We, the intrepid watercolorists and capilla hunters of San Miguel, have crossed rivers and exposed ourselves to erionite dust to bring you the continuing saga of our local history that can be read in the cantera, rocks, and adobe of the beautiful old capillas that dot the Mexican countryside.
This post finishes our explorations of all 13 capillas that are part of the master’s thesis by a San Miguel restoration architect titled Ruta de Capillas en Allende, GTO: Conservatión de 13 Monumentos.1 Nine are part of our book “The Capillas of San Miguel de Allende: A Legacy of Faith2” and the tenth, Capilla del Senor Ecce Homo in Vivienda, was featured in the previous blog.
On a scouting trip, we found all three of the remaining communities with two across the San Damian River and no bridge for easy access. Luck would have it that a friend with a truck, Rick Wendling, came painting with us thus giving us the wheels with which to confidently cross the river. Actually, as it turned out, we could have crossed it in Linda’s car, but who wants to take the chance of getting stuck.
Following is a quick recap of the last three weeks spent exploring and painting in the communities (ejidos) of El Espejo, Tierra Blanca de Abajo, and Juan González.
El ESPEJO Capilla de San Jose Patrirca in El Espejo is large (14.55m x 3.87m) as capillas go with four rooms and eight exterior contrafuertes (buttresses) but the most unusual feature is the two unequal bell towers. No, we didn’t paint them wrong; they are decidedly unequal.
One of the bells dates from 1744….the possible period of construction. Information in the thesis indicated that the capilla was located near a hacienda. Explorations led us to a restored ex-hacienda now called Los Nogales and a chance meeting with its owner, Dob Johnson, who graciously invited us to come paint anytime.
So, of course, we returned the following week to paint this captivating capilla surrounded by agaves and cacti on the ex-hacienda property.
The capilla is so tiny (one room) that it could be a calvario. At the end of the day, back at the hacienda, we relaxed with a cup of delicious hot chocolate…a welcome treat, as there are no restaurants out in these communities.
TIERRA BLANCA DE ABAJO While we had a truck, we decided to explore Tierra Blanca de Abajo, just across the river from El Espejo. Because this community is near an outcropping of erionite which has resulted in an unusually high incidence of mesothelioma and lung cancer in the community, we decided to visit only briefly, photograph, and, possibly, paint from photos later.
There are two capilla…one finished in 1983 and the other the old and most unusual Capilla de San Isidro Labrador dating from the 18th century. The building itself is a typical smallish rectangle (6.83m x 3.40m) but, unlike any others we have seen, the façade is completely covered by a faded grid design of floral patterns all in two shades of “pigeon blood red”. That was the architect’s description of the color; not mine.
JUAN GONZALES Last week, after another successful river crossing, we painted Capilla del Senor de la Piedad (12.45m x 4.15 m) in
Juan Gonzáles. The size and decorative nature of the atrium wall (61.20m x 21m) caught my eye. And, yes, the bell tower is out of proportion to the façade…I painted it correctly.
Linda painted the impressive atrium gate that has the inscription in Spanish “The Heart of Jesus 1891″ carved in pink cantera over the entrance. Records indicate that the construction of the capilla dates from an earlier period….the 18th century with reconstructions in the 19th century.
Nearby there is a second and seemingly older capilla that is being used as a dwelling. Oral history dates the founding of this community to the 1600’s. We were told that an ex-hacienda was nearby but, unlike the ex-hacienda Los Nogales, we found only broken down adobe and rock walls. This community became an ejido in 1937 and the hacienda, like many others, was abandoned and destroyed.
1Olga Adriana Hernandez Flores (1998). Ruta de Capillas en Allende, GTO: Conservation de 13 Monumentos (Unpublished master’s thesis). Universidad de Guanajuato, Guanajuato, Mexico.
2An important footnote, at least for us….as of December 1st, we sold enough books to recoup our investment in production, printing, and shipping of the book.
Juan González: -100.892500 longitude and 20.957500 latitude; 1,906 meters elevation; population 310; dwellings 65
Tierra Blanca de Abajo: -100.872500 longitude and 20.965556 latitude; 1904 meters elevation; population 447; dwellings 141
El Espejo: -100.875833 longitude and 20.959444 latitude; 1885 meters elevation; population 92; dwellings 18.