Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Talpa de Allende Part 2 of 3: Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Rosario and the Pilgrims' Route


Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Rosario stands in Talpa's main plaza. The Basilica is the end point of two annual pilgrimages which start from the town of Ameca, 117.3 km (73.4 mi) away. The pilgrimage route has been traveled by the faithful since 1644, the date of the miraculous Renovacion (see Part 1 of this series). In 2010 alone, 3 million people made the journey.

In Part 2 of my series on Talpa de Allende, I will show you some of the architectural aspects of the Basilica, describe a little of its history, and discuss the pilgrimage. To view a Google map of the pilgrimage route, click here.

The Basilica's Exterior

A group of musicians plays at the main gate of the Basilica's atrium.  An atrium is a broad enclosed courtyard in front of a church. In colonial times, atriums were used to conduct Mass for indigenous congregants who were often far too numerous to fit inside the church. The atrium has two nearly identical gates on its north and south sides.

Pilgrimages are made throughout the year, but the two largest occur around the October 7 anniversary of the Renovación and during Semana Santa (Easter Week). The most common starting point is the central plaza of the small city of Ameca. Between Ameca and Talpa, the route passes through twelve pueblos. The distance between them ranges from as little as 4 km to as much as 18 km. While the faithful sometimes make the journey by car or bus, they traditionally come on foot. 

Main entrance of the Basilica, seen through the north gate of the atrium. I found that detailed information about the Basilica's architecture or construction was difficult to obtain. Even my friend Richard Perry, a specialist in Mexican religious architecture of the colonial era, was unable to provide much. 

Even the dates of construction are ambiguous. A sign in Talpa's Museo de Nuestra Señora del Rosario claims 1759. Richard and another source both say 1782. Of course, the earlier date could refer to the beginning of construction and the later to the church's completion. 

Sometimes walking alone and sometimes in groups, pilgrims make their way from pueblo to pueblo. Along their route, local people set up makeshift restaurants to sell them food and drinks. The economic benefits of the pilgrimage do not accrue to Talpa alone.

One of the two great steeples of the Basilica. In between the steeples is an ornate clock. Each steeple has two levels of bells, with four bells on each level. The tops of the steeples are covered with bright yellow ornamental tiles.

The altitude of Ameca is 1,175 m (3,855 ft) and Talpa is at 1,100 m (3,609 ft). Although the beginning and end of the pilgrims' route are at very nearly the same level, the country in between is like a roller coaster. There are four steep mountains which must be ascended and descended and all of them are considerably higher than either the beginning or end points of the route.

The dome of the Basilica is also covered with decorative tiles. The objects surrounding the dome which resemble stone vases are called finials. These are typical architectural features of the Neo-Classic style. Overall, the Basilica is a hybrid of the Neo-Classic and earlier Baroque styles.

The first mountain along the pilgrims' route is called Puerto Obispo and it rises to 1940 m (6365 ft). The path then drops steeply to 1400 m (4593 ft) before climbing again to Cerro Las Comadres at 1800 m (5906 ft). From there, a more gradual drop ends at 1300 m (4265 ft) before rising to Puerto del Espinazo, at 1950 m (6398 ft) the route's highest peak. There is then a steep drop to 1500 m (4921 ft) followed by a climb to Cruz de Romero (see Part 1) which tops out at 1700 m (5577 ft). Finally, there is a gradual descent to Talpa de Allende and the Basilica. Clearly, the pilgrim's progress from Ameca to Talpa is not for the faint of heart.

The main entrance contains several Baroque features. These include spiraling Solomonic columns topped by elaborate capitals with cupids on their corners. Between the columns is a niche containing the statue of a saint holding a religious banner. To the left of the entrance is a poster image of Nuestra Señora del Rosario in her full regalia. 

Prior to the Spanish "Spiritual Conquest", the Talpa area was considered sacred to the Earth Goddess known as Cihuacoatl (Snake Woman). She was a motherhood and fertility goddess and was associated with midwives and the sweat lodges where they practiced. Cihuacoatl was usually portrayed as a skull-faced old woman carrying a warrior's spear. To the Aztecs, childbirth was the female equivalent to male warfare. Women who died in childbirth were honored as fallen warriors. 

To the right of the entrance are two more Solomonic columns and another niche with a saint. This time the figure is a female, cradling a crucifix. I was unable to obtain any information about the identity of the female figure above, or the male saint on the other side of the entrance. If anyone can enlighten me, I would appreciate it.

Main nave & altar

View of the main nave toward the altar. My friend Catherine walks toward the altar wearing an outfit that coordinates nicely with the banners on the walls. Two other friends, Anthony and his wife Katherine, sit in the left foreground.

The Neo-Classic altar was heavily decorated with flowers when we visited. The main focus of the altar area is the niche containing the famous statue of Nuestra Señora del Rosario. She stands in a niche surrounded by columns and topped with a cupola.

The tiny statue wears an oversized crown surrounded by a sunburst halo. Her richly decorated gown is one of several that are used at different times of the year. The face of the little statue is barely visible under the crown. Sometime around 1570, according to the legend, this statue (minus the crown, halo, and gown) was brought from Michoacan to Talpa by Manuel San Martin, an evangelizing Franciscan. By 1644, the little figure was dilapidated and a visiting priest ordered it to be buried. However, the figure miraculously repaired itself in an event that came to be called the Renovación. For a fuller version of the story, see Part 1 of this series.

The Renovación was not the only miracle associated with the statue. Over the centuries, pilgrims have prayed to the statue for help with all sorts of problems, including cures from diseases, healthy children, successful harvests. Many believed that their prayers were answered. The annual number of pilgrims has grown to exceed millions each year. People who believe their prayers were answered sometimes return in later pilgrimages to offer thanks. Often they leave little hand-painted cards illustrating the incident that required the miracle. Some of these cards are displayed in the Museo de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, located just behind the Basilica.

View of the choir loft and ceiling at the back of the main nave. Chandeliers hang from the high, arched ceiling. The ceiling arches end at the top of a kind of false column called a pilaster. A pilaster is a decorative feature which does not support a load like a regular column.

Altars lining the side walls

Altar dedicated to San José, father of Jesus. The walls on both sides of the nave are lined with altars dedicated to various saints or versions of the Virgin Mary. San José wears a crown and holds the infant in his left arm. The Bible says very little about San José, other than his occupation as a carpenter and that he resided in Nazareth. Most of the stories about him were invented centuries after his death. Looking at the statue, I wonder what the humble carpenter would have thought about the rich clothes and the crown.

Altar to the Virgen de Guadalupe. The Virgen de Guadalupe is the patron of Mexico and especially of poor and indigenous people. Nearly every church I have visited in Mexico contains a painting or statue of her.

San Isidro Labrador is the patron of farmers and farmworkers. His title labrador means farmworker. San Isidro is usually portrayed wearing the simple clothes and accoutrements of a working man. Within the arch above the altar, a small triangle contains the Eye of Providence (also called the all-seeing eye of God). Beams of light extend out from the triangle. This is the same symbol found on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States and on U.S. currency.

Musicians perform near the main altar. This a different group from those gathered in front of the atrium gates seen in an earlier photo. The fact that there was a service going on somewhat inhibited my ability to get all the photos I would have liked from the inside of the Basilica. I try to be respectful in these situations, so I used my telephoto zoom lens to get some of the photos.

This completes Part 2 of my Talpa de Allende series. I hope you have enjoyed it. Please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE include your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Talpa de Allende Part 1 of 3: City of Pilgrims


Statue commemorating the pilgrims who travel to Talpa each year. Some make the pilgrimage on their knees to demonstrate their devotion. Many undertake the journey to ask Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Our Lady of the Rosary) to grant them a favor, or to thank her for answering a prayer. The statues above portray a woman thrusting a child forward, perhaps hoping for the cure of an illness. The man wears a blindfold, which suggests that he is blind and hoping the Virgin will restore his sight.

This posting is part of my trilogy on Mascota, San Sebastian del Oeste, and Talpa de Allende, three towns that are not far apart in the Coast Range on the way to Puerto Vallarta. Although each is a Pueblo Magico, they are quite different from each other. Mascota is a ranch town, San Sebastian is a former silver mining site, and Talpa has been a pilgrimage destination since the 17th century.

Cruz de Romero

Mirador Cruz de Romero, in an early 20th century photo. A mirador is a lookout point. This one is a tower, sitting on the top of a small hill, set in a mountain pass. To approach Talpa de Allende, you turn off Highway 70 and head southeast through the mountains. A good asphalt road, called Carretera a Talpa, gradually climbs up a pass. 

At the top of the pass you find Mirador Cruz de Romero. This spot is definitely worth a stop, because the view of the valley below is stupendous. The tower is reached by a concrete path. This leads to a stairway which takes you up the dome to the mirador at the base of the cross on top.

The tower rises above trees that grow up the sides of the hill. The original cruz (cross) was erected in the 18th century by don José Romero, when his son entered the priesthood. To celebrate, Romero bought a large float in Guadalajara. His intent was to deliver it to Talpa as part of a pilgrimage. However, the existing road to Talpa was too rough for the vehicle carrying the float. 

Apparently don José was both determined and wealthy, because he paid to build a new road in order to make the delivery. When the construction crew reached the pass overlooking the Valley of Talpa, Romero wanted to give thanks to Nuestra Señor del Rosario for enabling his achievement. So, he called a halt and ordered a wooden cross to be erected on top of the hill. In 1997, Romero's rustic wooden cross was replaced by the masonry tower topped with a mirador and metal cross. 

The mirador is just big enough for half dozen people. It is reached by a narrow set of steps with railings on either side for support. The space between the railings just wide enough for two people to squeeze past each other. At the top of the steps stand two of my friends, Jim B (left) and Chuck (right). While the view is wonderful, this is probably not a spot for someone with a fear of heights.

View of the Talpa Valley with the town in its center. The fertile valley is surrounded with rugged mountains, forested with pine and oak trees. The area also contains a small maple forest whose species is unique in the world. Talpa de Allende sits at 1155m (3789ft) in altitude and its climate is temperate year-round. Temperatures range from a low of 10C (50F) in winter to a high of 32C (88F) in summer.  The rainy season occurs during the summer months of June and July. The area is well-watered by various rivers and springs.

Street scenes

Structures in Talpa typically have two or three stories and are roofed with red clay tiles. I took this shot from the second-story balcony of a local market. The view above looks east along Calle Benito Juarez toward the corner of Calle Libertad, near Templo de la Virgen del Rosario. Talpa's buildings are painted in a rainbow of pastels. The streets and sidewalks of this small city of 10,500 are clean and orderly. My overall impression is that its residents take great pride in its appearance.

When the first Spaniards reached the Talpa Valley in 1540, they found a native cacicazgo (chieftainship) called Tlallipan, which means "place on the earth". It was inhabited by a tribe speaking Nahuatl, the same language used by the Aztecs and other groups who had migrated from the north of Mexico in the 13th century. 

The Spaniards were led by Nuño de Guzman, a conquistador whose abuses against indigenous people were so brutal that he was arrested and sent back to Spain in chains. However, while he was still in charge, he divided his conquests among his subordinates. Juan Fernández de Hijar was given Tlallipan as an encomienda (source of tribute). However, 45 years would pass before any Spaniards actually settled in the area.

The Palacio Municipal is an impressive early 19th century building. It was built by the Church in 1802 to accommodate pilgrims and was then called Meson de la Virgen. During the Reform Era of the mid-19th century, Talpa's government turned it into the Palacio Municipal. A muncipio is equivalent to a US county and generally bears the same name of its chief town. Over the centuries, pre-hispanic Tlallipan had several name changes before it became Talpa de Allende

Among the first Spaniards in the area were two Franciscan friars, Francisco Lorenzo and Juan de Estivales. They were martyred in 1551 by local natives while attempting to evangelize them. Their fate was not unusual during the early period of the Spiritual Conquest, which was the ideological soulmate of the Military Conquest. 

Spanish families did not settle in Tlallipan until 1585, when silver was discovered at a place called Aranjuez. Mines and ore processing facilities were soon established and Tlallipan became the center of an important mining district. In 1599, the Audiencia Real (the royal council based in Guadalajara), changed Tlallipan's name to Santiago de Talpa. In addition to Santiago, Talpa was assigned a second patron, Nuestra Señora del Rosario. 

Andador Degollado is a block-long street, restricted to pedestrians. It branches off Calle Independencia, the street that leads to the main plaza. Andador Degollado contains a restaurants, a bar, and stores selling sandals, sombreros, and various nicknacks. On the right is Birrieria Restaurant Lupita. It serves birria, a spicy Mexican stew made with a tomato base and goat, chicken, or pork. This dish is a speciality of the state of Jalisco and I encourage you to try it if you have an opportunity. 

The pueblo's first priest was Manuel San Martin. He had recently come from Michoacan to evangelize and ended up serving at Talpa from 1570-90. One of his first acts was to build a rustic chapel. On its altar, Padre San Martin placed a small statue of Nuestra Señora del Rosario that he had brought from Michoacan. The Tarascan craftsmen there were famous for making religious statues from corn paste. No one imagined at the time that the miracles later attributed to this statue would make Santiago de Talpa famous and result in centuries of pilgrimages. 

Wooden pillars line the arcade along one side of Calle Independencia. Talpa has plenty of access to wood from the heavily forested mountain slopes that surround it. Local craftspeople make use of wood in a lot of the architecture found here.

A few decades into the 17th century, the silver veins in Talpa's mines ran out. However, at about the same time, a great mine called Los Reyes opened at San Sebastian del Oeste. As a consequence, most of Talpa's Spanish and native population moved 77km (48mi) to the new mining district. Padre San Martin moved with them, taking the little corn-paste statue with him. 

Years passed and the statue somehow came into the hands of a miner named Diego Felipe. He was very pious and kept it in a place of honor in his home. However,  Diego Felipe came to believe the statue belonged back at Talpa. When the miner visited his brother, who still lived there, he brought the statue with him. Diego Felipe asked his brother to accept it for safekeeping. More years passed, and when the brother got old, he asked his son Francisco Miguel to take responsibility for the statue. However, the son felt the statue belonged in Talpa's old chapel, not in someone's home. One night, he slipped in and placed the statue on the altar without telling anyone.

All sorts of religious items and keepsakes are sold in stores and street stalls. These include leather pendants containing the image of Nuestra Señora del Rosario

In 1644, Santiago de Talpa was still a semi-ghost town. A priest named Pedro Rubio Felix, based in distant Guachinango visited intermittently. His duties only brought him to Talpa for occasional religious fiestas. However, the old chapel was kept in good shape by the few remaining inhabitants. By this time, moisture had seriously deteriorated the little statue. When Padre Rubio Felix saw this, he instructed the local people to bury it in the sacristy according to Church rituals. The priest then continued on his circuit to Mascota and other destinations. 

During the burial ritual, the statue suddenly started to glow. To the amazement of the participants, it became whole again. They immediately summoned other people in the pueblo as witnesses. This miracle came to be known as the Renovación. This legend has inspired millions of people over the following four centuries to make pilgrimages to see the statue. Over time, additional miracles were attributed to the Nuestra Señora's image, including the cessation of a local plague. Many people began to make the pilgrimage in hopes that an appeal to the little statue would help with their problems.

Plaza de Talpa de Allende

A small but lovely kiosco stands in the plaza in front of the Basilica church. Kioscos were a late 19th century innovation in Mexican plazas. Previously, plazas had been used for open markets, military drills, or bull fights. In Talpa's case, this space was used for large gatherings of the faithful.

As word spread about the miraculous Renovación, a trickle of pilgrims became a torrent. Soon, Santiago de Talpa was transformed from a ghost town into a major pilgrimage destination. The residents of the pueblo benefited economically by providing various services and accommodations for the visitors. Church organizations also profited mightily from donations, fees, and sales of religious trinkets. 

Eventually, the rustic chapel could no longer handle all the visitors. In 1712 a new temple was constructed to contain the statue. In 1723, the pueblo had become large enough that it was removed from the religious supervision of distant Guachinango and placed within the nearby Mascota vicarage. Talpa's fame as a religious site continued to grow and eventually came to the attention of  King Ferdinand VI of Spain. In 1747, he decreed that the town's name should once again be changed, this time to Talpa de Nuestra Señora del Rosario. When the temple built back in 1712 proved inadequate for the influx of pilgrims, in 1759 the current Basilica was built. 

Bust of Ignacio Allende, hero from the early days of the Independence War. Allende was a young Spanish cavalry officer, born in Nueva España. He threw in his lot with Padre Miguel Hidalgo, leader of the first phase of Independencia. After initial successes, they were defeated in 1811 at the Battle of Calderon Bridge. Hidalgo, Allende and other leaders fled north, but were captured and executed. The war for independence continued for another ten years under other leaders, but Hidalgo and Allende are still remembered as the  earliest heroes of the struggle. Their statues are found in plazas all over Mexico and the surrounding streets often bear their names.

The long struggle for independence lasted from 1810 to 1821. It had a negative effect on Talpa's economy, which depended heavily on the annual pilgrimages. These were severely diminished by the chaos and violence of this period. Guerrilla warfare against the Royalists was sometimes indistinguishable from outright banditry, making the roads unsafe for travel. 

Instability continued even after the achievement of independence because the following century was full of armed conflicts. Even during intermittent periods of peace, the bandit problem continued. The periodic demobilization of soldiers left thousands of young men rootless, inured to violence, and needing some way to make a living. To some, the bandit life seemed natural.

Public transportation in Talpa includes both traditional taxis and "tuk tuks". The name for these little three-wheeled vehicles comes from the sound of  their engines. Although they can only handle two passengers and very little luggage, they are an inexpensive alternative to the yellow cabs and quite fun to ride in.

Mexico's turbulent history during the 19th century included numerous uprisings and military coups. Foreign invasions by the United States (1846-48) and France (1862-67) contributed to the sense of insecurity. Sandwiched between the two foreign invasions was the Reform War (1857-60), in which the Liberal Party defeated the Conservatives. That defeat led directly to the French intervention two years later. Some of the events of the Reform War occurred in an around Talpa. 

A spreading ficus tree offers welcome shade to vendors and casual loungers. Ficus trees, trimmed to encourage their umbrella effect, are quite common on Mexican plazas. In fact, the plaza in Ajijic where I live has several, although not as large as this one. The sign in the lower left advertises walking tours and the people gathered at the stall under the tree appear to be buying tickets.

Benito Juarez led the Liberal side during the Reform War and one of his key objectives was to curb the power of the Mexican Church. Talpa became a target because it was a major pilgrimage site and source of Church funding. The influence of the Church in Talpa made it a hotbed of Conservative support during the Reform War. A local leader named Remigio Tovar led the Conservative forces in the area but he was defeated by the Liberal's General Juan Nepomuceno Rocha at the Battle of Cerro de los Ocotes. However, Tovar managed to hold Talpa and it became a magnet for Conservative refugees after the Liberals captured Guadalajara.

A colonial-era building across from the Plaza Principal has Moorish arches over the doors. This old mansion now contains commercial stores on the ground level and either apartments or offices on the second floor. When colonial plazas were first constructed, the wealthier Spaniards built their houses around the perimeter. Then, moving out from the plaza in concentric circles, you would find the middle class professionals such as lawyers and church officials. The next ring out would be the skilled artisans. Finally, on the outer fringes of town, were the humble dwellings of the indigenous servants and day laborers and their families. 

Liberal forces finally forced Remigio Tovar to retreat from Talpa into the surrounding mountains.  For a time, Talpa became the headquarters for the Liberal troops in the area. However, Tovar remained at large and had strong support in the countryside. The Liberal government sent Colonel Antonio Rojas to hunt down Tovar and pacify the region. Rojas did so with such ferocity and pyromania that he won the nickname El Nero de Jalisco (The Nero of Jalisco). 

Although the Liberals won the war, their triumph was short-lived. At the Conservatives' instigation, France intervened in 1862 and installed Austrian Archduke Maximillian as Emperor of Mexico. It took the Liberals under Juarez five long years to drive out the French and defeat the Conservatives.  

A commercial building with arched portales borders the east side of the plaza. This building contains a restaurant where we enjoyed a nice lunch. Also present are several stands selling the religious trinkets and nicknacks that have been a mainstay of the local economy for centuries. 

As a result of the Reform War and its aftermath, the Church was forced to disgorge much of its massive property holdings in Mexico. Among these were some that became Talpa's public buildings. These buildings had originally been financed by various Church organizations in order to accommodate pilgrims. 

One of these organizations was the Cofradia (Brotherhood) de Nuestra Señora del Rosario.  From the colonial period up through the mid-19th century, the Cofradia provided funds for a variety building projects, a role that the Basilica eventually took over. Among the properties in Talpa that the Church was forced to hand over was the magnificent Mesón de la Virgen. It became the Palacio Municipal, seen earlier in this posting. 

A burbling fountain stands just east of the broad open atrium of the Basilica. Like kioscos, fountains are ubiquitous in Mexican plazas. Their original role was to provide water for the people living around the plaza and their livestock. This system of water supply was essential because indoor plumbing was unknown in much of Mexico until well into the 20th century. The fountains formed a natural gathering place for Mexican women to fill their clay pots while they caught up on the gossip of the day. Today, of course, the fountains are purely decorative, but I suspect their function as gossip centers continues.

After his final triumph over the Conservatives in 1867, Benito Juarez continued as President of Mexico until 1872. A man named Porfirio Diaz soon emerged as one of his chief political rivals. Diaz had won fame at the Battle of Pueblo in 1862, shortly after the French invasion. He was highly ambitious and led a failed revolt against Juarez in 1871. After Diaz' defeat, he disguised himself as a bell smelter and fled to Talpa. He probably felt safe there because of the town's long resistance to Liberal rule. 

Following Juarez' death in office in 1872, Diaz continued to maneuver. In 1877, he was elected President of Mexico. Through bribery, rigged elections, and the occasional assassination of opponents, Diaz maintained power for 35 years. Life was relatively tranquil in Talpa during this period, called the Porfiriato. However, there were occasional changes. In 1882, Archbishop Pedro Loza Pardavé approved a petition by local leaders to establish Talpa as a parroquia (parish), separate from Mascota. A few years later, in 1885, Talpa's name was again changed, this time to Talpa de Allende. Who knows what it will be called next?

A shoe shine man plies his trade as the majestic spires of the Basilica rise in the background. This shot was taken from under one of the portales along the front of the commercial building seen in a previous photo. Like kioscos and fountains, shoe shine men are standard features of Mexican plazas. I say "men" because I have never seen a woman doing this work.

Porfirio Diaz was finally ousted by the Mexican Revolution (1910-21). In 1913, forces under revolutionary General Venustiano Carranza attempted to take Talpa. In response, local people formed a defense force and fortified the town. A Carranza officer named Santo Arreola demanded the town's surrender, but bad weather forced him to withdraw. 

The Revolution, like an earthquake, was followed by a number of aftershocks. One of these was the Cristero War of 1926-29. This struggle pitted Catholic counter-revolutionaries called Cristeros against the revolutionary government. Cristero guerrillas hid in the mountains around Talpa during the war and periodically ambushed government troops searching for them along the remote trails.

This concludes Part 1 of my Talpa series. I hope you have enjoyed it and, if so, that you will please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim