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San Miguel Before the Spanish Came

By Pat Hirschl

Remember San Miguel in 1491? No? Hear what this region was like from Albert Coffee, archeologist and lover of pre-Hispanic culture at his PEN presentation at Bellas Artes Tuesday, February 17 at 6pm.

“Albert Coffee, San Miguel Before the Spanish Came”
Tue, Feb 17, 6pm
Bellas Artes auditorium
Hernández Macías 75
100 pesos

Coffee was invited to work on the Cañada de la Virgen site near our town in 2004. In 2010, he returned to the site with Gabriela Zepeda García Moreno, director of the multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional team working there. It was quite a shock, he reports, to see how many of the structures had been excavated and consolidated that had been merely cactus covered hillocks just six years earlier. “I longed to share this sight with my anthropology professors at LSU (Louisiana State University), leaders in Mesoamerican research,” he said. Coffee graduated from LSU, where he encountered the professors that turned him on to archeology and pre-Hispanic studies.

Still entranced by the unique and complex pre-Hispanic history of Cañada de la Virgen, Coffee leads tours of the site. More than 6,000 people have taken the tours.

Another part of the work he will share with the PEN audience is documentation of the legends, wisdom, and memories of the elders of the ranch communities on and around the site. Secrets of the site are still being unearthed, Coffee reveals. Knowledge of the unique and complex pre-Hispanic history of San Miguel de Allende and how it fits into the context of ancient Mesoamerica is still expanding He mentions “syncretism”— how the ancient life ways, cultures, and belief systems of the pre-Hispanic San Miguel de Allende have survived, affecting and mixing with modern day Catholic traditions.

San Miguel de Allende is a unique “culture hearth,” he explains. Unique pyramidal architecture, burial practices, ceremonial and medicinal native plant uses, a religion based on ancestor worship, complex calendar systems related to the processes of agriculture and a fascinating link to the earth, sky and natural world are traits that mark it as pivotal.

Coffee found another treasure in San Miguel: a bride. He and native San Miguelense Wendy Vázquez Gómez live in San Miguel with their two children, where his passion for Mexico and its past enliven his tours to the Cañada and throughout Guanajuato and Mexico.

Hear more at Bellas Artes auditorium on Tuesday, February 17 at 6pm. Tickets are available at La Tienda at La Biblioteca and at the door for 100 pesos, which includes a free glass of wine with supper at Vivali’s after the program. Proceeds benefit San Miguel PEN, a center of PEN International, fighting for freedom of expression around the world.


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