Today we are going to Muse about social status. If this is your first visit, welcome to Musings. If you have been here before, welcome back. Over time we are going to talk about many things: the past, the present, perhaps the future, travel, art, society and more. Wherever my musing takes me. I hope you will come along with me.
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WHY SO MANY CHURCHES?
In the mountains to the north and west of Mexico City is San Miguel de Allende, an old town. It was founded in the mid 1500’s. The streets are narrow and some are very steep.
They are lined with homes built like row houses with no space between them, forming a continuous wall from one end of the block to the other, punctuated only by windows and doors. Today many of the homes are shops and hotels, but in days past they were residences. Some were quite large and grand, others more modest.
In the center of the town is the principal plaza, called the Jardin. At one corner of the plaza is the Parroquia.
It’s spires dominate the skyline. A block away is another magnificent church. Two blocks further there is another. In the opposite direction taking up an entire city block was a large and beautiful convent. Today it is a cultural center.
This is in the old town center . . . Five large churches and a convent. In the nearby neighborhoods there are more churches and another large convent.
Here is San Miguel de Allende today. The city extends in all directions.
Here is SMA eighty years ago. It was a small town. But look at the number of churches. I count five plus the convent on the left. What is not seen are other churches and a convent to the right and left of the photograph.
We know the Catholic Church was central to Mexican history but even so this is unusual. Other towns had their churches of course and some were magnificent. But given San Miguel de Allende’s small size the number is noteworthy. Why so many churches?
It was explained to me that SMA has always been a wealthy town. In the surrounding mountains there are mines, many mines. The mine owners did not want to live near the mines and many settled in SMA. These were very wealthy people.
In these times it was common for at least one daughter in an upper class Spanish family to become a nun, a bride of Christ. However, becoming a nun required a gift to the Church, a dowry.
SMA had a number of families who were the centers of society, people of great wealth and status. At some point when the daughter of one of these families became a nun, the family decided to make an impressive gift by building another church. This led other families to make a similar gift. To maintain their social standing these families of wealth did not want to be outdone.
And now SMA has many stunning churches and at least two large convents.
More to come
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Books by Thomas L. Tribby Available
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Original Paintings available
- SMA Parroquia
- SMA Street Scene with Church