Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Day In “El Campo”


I’ve been MIA for a while as far as my blog goes. Sometimes life just seems to get away from me. On Saturday afternoon though, I had a wonderful experience that I’d like to share. A new friend invited us to a “team sorting”. Basically cow-cutting with young bulls, it is a competition where everyone pays to enter and the winners get the spoils.

The event was held at a ranch near Atotonilco, a pueblo about 14 kilometers from San Miguel. Although I have been to San Miguel de Allende many times over the years and have now lived here for close to two years, I have never actually made it out to Atotonilco. Situated between San Miguel and Dolores Hidalgo, the tiny pueblo of Atotonilco is actually a pilgrimage site.

Atotonilco is a word coming from the Nahuatl  language meaning “in hot water”, and it refers to the many hot mineral springs in the area. One such spring is the spa, or “balneario”, La Gruta, which has been covered with an artificial cave and is situated at the entrance to the community of Atotonilco.

I had actually been to La Gruta, but not into the town itself, which has it’s own interesting story. Atotonilco has a very small population but a very large legacy and is formally known as the Santuario de Atotonilco, a World Heritage Site since 2008. The Sanctuary, officially called the “Santuario de Dios y de la Patria” (Sanctuary of God and Country), but is better known as the Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco.


Exterior Façade of the Sanctuary


The Sanctuary complex was built in the 18th century by Father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro who was preaching at missions in Dorlores Hidalgo. As the story goes, during  a visit to Atotonilco, he was napping under a mesquite tree where the sanctuary is now located, and Jesus, carrying a cross and wearing a crown of thorns came to him in a dream and told him that it was he wished an edifice to be built here as a place for penance and prayer.





And what an edifice it was! Often called the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico”, the Mexican Baroque mural work created by Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre over a period of thirty years is an artistic marvel.


Sanctuary photographs by Wikipedia


The complex was built as a pilgrimage and procession site and is still used for this purpose today. The doctrines of Saint Ignatius of Loyola are clearly reflected in the architecture and design of the sanctuary as a place of penance. It all began in 1765 with Father Neri directing 25 people in the spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. This included mortification of the flesh through flagellation and fasting.

Today during Holy Week, approximately 5,000 people (about 4 times the population of Atotonilco) visit the “Casa de Ejercicios”  to perform these forms of penance while wearing crowns of thorns. This is only one of 33 weeks out of the year when visitors, mostly from central and northern Mexico, visit the sanctuary.

An image of Jesus, beaten and tied to a column, called  El Señor de la Columna, resides in the Sanctuary and every year since 1812 this icon is carried in a procession, 14 kilometers through the streets to San Miguel de Allende. Originally the image had been requested because of an epidemic that was plaguing San Miguel, so now each year on the Saturday prior to Holy Week, the statue makes it way to San Miguel where it remains until the following Thursday when it is returned to Atotonilco.



Atotonilco 014



But enough of the history lesson and on to the “team sorting”. Chuck, the generous owner of the ranch had set up a covered area with tables and chairs for spectators right beside the corals. Needless to say it was a dusty day! Not to worry, there were beer and soft drinks available for 10 pesos and hard drinks for 20 pesos and then a little later in the competition pizza arrived from our favourite pizza establishment, Pizza Pig.


Atotonilco 004


Whole families were there and it seemed that both men and women competed equally in the competition. Incredibly beautiful horses were everywhere, a real treat for a horsewoman such as myself. How I wished I was able to try the sorting! Maybe next year, if I am walking, perhaps I will be able to ride again.


Atotonilco 003


The young man in the picture above was competing, and may actually have been on the winning team. I am assuming that he rode with his father and they worked together in perfect synchronization. The one in the photo below is a future competitor, but was certainly already at home in the saddle. Notice the spurs!


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This was really the first community event that I had attended since moving to San Miguel. It was lovely how gringos and Mexicans mixed and had such fun together. That sort of thing was a much more common occurrence for us in Patzcuaro and I was pleased to be included here.


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A cowgirl after my own heart!


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Another young cowgirl in the making


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Number 4 was my favourite


I wanted to take him home. Isn’t he pretty?



  1. Glad you were included in the sorting event. And, that you saw the church at Atotonilco.
    I didn't know you were a rider! Learn something new every day.........

    1. I really had a great time Barbara, and there were even a couple of people there that we knew. I've been a rider all my life. I used to barrel race as a teenager.

  2. Beautiful church, interesting history as always.
    I agree # 4 is very handsome fellow. I miss going to rodeos, my favorite event was the bull riding
    Ok, now I am missing my horse again, thanks lol.

    1. I think #4 would be a little cramped in the back yard. Pity. I know how you feel, Brenda, I sure miss riding!

  3. But probably too tough to make a proper prime rib dinner.