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The Sistine Chapel of Mexico: the Sanctuary of Atotonilco


The Mexican baroque master, Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre, dedicated 30 years of his life to this work

The Sanctuary of Atotonilco, just fourteen kilometers (8.7 miles) from San Miguel de Allende, in Guanajuato, Mexico, has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Known as the Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco (its official name is “Sanctuary of God and of the Homeland”) it is located in a rural community of no more than 600 inhabitants, in the middle of a desert landscape that, however, abounds in fountains and hot springs. In fact, 27 of these natural sources and streams feed the gardens of the Sanctuary.

While the facade of the Sanctuary of Atotonilco is rather sober, its walls making it look like a fortress more than a worship space, the church itself, with its main door oriented towards Jerusalem, is quite the opposite. The interior walls of the Sanctuary are completely covered by murals, sculptures, inscriptions, and oil paintings that, although classified as “Mexican popular baroque,” notoriously include indigenous influences that harmoniously coexist with images that follow the Flemish canonical representations the Spaniards took with them to America.

The product of the work of the baroque artist Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre (with some collaboration from José María Barajas), the ceiling of the Sanctuary of Atotonilco includes visual representations of the whole Gospel (and not only the episodes of the Passion, as is usually the case) and also the great scenes of Christian eschatology (first and foremost, the Last Judgment) as well as a series of images of the founding saints of the main religious orders of the Catholic Church, from Saint Augustine to Saint Dominic.

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