The Little Chapels that Could
The indigenous were dazzled by the visual stimulation of the mass and used the new faith to dilute, fuse and disguise their own rich religious heritage.
The villages and ranches surrounding San Miguel feature numerous chapels. The building of the chapels, known as the “Calvarios de la Conquista” were part of the Crown’s effort to appease the natives who submitted their religious and political loyalty to Spain.
Local chieftains were fearful of losing control if folks only attended churches built by the Spanish. Therefore, these small chapels were built where the indigenous could worship, in their own way and far away from town, free from Spanish influence.
In front of each chapel is a small structure about the size of a person called a calvario, named for Calvary, the hill Jesus died on while on the cross. A calvario consists of a door less niche with either a flat of vaulted ceiling. Within crosses stand often among a profusion floral offerings.
The calvario is a shrine dedicated to the souls of the departed and the cross. The indigenous Otomi and Chichimeca didn’t enter the chapel immediately but knelt at the calvario for the departed souls of ancestors to receive reverence, incense and prayer. Having paid homage to both the cross and ancestors, the local lad or lass would enter the chapel.
If there is no calvario then he or she practiced the ceremony in front of the solitary cross that stands outside the chapels. The chapels, crosses and the small calvarios are thought to be sources of spiritual power.
Religions do no disappear overnight, they die slowly and gradually. At the end only faint reminiscence of older patterns remain within the new and more powerful religion. The Spanish conquerors realized it would not be wise for them to erase all the ancient myths and popular beliefs. Hence the existence of these chapels, crosses and calvarios found in San Miguel’s countryside.