceding San Juan
Bautista Day with early morning skyrockets to awaken the people
for mass and to make the surrounding communities aware of the
fiesta. Afternoon processions include allegorical floats, mariachis,
indigenous dancers and groups of penitents. In addition to the
religious celebrations, there is a daily Festival of the Arts
with live entertainment each evening, including folkloric dancers,
local bands and other musicians, poetry and book readings and
art exhibitions in the Municipal Plaza and at various other
locations around the town. The fiesta culminates with a huge
fireworks castillo in front of the Parroquia.
December 12th is the Virgin of Guadalupe Day. For a week prior,
there are daily celebrations with fireworks, music, religious
processions and events at the Church. Altars adorned with images
of the Virgin of Guadalupe and fresh flowers are constructed
in the Plaza, at the Hospitalito, in front of people's
homes and at various other places around the town.