Atotonilco, Mexico — High Art, Folk Art, Hot Springs, Food!

Stucco facade of the Sanctuario de Atotonilco in central Mexico. Photo by BF Newhall

Facade of the Santuario de Atotonilco in central Mexico. Photo by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

If you’re planning a trip to San Miguel de Allende, be sure to budget a day at the nearby town of Atotonilco. Here are four marvelous reasons to make the trip (and to take the time to figure out how the heck you pronounce Atotonilco).

Detail of ceiling paintings at Sanctuario de Atotonilco, Mexico. Photo by BF Newhall

Ceiling paintings at Santuario de Atotonilco depict the Stations of the Cross. Photo by BF Newhall

A World Heritage Site, the Santuario de Atotonilco was built in the 18th century by a Father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro, who, tradition has it, experienced an apparition of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns and carrying his cross.

The Mexican Baroque mural work on the walls and ceilings of the Santurario is mostly by Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre and took thirty years to execute. The world-class murals have earned the Santuario the nickname “Sistine Chapel of Mexico.”

Too bad for me, time was short and I had less than an hour to contemplate the murals. I was able to grab a few photos of the church, but they don’t begin to capture the beauty of the intricate

A ceiling mural at Atototnilco Sanctuary depicts the ignominious end of Judas Iscariot. Photo by BF Newhall

Modern cartoonists have nothing on the storytelling skills of this 18th century muralist. Here he depicts the sorry end of the traitor Judas Iscariot. In the foreground, Judas receives his payment in coins; in the middle ground the betrayed Jesus is led away; later, tiny in the background, the hopeless Judas hangs himself from a tree. Photo by BF Newhall

Galeria Atotonilco is an upscale gallery selling Mexican folk art near San Miguel de Allende. Photo by BF Newhall

Galeria Atotonilco, an upscale gallery selling Mexican folk art . . .

Interior of Galeria Atotonilco, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, with hand-painted figurines of jaguars. Photo by BF Newhall

. . . including this hand-painted jaguar. Photos by BF Newhall

paintings, whose artistry is matched by the artist”s uncanny ability to retell the Gospel stories — solely with pictures.

So, if you’re into Mexican art or the Christian Gospel — but especially if you’re into both — consider allowing a full morning or afternoon to just sit in this masterpiece of a church.

Don’t forget to check local listings for hours. Cab fares from San Miguel are affordable.

And . . . it’s pronounced ah-toe-toe-NEAL-coe.

For more on art and spirituality, go to “If It’s Religious, Can It Be Art?”  Or read another travel story at “China’s Youngest Fashionistas.”

Chicken in mole sauce at the Nirvana Restaurant, Atotonilco, Mexico. Photo by BF Newhall

Lunch with mole sauce at the Nirvana Restaurant. Photo by BF Newhall

The facade and cross at Sancutario de Atotonilco church in central Mexico. Photo by BF Newhall

The Santuario. Photo by BF Newhall



  1. Patricia shaughnessy says:

    Would you please give me the phone number of Nirvana. I have looked everywhere and can’t find it, many thanks, Patricia

  2. Thanks for your website info. I was looking at this exact same day trip from SMA.
    I have looked into public transport and was advised to get off at La Gruta, go to Hot springs and then walk to the Atotonilco church. Then we catch the bus back to SMA from there.
    Then I discoved Galeria Atotonilco and Nirvana restaurant. I am wondering if I can go to Hot springs, shop at the galeria, have lunch at Nirvana ,then walk to the church for a visit and still catch a bus back to SMA. I am hoping the distance is not too great to walk and there would be a bus after 3ish pm. I think that would be a full day; but you suggest it is doable. Do you know if I could do this?

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      It’s a bit of a hike from Nirvana and the Galeria to the church, but it can be done if you don’t want to spring for a cab (which is fairly reasonably priced). I’m not sure how far La Gruta is from Nirvana. I suggest emailing Nirvana or the Galeria and asking them what the best strategy is. They’ll call a cab for you when you’re ready to go back to the city.


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