Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Plight of the Mexican Church


We all know that Mexico is a very Catholic country with more churches per square kilometer than, possibly, any other country. It is also a country that is very hard on it’s churches. I’m not sure why this odd phenomenon occurred to me but since it has I might as well share it, LOL. Off the top of my head I can think of three instances where churches here have suffered at the whims of nature and countless others at the hands of thieves and looters.

I have spoken before of Parícutin in the post The Birth of a Volcano, in which the church in the village of Parícutin, in the state of  Michoacán was buried in lava right up to the altar, where it mysteriously stopped. Today a 30 foot wall of lava stands in front of the untouched altar, a miracle visited daily by the faithful of the area. The rest of the church, however, was completely destroyed.


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Then we have the case of the Santuario Del Carmen, a church in the pueblo of Tlalpujaua, also in  Michoacán, Tlalpujahua; Christmas All Year Long, which met a similar fate in a flood and mudslide. The Santuario was built in the 16th century and dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and sometime later an image of her was painted on the adobe wall of the church. Then in 1937 Mother Nature showed her cruel side once again in the form of a landslide that buried several blocks in the center of town, including the Santuario Del Carmen and killed about 400 people. However, this disaster too, was not without it’s miracle.

Today all that can be seen of the entire area is the church’s bell tower sticking out of the ground. Strangely though, the wall that held the painting of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was not damaged and Our Lady remained unscathed when the landslide stopped just short of the wall. The wall containing the painting was carefully removed from the rest of the ruined building by some 1200 townsfolk and moved to the parish church not far away. The Santuario Del Carmen was eventually rebuilt and Our Lady of Mount Carmel resides at the altar in the company of Saints Peter and Paul.




Recently we learned that another of these brutal encounters with nature occurred right here in San Miguel de Allende, the result of which has left the remains of a church in the town’s presa, reservoir. This one seems the saddest to me as there seems to be no information available about the origins of this church or even it’s name. The water level in the reservoir is very high now, due to all the rain we’ve had this season and the church sits alone in the presa with only it’s spire above water to remind us of it’s fate. If anyone has any information about this church, I would love to know it’s story. 

The following picture of the spire is very small and distant as we got stuck in the mud when we tried to get close enough to take a good picture. We drove in the direction we thought would take us close to that side of the reservoir on a road that quickly became a small track that led to the forested campo. Due to the aforementioned rain, the track we were driving on degenerated to a muddy path and before we realized that we should probably turn around, we were stuck.

I found it quite comical watching Todd cutting branches off trees with a pen knife to stuff under the wheels of the car, although he didn’t see the humour. I wanted to help but he insisted that I stay in the car. I guess he was envisioning my walker and I stuck in the mud along with the car. We did eventually get out but had to take the picture from the highway far above the presa .






“ A small, picturesque city 80 miles southeast of Mexico City, Cholula is said to have a church for every day of the year. There are, in reality, about 80 in all, many dating to the 17th century and filled with paintings and sculptures from that time. It is enough to draw hordes of worshipers — and thieves.”

The quote above comes from an article in the New York TImes describing the spate of burglaries in the churches of Mexico over the last few years, and in Cholula in particular. For those that are interested in reading the article I’ve left the link at the bottom of this post.

I had sort of thought that the pillaging of Mexican churches was a thing of the distant past, but apparently it is an ongoing problem. In 2008, 2010 and as recently as October of 2012 churches in Cholula have been looted. The entire town of Cholula is involved in the protection of the churches and is even receiving help from expatriate Mexicans in the USA.

Four hundred year old Mexican works of art have turned up in auction houses, and apparently there is a strong market for this type of religious artwork in the southern US. According to the the article in the New York Times….. “ A group of religious-themed 18th-century paintings by the Mexican artist Miguel Cabrera sold for $362,500 in 2010, according to an online listing by Sotheby’s auction house."

There is not a lot that can be done to pacify Mother Nature, but I find the pillaging of churches by thieves for monetary gain appalling.


  1. As far as the thefts from the Churches, it has been a huge problem for hundreds of years, not only in Mexico but anywhere that has churches! Now, sadly, many churches are locked when someone is not on the premises. Watch as you walk around San Miguel at the smaller churches. You'll be surprised.
    I have the history of the church and village that was submerged to create the reservoir that you photographed. I'll have to search it out. It's HERE, SOMEWHERE!

    1. It is so sad. I really don't understand how someone could do such a thing. I guess I am very naive because I didn't realize that this is still such a problem.
      I would love it if you could find the story behind the church in the presa, Barbara. If so, I will update the post and give the poor thing some history.

  2. Very interesting post.
    I wonder if the city dept. in charge of the presa would have the information about the church or the city engineers. Not sure if it was built by municipal, state or federal funding, probably all three; but someone at the city should have the info. or the maps of the city before it was built with the church building on the map. Just a couple of thoughts. Is there a historical society in SMA, they would probably know or could find out.

    1. Excellent ideas Brenda, thanks. I would never have thought of that. I am hoping that Barbara has the info, but if not I will definitely look into it.

  3. Our church in Melaque has been burglarized a number of times. As a result, its security makes the place look like a locked vault most of the week. It certainly sends the wrong message to the community.

  4. Yes it does, but what is the alternative? In some ways it is a sad world we live in.

  5. I apologize to those of you whose comments have not been showing up on my blog recently. I had a technical problem which I think has been remedied. I am definitely technically challenged, LOL.