Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Crypt Beneath The Altar



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In the heart of San Miguel de Allende, across the square from El Jardin, stands the Parroquia, the church with the odd façade that has become a symbol of San Miguel. Amazingly, after having visited the city regularly for many years and now having lived here for three years, I had never even been inside. Until last Saturday morning.

I was aware that the crypt that resides beneath the alter existed, but as it is only open to the public one, or occasionally two, days per year I’d never had the opportunity to see it. Finally last year, during Day of the Dead while I was in Patzcuaro, Todd made his first foray into the crypt and his visit resulted in such wonderful pictures that I was determined to visit there myself, and this year I finally did.


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On Saturday morning, as a small group of people waited in hushed silence in the front pews of the Parroquia, a door was opened and an ancient stone staircase became visible descending into the depths below the altar. As we travelled downward cool, damp air and the smell of ammonia reached us from the recently cleaned cavern.


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As we entered the crypt history enveloped us like a cloak. There is some disagreement as to when the crypt was actually built, but the general consensus seems to be that it was the mid 19th century. José Cornelio López Espinoza, a city chronicler, states that it was built between 1760 and 1762, but another historian, Graciela Cruz, says that there is no evidence of that and from the type of burials and the people buried there, that it is far more likely to have been built in the 19th century.

We do know that the crypt was designed by the famous artist/architect Eduardo Tresguerras who is believed to have worked in San Miguel around 1830. Tresguerra was born in Celaya and is most known for his his neo-classic design in the church of El Carmen there, as well as the Fountain of Neptune (1797) and an arch commemorating the proclamation of Charles IV as king, in Querétaro.


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Set of 8 monochrome murals in the crypt, painted by Tresguerras


Before the crypt was constructed there was a cemetery in front of the Parroquia where the esplanade and part of the Jardin now stand and in 1842 the remains of the priests interred in the cemetery were moved into the crypt. During it’s 250 years of service many prominent personages were buried there. One such is former Mexican president Anastasio Bustamente, who first gained fame as a royalist general fighting against the insurgents in the War of Independence, and then later, changed sides to join Agustín Iturbe to help bring independence to Mexico. Oddly enough, though he is buried here, it is without his heart. That organ was removed and taken to the Cathedral in Mexico City where it is entombed near the remains of Agustín Iturbe.


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Other noted personalities present in the crypt, include Padre Francisco de Uraga, who was the the parish priest at the time of the outbreak of the War of Independence. He was a coconspirator of Ignacio Allende and died in 1830 after seeing Mexico achieve independence. Remigio González and his brother Felipe are also in residence in the crypt.

Padre Remigio González was the artist who sculpted the statue of Our Lord of the Column, which is still at the Shrine of Jesús Nazareno in Atotonilco, and is carried in a peregrination to San Miguel each year before Semana Santa, A Day In “El Campo” . He was also padre at the Shrine at the onset of the war, where he aided insurgents Hidalgo and Allende on September 16, 1810. Felipe González was also a coconspirator and joined the insurgents, actually suggesting to Allende that Hidalgo lead the army.


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‘You will also find the stone plaque of Ignacio Hernández Macías, the founder of Parque Benito Juárez, and a primary figure in San Miguel during the office of Porfirio Díaz. I don’t want to overdo the history lesson, LOL, but I would be remiss if I were not to mention Padre Juan Manuel de Villegas who was parish priest of the Parroquia from 1736 to 1776 and was also the commissioner of the Inquisition in San Miguel! He was one of the priests moved from the cemetery in 1842 but unfortunately his grave stone has gone missing.


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The Crypt, photo courtesy of Todd McIntosh


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Back outside in the bright San Miguel sunlight it was a different world.

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Day of the Dead was underway with the tapetes and altars being made ready for the evening’s onlookers.

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Day of the Dead, San Miguel 2014.


  1. Fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing this (and Todd as well). I hope to see it one day. Shannon what is the significance of the rows of white cloth, and over further (visible in your photo outside the Parroquia) the rows of colored cloth? I saw them on the live webcam several days before the festivities and wondered about them. They seem to have holes, and do I see some of the same cloth on the altar in your last photo? So interesting! Thank you again.

    1. Barbara, the banners you see in the pictures are called "papel picado" perforated paper. It is considered Mexican folk art apparently stemming from the mid 19th century when people were forced to buy from the Hacienda stores, where they discovered tissue paper. 40 or 50 sheets are laid together and then chiseled out into designs.
      You will see different designs for each holiday (of which there are hundreds, LOL) and they are, literally, in every part of Mexico.

    2. I love this kind of information! Thank you again so much. And I agree with Dan - excellent photographs. Earlier I when I thanked Todd as well I was actually thinking of the video he made that Barbara posted on her blog. I also find it interesting they allow photographs to be taken in the crypt. I'm glad they do!

    3. You're very welcome Barbara. I am glad that they let you take pictures in the crypt as well, although you can't use a flash. Better than nothing though.

  2. Great post! Once again, a bit of new knowledge of SMA's very interesting history, coupled with Todd's excellent photography! Thank you!

    1. Hey, LOL, that was my photography! I know it doesn't happen very often, but I did take all but one shot. I'm glad you enjoyed the post Dan.

  3. I doubt I will ever be in San Miguel for The Great Uncovering. Thanks for letting me see it -- and for the fascinating history lesson.

    1. You're welcome Steve. That was my problem for so many years, never actually being here on the one day that it's open to the public. That made it all the more cool when I finally did get to see it though.

  4. What great information and photos. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thanks Barbara, have you been in to see it?

  6. Another great experience in SMA! Loved the post, so thanks for sharing. See you soon!

    1. Thanks I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to your visit!