Festival at Atotonilco
The 300th birthday
Padre Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro
Founder of the shrine
Of Jesus de Nazareth, Atotonilco
A spiritual retreat
Visited by 2 million pilgrims annually.
With days of celebrations,
Culminating in today’s festival
With Purepecha dancers,
Orations and prayers
Food and traditional dress
A gathering to give thanks.
We came into town about 4:30 pm
About a half hour before the dancing was to begin.
A few people were milling around,
Lots of booths selling the wares of Atotonilco,
Religious iconography – gilt frames with saints images,
Disciplinas for flagellating yourself while praying,
Crowns of thorns,
Bridal veils to be worn as the bride of Christ
Scapulas, rosaries and novena libretos.
All along the street, opposite the sanctuario
Are food booths, people selling small chairs,
T-shirts for babies with Senor de las Columnas.
But today, is the celebration day
For Padre Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro,
Founder of Atotonilco, 300 years ago,
Memorialized in these ceramic heads below:
Eating gorditas, enchiladas and tacos
Are a purupecha group of dancers from Michoacan.
Dressed in white cotton pants which are embroidered
With the Virgin of guadalupe, flowers, religious images,
Wearing regular men’s button down shirts, and hats,
What can I say about these incredible hats
Except that they have made great use of Christmas ribbon,
They are fantastic over their carved and plastic masks.
Video – Purepecha Dancers from Michoacan
Performing various dances including
Ofrendas/offerings of food and craft
What I love about Atotonilco
Is that is has not lost it’s identity.
You can show up on any sunday
To see busloads of pilgrims from ranchos and cities
Dressed in traditional dress,
Clothing that is embroidered with personal designs
Which represent the family, the history, the individual,
Clothing that has not been exchanged for
Modern clothing that you see worldwide these days.
The town itself is a small, almost sleepy place,
The main purpose being prayer, reflection and religious contemplation.
It is quiet here although two million pilgrims come each year.
The typical tourism you see in other cities, has not taken over.
This was not a show for tourists
In a crowd of a thousand
There were less than a dozen gringos there
Everyone else was immersed in a community ritual
Wearing bizarre and wonderful costumes,
Their faces betrayed not a trace of irony.
The musicians –
View of the sanctuario above hats of the Purupecha dancers –
Everyone is dressed for the occasion –
Traditional embroidered blouses,
Velvet and lace embrodered skirts and rebozos.
Men in shirts, vests, cowboy hats and boots.
Dancers, waiting to begin, watching other dancers –
Huapango musicians, Celso Manzanilo, from San Luis Potosi
Traditional music, belted out as stories
Which, as the song goes on, becomes improvised
To poke fun at the crowd, while staying true to the song.
A video of these musicians –
In this video there is footage of a 30-something nun
Dancing with an adoring parishoner.
She is flirty and vivacious, like the teenager
Who learned the dance moves many years ago.
Not once does she compromise her dignity
As a bride of Christ.
The video below
Is the ending song to the Purupecha dancing.
It is sung acapella, with very low bits of violin in the background.
It never ceases to amaze me the number of people here who sing,
And sing very well, with or without accompaniment
Completely unself conscious, belting it out.
Below, a video with views of the town from the far end,
Walking back toward the stage.
You can hear the clear singing
Of the Huapango musicians in the background.
More to come –
Video of the major restoration of the frescoes inside the church