For many years I was blessed to live on small island that had the geographic distinction of being able to watch the sun both rise and set over the Atlantic Ocean. Suffice to say both the sun rise and sun set were glorious daily events. The same can be said if you plant yourself on a bench in front of the Parroquia those times of day as the displays of light on the church’s pink limestone are subtle yet spectacular.
The Parroquia is an oddity in Mexico. On one hand, it reminds me of the drip sand castles my kids created on the beaches of our island home. On another hand, the sheer pinkness of the structure makes me think that it is model for a church in the same neighborhood as Barbie’s Dream House.
All that child-like beauty doesn’t dispel the fact it was built upon the indigenous graveyard as the Spanish always build their churches where the indigenous were use to worshipping. We foreigners may be unaware of the connection, but the indigenous descendents are not. They remind themselves every celebration of St. Michael’s feast day in what I find to be the most moving procession of the year, assuming you understand what you are looking at.
On the feast day of St. Mike the indigenous procession features xuchiles, meter long and sto
ry and half tall art made from cactus flowers and leaves. The xuchiles are what the indigenous Chichimecas carried their dead on to be buried and they symbolically bring their ancestors back to the Parroquia, where they are buried. All the while, if you look closely, you’ll see the Chichimeca dancers doing the sign of the cross with their feet to thank their ancestors for joining the new faith. So many arrive to town we’ll close schools so the dancers can use the classrooms to sleep in.
The other grand indigenous festival for the Parroquia is for the cross featured in the chapel of the Lord of the Conquest the first Friday of March. Again, Chichimecas from across the nation come to town to dance in front of the Parroquia thanking their ancestors for joining the new faith. The aroma of copal, to draw the deceased, is pervasive.
Stories abound on the formation of the church’s Disneyesque façade, including a visit to town by Walt Disney himself, but the bottom line is it took both vision and bravery to form a church so different from the mass produced Spanish chapels. The sheer quantity and similarity of Spanish chapels remind me of the templates used for the mass produced Sears catalogue houses of the 1920s, one of which my in-laws once lived in.
Like the Eifel Tower is the symbol of Paris, the Parroquia is the internationally recognized symbol of San Miguel. To have a view of the church from your home is much desired if only to enjoy the fireworks.
The unique Parroquia, or parish church, is called that because the town still isn’t large enough to host a cathedral with the corresponding bishop. Still, it’s hard to image any parish church in the world more internationally recognized than ours!