San Miguel de Allende – part 5, the Sanctuary

San Miguel de Allende – part 5, the Sanctuary

Close to SMA there is a little town called Atotonilco that has a World Heritage Site, the Sanctuary of Atotonilco.  The first stone of this church complex was laid in 1740 by a Father Neri.  It was dedicated to Jesus of Nazareth and constructed so that the altar faced Jerusalem to the West.  Several chapels are attached to the main church in the other three directions.  What makes this church really unique are the murals painted over most of the interior.  The artist,  Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre, spent somewhere between 30 and 35 years painting them, according to various accounts.  Between some of the murals are hand lettered squares containing passages from the Bible that Father Neri is said to have painted himself.

Ceiling murals with arches of scripture

The murals are highly detailed and generally depict scenes from biblical stories about the life of Christ.  I zoomed in on a couple for more details, but there is so much to see that it would be beyond this little blog to cover everything, even though, on the day we were there, most of the chapels were closed.  See the Wikipedia article about “Sanctuary of Atotonilco” for detailed explanations of several of the main panels and more history.

One of the entryway murals:

The first ceiling mural the visitor sees is in the entry and has four parts.
Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss. Note the demon on his back.
Peter attacking Malchus
Choosing between the blessed and the damned
Jesus praying at Gethsemane

One of the main nave murals shows scenes from the crucifixion.






Various other murals:

The Gospels





The wooden door panels are not as well preserved as the murals

The statuary in here is also interesting.  The main altarpiece is a statue of Jesus from 1820 that is dressing in a fabric tunic.  On the South side of the nave, the Virgin of Sorrows occupies an elaborate chapel.  A bloody statue, the Señor de la Columna, depicts Jesus being flogged.  Since 1812, this statue has been taken to San Miguel de Allende on the Saturday prior to Holy Week and paraded around the town to confer its blessings.






Another interesting thing about the Sanctuary, is that is was founded as both a place of worship and a site for penance.  Following the spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, Father Neri led his people in flagellation and fasting.  The pilgrims still come to this day, many wearing crowns of thorns, to perform penance, with an estimated 5,000 attending during Holy Week.  A complete cycle of penance, prayers, and meditation lasts eight days.

Next up:  still more San Miguel de Allende


San Miguel de Allende – part 4

San Miguel de Allende – part 4

Right alongside the venerable old, we find the quirky and contemporary new.  SMA is a hotspot for artists and galleries are sprinkled throughout the city.  The Institute Allende teaches visual artists and displays their work in galleries.  The Institutio Nacional de Bellas Artes has exhibits, classrooms, and practice spaces for artists, musicians, and dancers.  These buildings and many others are decorated with wonderfully expressive murals.

David Leonardo, the creator of many of the murals in SMA, enjoying a chat with a pair of Fogeys he is sketching.
A Leonardo mural adds color and history to the courtyard of the Institute Allende
This mural in the Bellas Artes explores some darker folklore
One of a series of murals in the Bellas Artes, this is a statement about the damage people are doing to the planet.
This mural in the lobby of the Teatro Angela Peralta celebrates the theater arts
Some street art brightens the end of our block

There is also a wide variety of music in SMA.  Walk into a restaurant or cantina and you can never tell what kind of music will be playing, some recorded, some live, some Mexican, some American.  Then there are a few theaters that feature concerts.  So far, we have seen Spanish guitar, Jazz, and Blues concerts.  The theaters are small and intimate and the crowds appear to be mostly older Gringos for the shows we saw.  By Gringo I mean either USA citizens vacationing or Expats who have settled here.  I hope that does not offend anyone.

A concert in the Teatro Angela Peralta.
It is Blues night at the Shelter Theater

Part of the fun of visiting a foreign city is seeing how they deal with routine things.  One thing we found unusual here is the garbage collection.  There is a small fleet of trucks that drive through the city on collection days, usually 7:30 to 8:00 AM.  A kid runs ahead of the truck and bangs metal blocks or a triangle together to warn that the truck is coming.  Run outside to hand the bags to the men in the truck.  Don’t leave bags on the curb overnight or the dogs will ravage them.  Don’t leave plastic bins outside overnight or they may get stolen.  You can install a hook outside your door so bags are off the street and away from the dogs, if you can’t get up early enough.  Don’t worry about separating recyclables.  According to the local paper, the trashmen are only paid 148 pesos a day, so they sort the trash and pick out valuables to keep and sell for themselves.  During our stay, we also spotted door to door propane gas and ice cream sales, both from trucks playing loud music to attract attention to their wares.

Trash collection day in SMA. Bring out your bags.
Anybody need some propane? We deliver.
Funny jingly music brings the kids running to the ice cream pickup truck

One more thing about SMA that Gringos may find odd about the city is the complete lack of traffic control.  There are no stop signs or lights anywhere.  The only signs you see are on the sides of buildings, with street name and arrows denoting one way or two.  Traffic control is strictly by guts.  You merge into moving streams or pass where and when you can get away with it.  Toss this mix with motorcyclists threading the needle between cars, and you get streets that are not for the timid.  But, to this Gringo, the strangest thing is how seldom you will hear a horn.  Unless somebody does something VERY stupid, the streets are mostly quiet.  Somehow, traffic is a chaos with mutually agreed upon rules and courtesies.

That business at the corner of Canal and Hidalgo looks familiar.
Narrow cobblestone streets and sidewalks with precious little parking
Our cabbie dodges oncoming traffic weaving around parked cars

Next up:  even more SMA

San Miguel de Allende – part 3

The historic downtown in SMA is very well preserved.  The buildings are stone and adobe, so they have not suffered the many fires most old European cities have.  Some of the oldest and most well-preserved buildings in SMA are the churches.  And there are a lot of churches.  We visited some of the oldest and most ornately decorated.

Templo del Oratorio de San Felipe Neri, built in 1712.




Templo de Nuestra Señora de La Salud, built in the 18th century.



Templo de San Francisco, began construction in 1778



Templo de la Purisima Concepción, built between 1755 and 1842



Another historic old building is right next to the Jardin; the Museo Histórico de San Miguel de Allende.  This building dates from 1759 and was once the home of Ignacio Allende, the Mexican Revolutionary War hero.  The lower level has displays about the period surrounding the war; the homes, customs, and politics.  The upper level is where the Allendes lived and is outfitted with authentic furnishings.


Ink well and documents founding San Miguel in 1555
The pulperia of the Allende house. A room opening to the street allowed selling the farm goods to the public.
This was an unusual house in that it had a kitchen inside it.  Most were detached.

I had a lot more to put into this post, but I am fighting slow internet and keep getting errors when I try to download more photos.  I’ll try for more later.

Next up:  even more SMA

San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico

When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in this area, in the early 16th century, there was a small village.  A Spanish priest, Juan de San Miguel, built a chapel near the village and dedicated it to the archangel Michael.  The mission was to colonize and convert the natives.  The natives did not like that very much, so the Spanish relocated nearby and, in 1555, founded a village named San Miguel.  During the Mexican war of Independence, local heroes, including Ignacio Allende, raised an insurgent army and fought off the Spanish, making San Miguel the first Mexican town freed from Spanish rule.  In 1826 the town was declared the city of San Miguel de Allende in his honor.  The city dwindled and prospered over time until 1926, when it was declared a “Historic and Protected Town”.  The city was then “discovered” by artists and writers, who established schools, which attracted students and tourists.

Father Juan de San Miguel ministering to the indigenous people
Ignacio Allende, hero of the Revolution

Our exploration of the city starts in the historic city center, the Jardin Allende.  This is the town square, set between the two pillars of life in the city, the Church and the State.  The Municipal Palace on the North side has been all but destroyed several times over the centuries and little remains except for drab little offices.  The Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel is the town’s parish church.  It was built in the 17th century and towers over the South side of the square.  Its unique neo-gothic towers can be seen from the all over the city.  Next to it is the Santa Escuela Church, which was founded in 1742 and was the first church in the city.

The Cathedral of Saint Michael the Archangel
The nave in Saint Michael’s is simple but elegant
The arches and domes show a high degree of craftsmanship
The interior of Santa Escuela features vivid Stations of the Cross
The crucifixion tableau in Santa Escuela is graphic and unsettling

The Jardin is where the people of the city come together to stroll, to people watch, to eat ice cream, to sit in the sidewalk cafes and linger over a glass of wine or beer.  Festivals occur here.  Mariachis play to the crowds at dusk.  A wedding procession gathers in front of the Cathedral then parades around the block, following large Bride and Groom figures and a boisterous mariachi band.  Vendors ply treats and balloons and toys for the kids.  The manicured laurel trees provide shade to the many wrought iron benches throughout the square.

Relaxing in the Jardin
Saturday afternoon at the Jardin
Dos cervasas, por favor

The best place for a tourista or expat to get information about the city is at the library, the Biblioteca Publica.  They have meeting rooms where movies, lectures, classes, and concerts are given.  A very pleasant courtyard has a restaurant and often features free classical guitar music during lunch.  Tickets are on sale for the city’s many theaters, museums, and tours.  A bilingual newspaper has calendars, ads, editorials, and feature articles about the city.

Another disguised treasure, the Library does not look like much from the outside
A Library concert, featuring two classical Spanish guitar players
A mural in the Library represents all of the indigenous groups of pre-Spanish Mexico
The Library sells tickets for most of the popular events in the city.

Exploring San Miguel de Allende can be a bit challenging, especially for a wobbly-kneed senior citizen who has still not adjusted to the altitude.  The streets are very narrow, hilly, and lumpy, but the sidewalks are even worse.  Most are only wide enough for two people, shoulder to shoulder, and steps, windows, and other obstacles intrude into the walking room enough so that extreme caution is needed to navigate them.  A person yields to oncoming pedestrians, but not into the street, because you may get smacked by a passing rear view mirror.

Tight streets and sidewalks on the Calle Hidalgo. The barrier closes off the streets around the Jardin on weekends.

Roaming the streets around the historic downtown is a never-ending surprise package.  Looking down a block, you see mostly concrete and plaster, painted in earth tones.  Here and there are large decorative doors and windows barred with wrought iron.  Small, shabby-looking, hand painted signs outside advertise what turn out to be fine restaurants and cantinas inside.

Behind this door is probably a fine residence, hidden from the passerby.
Another anonymous residence, this one with a religious figure above the door.
Little hand painted signs identify these doors as the Gombo Pizza and Cantina
Inside the Gombo the restaurant is spacious and the food is good. Two beers and a small 3 meat pizza for less than $10 US
The doorway to the Ole Ole Restaurante does not offer many clues, except the bull
Inside the Ole Ole are many posters of bullfights and even a few stuffed bull’s heads. Great margaritas and fajitas.

People often remark about Mexico, “don’t drink the water”.  As it turns out, that is both true and false.  The water here flows out of mountain springs uphill from the city.  Even in the driest spell, there is water trickling down the streets toward the reservoir and fields downhill from the town.  A lot of this water gurgles out of the many fountains in the city.  The city takes the water from the springs, filters and purifies it, then sends it out to the public.  The trouble is, most buildings, homes and businesses, have rooftop cisterns where the water is stored.  The quality of the water for any building depends on how well and how often the cistern is cleaned.  Newer homes and better restaurants add filters for the water.  To be prudent, never buy food from a street vendor.  When buying fresh fruits and vegetables from the supermarket, be sure to soak them in a water and antibiotic mix before using them.  Otherwise, enjoy the food and drink the water.  Or better yet, drink the beer and margaritas.

This fountain near the Artisan’s Market is one of over twenty fountains throughout the city.
The fruits and vegetables are plentiful in the market. But be sure to sterilize them before you bite in.

Next up:  more exploring San Miguel de Allende

Going to Mexico – From Conroe to San Miguel de Allende

Conroe, Texas: population 53,075, elevation 247 feet

From Galveston, our next stop was Conroe, Texas.  This is a sprawling suburb north of Houston that is at least 6 freeway exits wide.  We found a super deal on an out-of-season lakeside resort so we grabbed it.  This week was not so much sightseeing as getting ready for Mexico.  We got our flu shots, sorted our clothing down into one suitcase each, bought a few things, made plans.  The most notable things about Conroe were the meals we had.

At the Copperhead Brewery, we were having a great time sampling the beers and talking with crew and locals when a friend of theirs, a BBQ pit master, came in with a big box of end-of-the-day leftovers: brisket, sausage, chicken, and ham.  He gets free beer, we get free BBQ.  What a great treat!

Great logo, done in stained glass, on the bar front

At the 7 Lequas Mexican Restaurant we enjoyed some very creative cooking with a unique seaside Mexican flair.  I had grilled chicken, smothered in a spicy mushroom gravy, topped with grilled shrimp and catfish tails.  Such a great departure from the usual “stuff wrapped in a tortilla” Mexican food you find everywhere.  Me gusta el mucho!


We left the resort early to get to a Red Roof hotel near the airport in Houston.  The hotel has a big parking lot where we can leave our trusty, dusty car, Gypsy, for the next month, much cheaper than the big commercial lots.  They also have a shuttle to run us to the airport.  By 7:30, we are at Bush Intercontinental, going through the airport security gauntlet, getting set for the 9:00 flight to Leon.

Early morning at the airport
The world at 35,000 feet

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico:  Population =  139,297, elevation = 6,200 feet, average January low temp = 42.8, Average July high temp = 81

By 11:00, we are in Leon.  The line through immigration is short and our luggage is prompt.  At the door, we see our shuttle driver holding a card with our names on it.  He somehow magically fits 6 people and their luggage into a Suburban and off we go, snuggly squished together.  For the next 90 minutes or so, we experience rural Mexican roads.  The roads are about 1 3/4 cars wide so oncoming and passing traffic is a game of nerves and timing, played on a washboard with many speed bumps.

The approach to Leon is a high mountain plateau, dotted with little villages.
Gabriel is ready for us with the shuttle

We are the last unloaded and it takes a while for the driver to find the place.  There are two series of numbers on this street and ours is not obvious.  The street is very steep, narrow, and cobblestoned.  Our place is like a shotgun house, stood on end; one room wide and three stories tall.

Callejon Ojo de Auga is steeper than it looks here
Our Casa in SMA

Mexican housing looks very strange to this Gringo.  The street is all walls and doors, a blank face to the public.  The houses are one continuous brick and concrete row with no gaps between units.  Most have yards behind the walls; either tidy little gardens or junk piles.  Inside the homes are big airy rooms with lots of ceramics and wood and windows.  Many have rooftop patios.  Count on a LOT of stairs.  From what we have seen so far, ours is kind of typical for a rental.

A comfy living room with a LOT of window
The kitchen fits one small cook. Love the little hobbit pantry.
The bathroom is compact too, but the tile work is nice.

Once we get settled in, we need to take care of some business: get some lunch and buy groceries.  We heard in the shuttle ride that it is a short hike to downtown and there is a store there, so we set off on foot.  It turns out that all of the streets here are very narrow and the cobblestones are not the nice smooth round ones you find in Europe.  We are, essentially, walking down a cheese grater.  After we find lunch, a “tour guide” directs us to a bigger, more modern store so we taxi over to that.  The selection is good, yet odd.  There are a lot of things we have never seen before and a lot of familiar things we do not see.  No frozen food, for instance.  Eggs and milk are not refrigerated.  We taxi back to our casa, exhausted after our long day and climb the many steps inside.


Next up:  exploring SMA