Several legends tell us that angels helped build the city of Puebla, Mexico, and even the large bell on top of the cathedral was placed there by angels themselves.
There’s a place in Mexico that’s believed to have a church for every day of the year. This belief started in the 16th century, when Spanish conquerors began to build numerous chapels in the town we now know as Puebla — so many it was thought there was one for every day. Today people still say there are as many Catholic churches in this city as days in a year.
Officially there are 288 parishes in the city of Puebla, not exactly one per day, but for a territory of nearly 80 square miles, it’s still quite a big number. It’s important to note that this quantity does not include chapels, smaller shrines and oratories. If those were taken into account, could there be a place of worship for every day? Perhaps, but what’s a fact is that walking down these colonial streets is in itself a spiritual experience.
The city of Puebla is one of the cities with the most religious heritage in the country, and its large number of churches is just a small part of that history. One of the founders of the city was the bishop of Tlaxcala, Julián Garcés, who in 1530 wrote a letter to the Spanish queen stating the need to establish a town between Mexico City and Veracruz, where Catholic Spaniards could find a home.
According to the legend of the city’s founding, Garcés had a dream where a group of angels descended from Heaven to trace out the city. He then set on a quest, along with some Franciscan brothers, to find the valley he had dreamt of. When they found it, five leagues from the monastery, the city of Puebla was founded. Originally, it was called Puebla de los Ángeles (Puebla of Angels); its name was changed recently to Puebla de Zaragoza, but it’s still commonly known as the city of angels or Angelópolis. There are several legends that involve the presence of angels during the foundation and building of the city, one of the most famous being that angels themselves placed the impressively big bell on top of the cathedral.
The city of angels, artists and foodies
Aside from the impressive churches, there are many things to discover in this city located in the state of the same name in East-Central Mexico. Puebla, which has a population of over a million and a half people, is nestled between mountains and volcanoes. From every corner, it’s possible to admire two of the most important volcanoes in the country, the Iztaccíhuatl — commonly known as the sleeping woman — and the Popocatépetl, which is one of the most active volcanoes in Mexico.
One big highlight is its gastronomy. Puebla’s traditional food is one of the most beloved in the country. Mole was invented here, in the convent of Santa Rosa as a gift for a viceroy, several centuries ago. Another of the most iconic dishes in the country is the “Chiles en Nogada” (chili pepper in nogada sauce), which was created in the convent of Santa Monica to celebrate the county’s independence. It’s still served every year during the celebrations in September. These are only two examples of the magnificent local gastronomy that promises many happy palates, for both spicy food lovers and those with a sweet tooth.
For those interested in culture, there’s a large museum dedicated to Baroque art, and a neighborhood where artists display their pieces on a street market open until late at night. Traditional handcrafts are very important in this city, especially white and blue pottery called talavera, which can be found in numerous markets and boutiques. And for those who have adventurous souls, they should dare to climb the Iztaccíhuatl volcano, while learning about the legend that tells the story of a sleeping princess.
The town next to the city, called San Pedro de Cholula, is also rich in churches, and is considered one of the most important religious destinations in the continent because of the deep faith of the people, their traditions and celebrations. The town is only a 30-minute drive from the city, and it promises impressive landscapes with volcanoes on the back.
From Baroque churches, to those on top of hills
These are some of the most impressive churches every traveler should visit in Puebla: