At the top of Cuesta de Loreto, next to the playground, is arguably the most ambitious mural project currently underway. Filled with San Miguel’s history and culture, let’s explore some of these images for greater art appreciation.
Ignacio Allende, founding father of Mexico and a local lad, sits upon his horse just like he does in statue form on Plaza Civica. Because Allende was caught in battle and beheaded afterwards, the horse has one hoof up. Had he died in battle, it would be a more dramatic pose with both hooves in the air. Had he lived another day, like George Washington did, Washington is shown in art with all four hooves on the ground.
It’s a tradition that has fallen out of favor with contemporary artists not following hoof etiquette but with older art you can tell something about the person even if you don’t know who it is.
Notice in the foreground by Allende is a small child contently playing by a river. Then look closely at the tree on the opposite bank. What is that shadowy figure?
She is La Llorona (The Weeping Woman). La Llorona is an often-told tale of a gal named Maria that in effort to keep her lover’s attention drowns their two children. Realizing what she had done, she drowns herself. While her children reside in Heaven, Maria roams the waterways in search for her kids, or ones she can grab to replace them in her watery grave.
La Llorona has deeper roots than the tree. In the mid-1500s Franciscan friar, Bernardino de Sahagun, wrote of her in his book, General History of the Things of New Spain. Bernardino wrote La Llorna is actually the Aztec goddess, Cihuacóatl , that cried warnings about the arrival of the Spaniards and the imminent Conquest that destroys indigenous culture.
Recently a social media chum working at a Southwest university was tasked with starting a Latin America club. She posted around campus for folks to come to the first meeting or “La Llorona will get you that night while you shower”.
The auditorium was filled with laughing students as La Lllorna is the most famous monster Mexico has produced.
Perhaps the mural’s La Llorona will keep kids off the playground equipment once it gets dark and is time to go home!
Scattered throughout the murals are Alecuijes, an animal personification of actual people so no two are also ever alike. Alecuije is the integration of your gifts, talents and virtues that mirror your soul. The indigenous felt animals had a close relationship with the Divine so on day of your birth you arrived with a spirit animal.
All Alecuijes feature a head, body, hands, feet, tail and wings of various animals that fit the person. For example, the feet and hands provide balance to stand on earth and move in different scenarios while wings are the strongest part to propel you into the future.
Local artist, Paty de Murga, who lives on the street of the mural, first became aware of Alecuijes while visiting Canada de la Virgen before it became an open to the public historic site. While there she met an indigenous woman who introduced her to the magical world of Alecuijes that Paty now makes on a commissioned basis for people and museums around the world.
Prior to the Spanish Conquest, the indigenous would kidnap their enemies for human sacrifice. The highest official got to eat the human heart.
With the arrival of the Spanish they featured art with Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph having their heart outside of their chest to show compassion. The indigenous already knew the heart was the most important organ and latched right on to the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and such.
Today San Miguel de Allende is called the heart of Mexico for being where the Revolution against Spain began. We are also considered Mexico’s most romantic city since the town was built upon pink quartz and is why earthquake tremors don’t occur in centro. If in one of the big box stores just outside of centro you’ll feel tremors there as the vibrations travel up the lake water.
In September 1531 Chichimecas (indigenous hunter gathers) fought the newly arrived Spanish military in the Lejona. La Lejona is an area between today’s La Comer and the neighboring mountain top village behind it called Puerto de Calderon (then called Door of Barbarians). Between the two sides, in what became known as the Battle of Barbarians, neither side gained an upper hand in the battles. Then a splendid cross appeared in the sky causing the fighting to stop.
If you were a Catholic Conquistador, it was obvious to you that a cross in the sky indicated God was on your side so they stopped fighting. For the indigenous any intersection of two lines signified the meeting of male and female, or the Divine, indicating God was on their side so they stopped fighting also.
The cross appeared in the sky at a sacred spot to indigenous for whom it marked the geographic center of the Americas (north, south, east and west) being where souls entered the afterlife. The area for the indigenous was a hub of supernatural energy and a portal to contact ancestors.
Michael the Archangel vanquished Satan from Paradise. Since archangels are considered to be without gender, the image of St. Michael is often very effeminate and is portrayed by young teen girls in parades since they’ve the best hair in town!
To the indigenous cacti was the greatest gift from the gods used for multiple of purposes from booze and hair dye to paper and food. When visiting the chapel in nearby San Miguel Viejo notice how cacti is at the highest point of the façade, even above the chapel’s namesake, St. Michael.
The Parroquia is our namesake church to St. Michael and the town’s visual identity. The Parroquia is unique in Mexico for having that modified Gothic appearance built in pink limestone. Parroquia simply means parish church as the town isn’t big enough to have a cathedral and corresponding bishop.
How many churches are in San Miguel? That’s the question I get asked almost daily since, let’s face it, we’ve got a lot but it’s not an easy question to answer.
I can be humorous and state I’ve seen listing of over 300 places of worship in San Miguel and quickly could think of about three dozen left out. That gives us about 365 chapels, or one for each day of the year! But I’m sure if I noticed several missing on the list there are other churches and chapels I don’t know about. Yet.
Bottom line is we’ve a lot of houses of worship, ten times as many as a town our size normally does. That’s a result of the Inquisitor having a representative here in town for three centuries. If you were a wealthy Spaniard, it would behoove you to be seen building a church thus keeping the Inquisitor’s representative off you back.
The mural isn’t quite finished but well worth the uphill climb to visit and soak in some of our unique history, culture and traditions. Plus there are other, older murals, in the same area equally impressive.
by Joseph Toone
- TripAdvisor’s top tour guide in San Miguel de Allende with History and Culture Walking Tours and Joseph Toone Tours.
- Amazon’s best selling author of the San Miguel de Allende’s Secrets book series on making your adventures around town unique.
- Creator of the Maria Dolls coloring book helping indigenous doll makers.