The origins of the local people go back to pre-Hispanic times. The original name of the area was Yuririapúndaro, which in the Tarasco language means “blood lake.”
Perhaps this was a reference to the legend, which apparently had a real foundation, that into the crater lake of an extinct neighbouring volcano were thrown the bodies of prisoners sacrificed to the gods.
One of the early Augustinians sent to the area was Diego Chávez y Alvarado. He was a relative of the conquistador Pedro Diego Chávez. He succeeded spectacularly in both church-building and in improving the productivity of the valley.
Chávez created Lakle Cuizleo in 1548 by damming the Lerma River. Seventeen kilometres in length, this lake was the first-ever major hydraulic project in the New World. To it Chávez also introduced small fish and canoes.
The extraordinary convento (a public church and a residence Augustinian community) dedicated to Saint Paul the Apostle was built between 1550 and 1559 by Diego Chávez O.S.A., along with the Spanish architect Diego Toro.
Most unusually for Mexico in the 16th century, the transept of the church is built in the manner of the earlier medieval Gothic tradition. The exterior is distinguished by a solid tower with open bell-cage, crenellated roof and massive flying buttresses.
(Continued on the next page.)