One sight around San Miguel de Allende that is inescapable — and delightfully so — is the curlicue confection-inspired spires of the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel.
No matter where you walk, there it is: the pinkish-salmon spires of the city’s most iconic church. And, there, around it are the half-dozen aspirant church belfries and towers and domes.
The Parroquia is a big reason for San Miguel’s designation as a World Heritage Site and it is one of the most photographed churches in all of Mexico. And that is saying a lot. Churches here are like Starbucks in the United States, on every corner it seems.
Here are some of the way-too-many photos of theParroquis that I took during our hike:
The church got its start at this site in the 1740’s and the current spires were begun in 1880. Four years later, George Eastman discovers the process that will popularize photography around the world and I wouldn’t be surprised if the first photograph of the Parroquia was taken 10 minutes later …
Another purely manufactured fact: Among San Miguel’s many claims may be the highest density of churches in a city center than any place short of Rome. Well, it seems that way.
And it is no accident.
The Catholic Church has always claimed the highest ground, if it has any foothold at all.
The same was true in my tiny Pennsylvania hometown. We, good Irish sons, lived down below on Catholic Hill, in the shadows of The Immaculate Conception Church and its four-room schoolhouse. The richer Protestants and Methodists lived on the hills across the river, but they built nice houses where the views were best. They put their churches at the bottom of the hills and in the vales. They had their priorities straight.
The Catholic Church constantly reminds the flock of its presence, not only by high visibility, but also the constant peeling of its bells — and here in San Miguel the pre-dawn fusillade of aerial rockets, pummeling us into awareness of the presence of God. Here also is the near-daily celebration of some saint or other, or the Virgin Mary in her many iterations either by festival or parade or procession (there is a difference).
“Good God!” is often the first thought that enters my head at 5 a.m. when the first peels peel.
But I digress. To sum it up, no matter where you are in San Miguel, you’ll be able to see the spires of the Parroquia. On a recent hike, we made a huge circle around the spires, a stunning view from every direction.
It was on Friday. We headed out early into new territory for us, up into the hills above El Obraje neighborhood. After a certain point, the hike was slow going, not because of the elevation gain but because at every turn in the road, we encountered yet another view of the Parroquia. Each was a bit more stunning than the previous.
Of course, I had to stop each time and take another photo — one framed in cactus, another framed by rocks, another offset by a beautiful tree and wildflowers. Some include the high-density housing in the foreground, some include other churches in the neighborhood. One was from the rooftop bar of Cafe MuRo. One was from the top of the El Charco steps, framed by the aluminum cross.
The eyes, the mind, the heart take in so much when you are standing before a vista that unfolds as lovely as San Miguel. There are layers upon layers of color and light. The geometry of the city’s architecture is infinitely diverse. The panorama unfolding before you is unframed, infinite.
And then there are iPhone pictures. Here’s the thing about shooting pictures with an iPhone: They in no way match the reality of the experience.
Still, I hope you can grasp a sense of what is out there from these images.
A statue in a small amphitheatre-parklike setting just before Live Agua resort:
We followed the old water pipeline up into the hills, after taking the path behind Fabrica Aurora. We came close to the beautiful El Charco botanical gardens and the reservoir that once provided power and water to the mill and community below.
A beautiful cobblestone road meanders up the hillside, an expression of somebody’s as-yet-unrealized dream for development of the property. It is largely undisturbed nature, as lush and diverse as that found across the canyon in the botanical garden.
There are the concrete-and-brick bones of one uncompleted house, a pumping station that has become a canvas for street art, a stone wall currently under construction, and possibly a couple of houses nearing completion in the distance. That’s all.
Peacefulness reigns. The vistas, though hazy that day, are incredible. We lingered at the final cul-de-sac in the road for a long, long time, soaking it all in.
Some photos from Cafe MuRo, where we stopped for an unscheduled breakfast during our hike:
On the way back down, the pipeline took us behind Cafe MuRo.
We weren’t planning on breakfast but we were hot and hungry and the place was irresistible. The owners and staff went out of their way to welcome us to their restaurant, even though the floor was getting busy.
I had the “Cathy” — called a Lumberjack in some places — pancakes, two eggs, ham, sausage, potatoes. (One owner told us the Cathy who inspired the plate is super slim, though she’d ordered this breakfast all the time.) Rose had one of the half-dozen different varieties of Eggs Benedict, with serrano ham. They were $165 pesos each. Very reasonable. Delicious all around. Bottomless cup of coffee, too.
The cafe has three floors and a drop-dead view of the iconic Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel church from the top, a view that must be gorgeous at night.
One of the owners even gave us some hiking tips for the next time that we are up in this part of town.
For normal people, this would be the fitting end to a really good hike — with something like a call to Uber for a ride home.
Here’s some more art we passed along the way:
But no, we’re training for a very long walk through Portugal and part of Spain next month so we needed to tack on a few more miles. So, from El Obraje we hiked up to the Luciernaga Mall, walking past Live Agua resort, with its oversized art and ambitions, and up the El Charco steps.
It is a good day when you think that taking the Charco steps is a shortcut.
From the mall, we hopped on a bus El Comer for some food shopping. Naturally, the whole way down the hill, my gaze was locked on the Parroquia, off in the distance, standing so majestic over the flock below.
Scenic pictures from the hike that DID NOT include the Parroquia: