A Pagan Homage to a Patron Saint
By Jesús Aguado
Past and present come together every September 28 in San Miguel de Allende during the celebration of the feast of the city’s patron saint, St Michael the Archangel.
St Michael is revered with rituals both Catholic and indigenous, with dances, and most famously, with an offering of light, i.e., a whole lot of fireworks, that lasts a full hour, an announcement to the four winds that the feast of St Michael has begun.
Ancestors, Offerings, and Dancers
At 5pm on Saturday, September 28, on Calzada de la Estación, a parade begins with crosses made of stone (representing the ancestors) and mounted on litters carried on people’s shoulders. The traditionalists and descendants of the indigenous peoples who were converted to Catholicism carry these enormous and heavy offerings to St Michael known as xuchiles. The offerings are placed in the Parroquia once they arrive at the Jardín. Meanwhile, native dances are performed, and mojigangas, beauty queens, and various floats all come along for the ride.
Traditionally, these xúchiles were stretchers on which the natives carried their dead on the way to burial, perhaps because they did not have the money for a coffin or perhaps because they were not culturally familiar with coffins. After burial, the xuchil was placed on the dead person’s grave.
Now xúchiles may also include cempasúchil (marigold) flowers, and on some occasions food and bread. The offerings are also accompanied by live music and folkloric dances representative of various states of the republic. This year, the participating dancers will be from Hidalgo, Veracruz, San Luis Potosí, Guerrero, Tlaxcala, Zacatecas, Nayarit, Jalisco, and from some cities of Guanajuato. In total, the procession is expected to feature 13 xúchiles, 44 local dance groups, and 20 groups from other cities. There will also be seven floats. Check for more details in our Que Pasa supplement.
The procession, which begins on Saturday on Calzada de la Estación, continues along the following streets: Canal, Portal Allende, Correo, Barranca, Nuñez, Mesones, Pepe Llanos and Insurgentes. The night concludes with the igniting of a spectacular fireworks Castillo (castle) structure in the Jardín.
On Sunday, September 29, at 11am, a parade will start on the Ancha de San Antonio. There will be dancers from several states to honor Fray Juan de San Miguel, the Spanish Carmelite friar who founded San Miguel de Allende in the early sixteenth century as San Miguel el Grande.
This parade will move through the main streets of the city. When the circuit is finished, there will be an homage to the friar, and then the dances continue all afternoon on the esplanade of the Jardín. The event ends with fireworks and music around 9pm. Consult the full program in Festivales y Eventos, in Que Pasa.