by Dee Schaefer, Becketwood Member
We visited six churches during our stay in central Mexico, but this was by far my favorite. Called the Sanctuary of Atotonilco, it was built in the eighteenth century as a pilgrimage site in a small town near San Miguel. From across the square, it resembles a fairy-tale fortress.
The interior is stunning because every surface is covered with murals depicting the life of Christ. It has been called “The Sistine Chapel of Mexico.” The work was done by a native artist under the guidance of Father Philip Neri whose teachings ornament many of the surfaces.
Looking up in this space, one notes the Carrying of the Cross, painted in a style reminiscent of El Greco.
A processional banner reminded us once again of the importance of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexican Catholic religious practice.
Along the road leading to the sanctuary’s east entrance are rows of stalls. Some of them sell whips used in penitential processions. Mexico is one of the few countries where this ancient practice still exists.
As we approached the sanctuary, we passed a wheelbarrow filled with a woodcarver’s unfinished head of Christ bearing a crown of thorns. During Holy Week, thousands gather in this small town in preparation for Easter.
This arcade leads to a re-purposed textile factory converted into art galleries and shops. There are more than 65 doors to open. My favorite studio was a renovated forge where an American artist named Merry Calderoni exhibits her work.
Meet Merry Calderoni whose large-scale acrylics often feature Mexican history. One series deals with the role of Mexican women soldiers in the Revolution of 1910. As they drank tequila mixed with gunpowder along with the men, little did they know that the combination would make them infertile.
Inspired by historical research that included photographs, Calderoni captures the fear and suffering of the women soldiers.
Calderoni dared to depict Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint, as a guerilla fighter. She candidly reported that she was concerned about repercussions. There were none.
Some of us recall the sixties when our world was turned upside down and inside out. In the San Miguel area, we turned the clock back thanks to this ex-pat artist named Anado McLaughlin who opened his studio and galleries to our Road Scholar group.
McLaughlin and his partner prepared a buffet lunch on their colorful patio with produce from their garden. What had once been a neglected house and gardens is now a visual playground.
On the wall of McLaughlin’s tribute to his father, the Chapel of Jimmy Ray, we noted yet another version of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mexican craftsmen brought these structures to a colorful reality.
This is the view from my window in San Miguel de Allende, located four and one-half hours north of Mexico City in the high, central plateau. We stayed at an inn located within walking distance of the town’s center. With only 140,000 inhabitants, it was surprising to learn that about 16,000 of them are ex-pats who have transformed the town’s culture. There are North Americans everywhere.
This painting captures San Miguel de Allende when it was a small, wealthy, silver-mining community. It is now a rather prosperous tourist destination featured by Conde-Naste and UNESCO as an ideal place to live. Who could resist its moderate climate, welcoming artists by the dozen?
The towers of the Church of St. Michael the Archangel dominate the town square. It is delightful to sit in the leafy garden in front of the church watching the world go by.
Walking is challenging because of the narrow sidewalks and cobblestone streets. Some of us gripped walking sticks while others hung on to one another in precarious spots. Over three hundred restaurants, enticing shops, and art galleries slowed us down.
There are constant reminders of economic disparities in the town. A number of streets have huddled beggars crouching in doorways. We learned that Mexico has rich oil and mineral resources controlled by an elite.