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The Parish of San Miguel Arcángel

On July 9, 1564, Tata Vasco bishop of Michoacán, erected the parish in SMA.

Don Cornelio López says that the primitive building that housed the parish of San Miguel Arcángel was the church of San Rafael, called for this reason in bygone times, the old parish or temple of the foundation. From then on, the Mission of San Miguel disappears from the annals of the Franciscan order.

“…the first church was built around the year 1578 because, according to the ordinances of that year, the Indians who stole cattle from Spaniards were condemned by the owners, as long as it seemed to them in the building of the church of the town of San Miguel that is currently being built”.

It is up to the illustrious Fray Juan Ortega y Montañas, bishop of Valladolid since 1682, to give the order for the new parish to be built. In 1698 he donated one thousand pesos to the parish of San Miguel el Grande to continue the construction of the temple. This money came from the sale of a farm or debt house for tithes.

It was built in the shape of a Latin cross, oriented from north to south with two side chapels, one destined for the Lord of the Conquest, at that time also called The Lord of Battles, and in front of him the chapel of the Virgen de los Dolores. The central body or main nave was built based on semicircular arches, a situation that would make it easier, centuries later, to convert them into the chapels of the Virgen del Carmen and the Rosario.

The Parish was equipped with a main door to the north and another side door to the west, precisely in the middle of the arch that currently forms the chapel of the Virgen del Carmen. On the outside, this side door had the doorway that currently serves as a side door and also faces north. In 1709 the temple had a tower of two bodies on its west side. In 1740 a second tower was added, now with three bodies on the opposite side.

By mistake the architect Tresguerras has been attributed the construction of the dressing room of the Lord Ecce Homo, it could not have been because when he was born in 1759 and when he was five years old Fray Francisco Ajofrín found the crypt finished and the transparent one in process (1764) and by 1777, in which Fray Agustín de Morfi finds it finished and in service, Tresguerras was 18 years old.

The image of Mr. Ecce Homo was worshiped in the primitive church of La Soledad, built by the founding Spaniards supported by the natives brought from different neighboring places, according to the provisions of the viceroy Don Luis de Velasco.

When Lic. Juan Manuel de Villegas y Villanueva (1737-1776) was the parish priest, the construction of the dressing room behind the main altar began. The project was approved, which included a crypt under the dressing room, destined for the sepulcher of the parish priests and diocesan priests who died in San Miguel, and the chapel was built on top of it, with a small baroque altar in the center. The image of the Lord Ecce Homo looked splendid illuminated by the transparent, inside a polychrome cypress. Unfortunately, artistic tastes caused this venue to be modified.

The priest Alejandro Quesada (1840-1846) modifies the main altar from baroque to neoclassical, imitating the main altar of the Tabernacle of Mexico and the access to the dressing room that was where the altar of Lord San José is today. Between 1890 and 1918 the town does not accept that the venerable image of its protector leaves the main place of the main altar. The parish priest is forced to remove the baldachin and improvises the altar, under the triumphal arch. In 1918, the priest José Refugio Solís extended the presbytery to the south, reducing the chapel and erecting a cypress for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and behind it he erected two quarry steps to go up and down during this ceremony. The image of the Lord Ecce Homo ended for many years in the south altar of the dressing room until it was recently placed under the entrance arch of the chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Dr. Mina Ramírez says:

“The building had a rectangular floor plan, like most of its contemporaries, half ten and a half yards wide by fifty-one long; its walls were made of stone, which they called "pelada", it lacked buttresses, so in the 17th century it was reinforced with flying buttresses to prevent it from collapsing. The roof was made of wood, it must have had a splendid coffered ceiling in the Mudejar style, as there were many in the churches of that bishopric.

The ruin that threatened the roof and the ruling on surplus were factors that influenced to replace it, but above all the desire to transform an old building, useful then, for another of greater brilliance to satisfy the aspirations of the clergy and an elite, both classes generators of economic potential, capable of carrying out such an undertaking.

In 1690 the priest Don Francisco de la Fuente Arámburo and the Chief Justice Pedro Morillo Velarde, on their own behalf and that of the town, denounced the ruins in which the main temple of San Miguel was located, claiming that the ninths of the tithe had been granted since the erection and in perpetuity, for the material fabric of the parish. The effects stopped in different people of the bishopric, so they asked the viceroy that said amounts were required and with them the church was built again.

Attentive to the pleas, the viceroy, Count of Galve, ordered the master of architecture and master builder Marcos Antonio Sobrarías, a resident of Mexico City, so that, together with another master of said town, he would come and examine the said church, the state in which it was found and a ruin that threatened, and if the state it had was capable of repair or dressing or if it needed to be removed from its foundations.

On March 8 of that same year, Arch. Sobrarías went to review it and gave his opinion:

That “…no people entered the church, before if, it seemed, His divine Majesty would be removed. That there is a chapel of Soledad, where His Divine Majesty can be, while your Excellency determines what is served and is necessary for the disruption of said scissors, a lot of willingness so that some misfortunes do not happen.

He suggests, “…expanding the floor plan and adding transepts and he recognizes that there is very good stone in the town. And having done the diligence of all the materials and the distance from the places where they are, to see more or less what they could cost and from what the inhabitants of this town have informed me, according to how they buy them, I find it will cost fifty- eight thousand pesos, more or less, doing the flat work, without much adornment of covers, cornices and adornment of all of it. And it was signed with me by said mayor and the witnesses of my attendance, being present the captain don Antonio de Urtusáustegui, Santiago de Retis, don Antonio de Vargas and Pedro Madera”.

Marcos Antonio Sobrarias.

The viceroy gave his order on the following July 15 so that Sobrarías would be in charge of executing the work, according to the plans indicated in his first visit to the town. He is assigned a salary of 1,460 pesos a year, in addition to 300 that he would receive for the time he invested in his trip to San Miguel and for the layout he gave for the new work.

For two years Sobrarías worked on the construction of the temple, in September 1692 he wrote to the viceroy: that said church is almost entirely lunetted, with its cornice and capitals and a main arch and vault of the choir and baptistery, but... it ran out and money And they still owe you.

He continues to demand his salary in 1696, 1697 and 1698, which is when Sobrarías is compelled to return to San Miguel to continue the work. The viceroy appoints a new architect, Juan Antonio de Guzmán, master of his art. Sobrarías stayed in the capital and, together with other masters of architecture, worked on the metropolitan cathedral and on the rebuilding of the royal palace, where he collaborated on the design of the floor plan made in 1709.

Given this information from Don Cornelio López and Dr. Mina Ramírez, I dare to venture a hypothesis that the change of architect could have been the reason that caused the ruin of the towers, since the salary received by him and his assistants is notoriously lower and It is they who finished with the façade in 1709, remembering that in his diary the priest José María Correa wrote that the parish tower “threatened to ruin”; the state of the west tower forced its bells to be removed at that time, due to the damage to its structure. The frontispiece was cracked from top to bottom from the choir vault to the closing of the main door.

The architect Marcos Antonio Sobrarías was born approximately in 1646, by 1682 we begin to have news of his professional performance as supervisor of his guild, from that date he presented several projects and recognitions of houses and convents in Mexico City.

The porch of the parish is an example of an extemporaneous construction in the landscape of San Miguel. Appreciated by many, ignored by the least, its style wanted to be Gothic, but despite its architectural defects, it deserves the affection of the good people of San Miguel. That façade, with its defiant grandeur and vertical lines, breaks the harmony of the colonial city.

When Bishop Sollano ordered the destruction of the old portico and the erection of the current one, perhaps he wanted to express his rebelliousness by the forms in vogue that contradicted his spiritual conception of the world represented by the triumphant neoclassical, destroyer of the baroque, loaded with exuberant religiosity.

A fact that has gone unnoticed is that at the end of the 19th century the façade of the Parish "threatened to ruin" as the priest Correa left written testimony. The state of the west tower forced its bells to be removed at that time, due to the damage to its structure. The frontispiece was cracked from top to bottom from the choir vault to the closing of the main door.

When Don Zeferino Gutiérrez erected the new portico, he took special care not to further damage the old one. This circumstance is a valid way to better appreciate the effort and ingenuity of those who tried to save the primitive church, preserving, even if hidden, those parts that should be known by future generations, because, in short, the only thing that was destroyed of the original building were its lateral towers.

It was built in a few years, taking into account the adverse circumstances of those times. On weekends the town works. The children carried sand in small sacks, their mothers, stones according to their strength, the youths carried heavy rocks on their backs, while others in carts and carts, animated that pilgrimage that came and went from the Laja River to San Miguel. Other young people put the happy note with their shouts and laughter helped by animals, while they transported those enormous stones that would serve as ashlars in the construction. The wood for the countless scaffolding that had to be continually reinforced was brought from the hills of Alcocer, a farm owned by the family of the beloved Bishop Sollano. Ant work. Work of years. I work without pay. Work of a people who wanted to beautify their main temple with their efforts. A temple worthy of your faith.

Dr. Mina Ramírez says:

"It is truly a pity that all those who know this church only remember the pseudo-Gothic facade that came to occupy the simple monument of eighteenth-century art."

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