The facade of the mid-18th Century Jesuit church in Atotonilco is simple. The interior of the church is astonishing. Built between 1740 and 1776, the Santuario is still visited and revered by religious pilgrims.
Several weeks ago, while Mexico Cooks! visited San Miguel de Allende, we took advantage of some free time to go to Atotonilco to visit the Santuario de Jesús el Nazareno (Sanctuary of Jesus the Nazarene), one of the best-kept secrets of central Mexico. In 1996, the church was added to the World Monuments Fund, and in July of 2008, UNESCO named the Santuario to its list of World Heritage sites.
The main altar in the Calvary Chapel, the largest in the church. Sculptural figures important to Christ's Passion give visual impact to the meditations of the faithful. A relicuary rests on the red cloth.
The Santuario is a mixture of European Baroque and New World Mexican decoration. It consists of a large church, and several smaller chapels, all decorated with oil paintings by Rodríguez Juárez and mural paintings by Miguel Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre. Inspired by the doctrine of St. Ignacio de Loyola, the founder of the Companía de Jesús (the Company of Jesus, otherwise known as the Jesuits), the glowing paintings and murals in the church served in the evangelization of Nueva España, where the indigenous spoke their own languages but could neither read nor write, and where the Spanish conquistadores knew little if any of the languages they heard in the new land.
St. John the Baptist pours baptismal waters over Jesus as a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirt, hovers above them. In the 18th Century, the Santuario also served as a retreat house for the Jesuits. Pilgrims still make week-long retreats at this church, praying in a chapel reserved just for their needs.
Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus with a kiss. Note the demon monkey on Judas's back. Every inch of the Santuario walls is covered with paintings of the many details, Biblical and apocryphal, of Jesus's life. Nearly all (or perhaps all--stories vary) of the murals were painted by Miguel Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre, a native of the area. He worked for thirty years painting the murals.
St. Cristopher carries the infant Jesus on his shoulder. Captain Ignacio Allende, for whom San Miguel de Allende is named, married María de la Luz Agustina y Fuentes in this church. It was here, on September 16, 1810, that Miguel Hidalgo took up the standard of Our Lady of Guadalupe and bore it into battle at the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.
This side chapel, one of several at Atotonilco, is dedicated to Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of the Rosary). The mirrors that surround the figure of Our Lady are painted with oils, probably by Rodríguez Juárez.
Off the beaten tourist track, the Santuario de Jesús el Nazareno will fill your eyes and heart with wonder. Let's plan a visit to see it together.
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