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.
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:
One of the main nave murals shows scenes from the crucifixion.
Various other 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