Why visit Atotonilco, in San Miguel de Allende Guanajuato
San Miguel de Allende and the city of Guanajato are two very good reasons to choose the state of Guanajuato as one of your destinations on a trip to Mexico.
However, if you want to get even deeper into the essence of the country and its history, it is almost obligatory to include in your itinerary a visit to some of its towns, such as Atotonilco.
Why visit Atotonilco?
Ruins and towers of the Sanctuary of Atotonilco
Atotonilco, a small town with less than 600 inhabitants and whose name means place of hot water, is about 14 kilometers from San Miguel de Allende and a little more than 30 kilometers from Dolores Hidalgo, two cities that had a preponderant role in the Mexican Independence.
Its proximity to these two municipalities, key in the Route of Independence, allowed Atotonilco to also play a leading role.
Popular history tells that the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla took from this parish a banner with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which he raised at the beginning of the armed struggle (1810) as a symbol of his movement, and which helped him convince numerous peasants and indigenous people to accompany him.
Torre del rejoj and statue of Miguel Hidalgo, with the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
And this brings us to another reason why you should visit Atotonilco: the Jesus Nazareno Sanctuary and its House of Spiritual Exercises, whose construction began in 1740 - under the supervision of the priest Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro.
On July 8, 2008 the temple was declared Cultural Patrimony of Humanity.
Jesus Nazareno de Atotonilco Sanctuary
This baroque temple, officially known as Sanctuary of God and the Homeland, is visited every year by thousands of Christian faithful, but also by numerous art lovers who wish to admire closely the pictorial works that decorate the walls and ceilings of its main nave and the seven annexed chapels.
Detail of one of the numerous murals that decorate the interior of the Sanctuary of Atotonilco.
There is not a single free space and for that reason there are those who dare to denominate this Sanctuary as the Mexican "Sistine Chapel".
Its apparent exterior simplicity does not allow to guess the artistic treasures that it keeps in its interior, work of the artists Miguel Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre, José María Barajas and Juan Rodríguez Juárez.
Practically the totality of the images are centered in portraying scenes of the life of Christ or in showing the permanent confrontation between good and evil.
To complete his work, most of the murals that decorate the entire church, Martínez de Pocasangre invested almost 30 years.
The artist, Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre, needed 30 years to finish the murals that cover all the walls of the Temple.
Atotonilco and the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Royal Road to Tierra Adentro)
Also known as the Road to Santa Fe, this 2,560-kilometer trade route passing through the town of Atotonilco, ran from Mexico City to Santa Fe, in New Mexico (United States), and was actively used between the 16th and 19th centuries.
This Camino Real de Tierradentro was the main route for transporting silver, which was extracted from the mines of Zacatecas, Guanajuato and San Luis Potosí, and mercury, which was imported from Europe to process the minerals.
Atotonilco is an important point on the Route of Independence and on the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Royal Road to the Inland).
Along the way, during the Colonial period, towns were developed that served as resting or provisioning places for travelers and where inns, inns, haciendas, presidios and churches were built, such as the Sanctuary of Atotonilco, among other buildings.
Today, Atotonilco has seen its population dwindle, because many have had to look for other destinations to find work.
This translates into almost solitary streets most of the year, where stalls selling religious souvenirs or traditional food are set up.
It is also possible to find those small sales, also known as bodegas or pulperías, where you can chat with the owner for hours, while enjoying a cold drink for a modest price (for example a beer, for 15 pesos, less than 1 euro).
Still wondering why visit Atotonilco? I hope you no longer have any doubts, and that if you go to San Miguel de Allende you dedicate at least half a day to this small town, where much of its essence and culture is still preserved.
Tips for curious tourists
Just one kilometer from the center of Atotonilco there was a spring of thermal waters, to which healing properties were attributed since pre-Hispanic times.
This is the origin of the name with which this town was baptized, around which, apparently, there were 27 springs.
Today, some hotels and spas have thermal water pools.
Atotonilco means place of hot water. Around it, there were about 27 springs.
The construction of the Sanctuary of Atotonilco was financed by wealthy families of San Miguel de Allende, such as that of Manuel de la Canal, and it is said that the priest Luis Felipe Neri, its promoter, wanted to build a church in the image and likeness of that of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
The Lord of the Column is carried in a procession to San Miguel de Allende.
Holy Week in Atotonilco and other religious traditions
During Holy Week, between 15 and 20 thousand pilgrims come to Atotonilco to participate in the procession that accompanies the Lord of the Column from the Sanctuary of Jesus Nazarene to the temple of San Juan de Dios, in San Miguel de Allende.
The "traída", a tradition that dates back to 1812, begins at midnight on Saturday and during the procession the Christ is covered with silk scarves to protect him from the weather.
Near the Sanctuary of Atotonilco, in the neighborhood of San Miguelito, there are two Chapels of Indians, which was the way to get closer to the area of power of the Indians.
The first chapel, whose roof can barely be seen because it is inside a private property, was small and only the cacique and a few privileged people could enter.
As the indigenous neighborhood grew around the river, a second Indian church was built, whose facade can be seen a few meters away, from a grilled doorway.