Just beyond La Comer, alongside the lake, lies the indigenous community of Don Diego home of the largest new construction church project in San Miguel de Allende. The church features several bovada ceilings and a panoramic view of the lake dedicated to Saint Peter. The church is funded and built entirely by indigenous volunteers on their days off work from construction projects in San Miguel.
When I first stumbled upon the church I was confused why the images of St. Peter didn’t feature his telltale keys to Heaven in his role of bouncer to the afterlife. In fact, St. Peter was dressed as a Franciscan, a clothing fashion popular long after apostle Peter’s time on Earth.
I learned the statue was for another St. Peter, a Spaniard from the Canary Islands from the mid-1600s whose connection to present day San Miguel escaped me and I forgot about him until a recent foray to Antigua, Guatemala.
Here I stumbled again into St. Peter as a former inhabitant of Antigua, then the capital of New Spain, and his ties to San Miguel became obvious.
Peter started life as a poor child with a handful of sheep he cared for. Seeing his older brother escape to the Americas he decided to follow suit despite not having acquired the proper immigration paperwork and through pure grit got himself to then capital of New Spain, Antigua. Immigration has always, apparently, been a sticky wick issue. (Years later Peter tried to return to the Canary Island but couldn’t still lacking the proper paperwork and stayed in Antigua for good.)
When in his mid-20’s he decided to study to be a priest but couldn’t pass the required Latin exams (much like today’s Anglican priests my father referred to as “Catholic priests who couldn’t pass their Latin”). Instead Peter joined the Third Order, like the same named church next to St. Francis’ temple here in San Miguel. The Third Order was normally for wealthy Spanish lads that didn’t want to actually be clergy but enjoyed the clerical fashions and penchant for good deeds while maintaining a civilian lifestyle.
As a Third Order lad Peter build a hospital for the indigenous and introduced the practice of Christmas posadas (live action telling of the Christmas story by children) to the Americas. Peter devoted his life to helping the marginalized indigenous becoming known as an early advocate of Human Rights comparable to the modern St. Teresa of Calcutta who also served the most vulnerable and needy. He is known today as St. Francis of Assisi of the Americas.
St. Peter’s presence is felt all over Antigua but nowhere more vibrant than in the Hall of Miracles. Milagros (miracles) are attached to San Miguel images of saints and Virgins to thank them for their intercession with health, work and a variety of other reasons. In San Miguel they are small tin images or photos of the person helped. In Antigua there is a long hallway filled with milargos in the form of retablos (paintings depicting miracles), abandoned crutches, countless photos and flowers. I was so overwhelmed by both the present day and centuries old acts of appreciation in this ancient hallway I wanted to lie down and nap if only to absorb energy. (Plus, like a cat, I enjoy naps most anywhere.)For a saint from four centuries ago Antigua Peter has an immense collection of his relics including some of the clothing he wore right down to his underwear. If I ever did have to go back in time it was a note to self to pack boxer briefs as Peter’s tightie whities were made from fisherman’s net rope and leather making them both ugly and uncomfortable. Why he didn’t go commando baffles me.
As the first saint of Central America combined with his tireless work to enhance the lives of the indigenous I totally understood why this large new church in San Miguel was being created by all volunteer labor in his honor.
As I took my stockpile of rosaries I planned on giving my students at the Senior Center and Escobedo to be blessed by a Franciscan monk with relics of St. Peter I asked what St. Peter’s specialties were. (Most saints have an area of expertise like St. Jude and lost causes or St. Lucy and vision.) He looked at me like the idiot foreigner I am and simply stated “Have you not been down the Hall of Miracles? St. Peter can do anything for you!”
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Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series. All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays. Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA. Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkin