The Mexican Sistine Chapel, Santuario de Atotonilco

CC license courtesy of Wikimedia CC license courtesy of Wikimedia

Situated 14 km outside of San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico, you’ll find the sleepy hamlet of Atotonilco (ah-toe-toe-NEAL-co). As you enter the town, you’ll be greeted by a statue of Miguel Hidalgo and an unremarkable whitewashed church. The simple exterior of the church, known as El Santuario de Atotonilco (Sanctuary of Atotonilco), belies the unexpected Baroque gem found within.

CC license courtesy of Wikimedia
CC license courtesy of Wikimedia

Miguel HidalgoThis UNESCO World Heritage Site has both religious and historical importance for Mexicans. The name Atotonilco means “Place of the Hot Waters”. Well before construction began on the church in 1740, the location was known for the healing ceremonies that took place at the hot springs in the immediate area. Now, the church is one of the holiest shrines in Mexico and a place of pilgrimage for Christians. In 1810, Padre Miguel Hidalgo, a hero of the Mexican revolution, grabbed the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe here, which was used as the Mexican standard in their fight for independence from the Spaniards. Because of its role in the Mexican War of Independence, it has been registered as one of Guanjuato’s 61 historic sites.

The church can be easily reached from San Miguel de Allende by an inexpensive bus or taxi ride. Look for the local bus marked “Santuario” or grab a taxi, which will take about 15 min and cost about $120 Pesos. You’ll need to arrange for a return taxi upon drop off.