Built on a hill atop a pre-Hispanic ceremonial site, this cathedral-cum-pilgrimage site was intended to be the centerpiece of Vasco de Quiroga’s utopia. Begun in 1540, the church was not completed until the 19th century and only the barrel-vaulted central nave is faithful to his original design. Quiroga’s tomb, the Mausoleo de Don Vasco, is in the side-chapel to the left of the main entrance. It's a massive structure and quite austere, but always full of worshippers.
Behind the altar and up some steps at the eastern end of the basilica stands a much-revered figure of the cathedral’s patron, Nuestra Señora de la Salud (Our Lady of Health), which 16th-century Purépechans crafted with a paste made from the heart of the cornstalk and bound with tazingue, a natural glue. Soon after its dedication, people began to experience miraculous healings and pilgrims still arrive from all over Mexico to pray for miracles. They crawl on their knees across the plaza, into the church and along its nave. Pinned to the image and at its feet are tiny tin votivas (votives) of hands, feet, legs, eyes and other body parts for which the faithful seek cures.
Outside in the plaza, homeopathic cure-alls and religious items are sold at an outdoor market. Wandering towards the market's southern end, vendors of colorful handwoven clothing, shawls and fabrics appear too.