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Atotonilco, Mexico: High Art, Folk Art, Hot Springs — and the Gospel

Atotonilco, Mexico: High Art, Folk Art, Hot Springs — and the Gospel March 8, 2016
Stucco facade of the Sanctuario de Atotonilco in central Mexico. Photo by BF Newhall
Facade of the Santuario de Atotonilco in central Mexico. Photo by Barbara Newhall

If you’re into Mexican art or the Christian Gospel — but especially if you’re into both — consider tucking a visit to Atotonilco into any future plans you might have to visit  San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico. Allow a full morning or afternoon to just sit in the masterpiece that is the Santuario de Atotonilco.

There are lots of good reasons for visitors to San Miguel to budget a day trip to the nearby town of Atotonilco (and take the time to figure out how the heck you pronounce Atotonilco). Here are just four:

  • Bathe at the (not too terribly hot) La Gruta hot springs.
  • Shop (by appointment) at the upscale folk art store Galeria Atotonilco (lots of sacred art on view).
  • Lunch at the Nirvana Restaurant and Retreat. Or splurge and spend the night.
  • Spend a full morning or afternoon at the Santuario de Atotonilco.
Detail of ceiling paintings at Sanctuario de Atotonilco, Mexico. Photo by BF Newhall
Ceiling paintings at Santuario de Atotonilco depict the Stations of the Cross. Photo by Barbara Newhall

A World Heritage Site, the Santuario de Atotonilco was built in the 18th century by a Father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro, who, tradition has it, experienced an apparition of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns and carrying his cross.

The Mexican Baroque mural work on the walls and ceilings of the Santurario is mostly by Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre and took thirty years to execute. The world-class murals have earned the Santuario the nickname “Sistine Chapel of Mexico.”

Too bad for me, time was short and I had less than an hour to contemplate the murals. I was able to grab a few photos of the church, but they don’t begin to capture the

A ceiling mural at Atototnilco Sanctuary depicts the ignominious end of Judas Iscariot. Photo by BF Newhall
Modern cartoonists have nothing on the storytelling skills of this 18th century muralist. Here he depicts the sorry end of the traitor Judas Iscariot. In the foreground, Judas receives his payment in coins; in the middle ground the betrayed Jesus is led away; later, tiny in the background, the hopeless Judas hangs himself from a tree. Photo by Barbara Newhall
Galeria Atotonilco is an upscale gallery selling Mexican folk art near San Miguel de Allende. Photo by BF Newhall
Galeria Atotonilco, an upscale gallery selling Mexican folk art, including Christian and Native American religious imagery. Photo by Barbara Newhall.
Interior of Galeria Atotonilco, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, with hand-painted figurines of jaguars. Photo by BF Newhall
A hand-painted jaguar. Photos by Barbara Newhall

beauty of the intricate paintings, whose artistry is matched by the artist”s uncanny ability to retell the Gospel stories solely with pictures.

So, if you’re into Mexican art or the Christian Gospel consider allowing a full morning or afternoon to just sit in this masterpiece of a church.

Don’t forget to check local listings for hours. Cab fares from San Miguel are affordable.

And . . . it’s pronounced ah-toe-toe-NEAL-coe.

For more on art and spirituality, go to “If It’s Religious, Can It Be Art?”  Or read another travel story at “China’s Youngest Fashionistas.” Barbara’s book, “Wrestling with God: Stories of Doubt and Faith,” is available from Patheos Press.

Chicken in mole sauce at the Nirvana Restaurant, Atotonilco, Mexico. Photo by BF Newhall
Lunch, chicken with mole sauce, at the Nirvana Restaurant. Photo by Barbara Newhall
The facade and cross at Sancutario de Atotonilco church in central Mexico. Photo by BF Newhall
The Santuario. Photo by Barbara Newhall
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