Santuario de Atotonilco

San Miguel de Allende

Known as Mexico's Sistine Chapel, this vitally important church in the hamlet of Atotonilco, 11km north of San Miguel, is defined by its connection to the independence struggle, which has made it an important icon for Mexicans. Nationalist hero Ignacio Allende married here in 1802, and eight years later he returned with Miguel Hidalgo and a band of independence rebels en route from Dolores to San Miguel to take the shrine's banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe as their flag.

A journey to Atotonilco is the goal of pilgrims and penitents from all over Mexico, and the starting point of an important and solemn procession two weekends before Easter. Participants carry the image of the Señor de la Columna to the church of San Juan de Dios in San Miguel. Inside, the sanctuary has six chapels and is vibrant with statues, folk murals and paintings. Traditional dances are held here on the third Sunday in July. The church was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 2008.

It's free to visit the main part of the church which has some lovely paintings, but to visit the side-chapel with some truly exquisite paintings (and some far less exquisite mannequins depicting Biblical scenes!) you'll need to pay M$15. From San Miguel, taxis charge around M$200 for a one-way trip. Local buses signed 'Atotonilco' or 'Cruz del Palmar' depart from Calzada de La Luz every hour on the half hour (M$10, 45 minutes).

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