Underwater San Miguel
Ever since I watched Robert Downey Jr. try to drown Annette Bening in a city flooded by a dam and forever-more underwater in the film, In Dreams, I’ve been fascinated by the notion of villages under water. There’s just something inherently both creepy and fascinating about a village that was once on land and now under water.
The notion is much like the legend of Atlantis or when my hometown got flooded by Hurricane Agnes and my then teen brother kept yanking up corpses sprung from graveyards. Since then burial law has gotten way more advanced.
Back in the 1960s the dam was built to control flooding in farther south cities like Celaya which, in turn, flooded out several villages just outside of San Miguel de Allende that lay along the Laja river. One village was Agustín González that survives today for having moved up the hill, closer to the highway and farther from the water. However, the residents couldn’t move the 18th century Neo-Gothic Elizabethan church associated with the former hacienda owned by brothers, Agustin and Juan Gonzales. The church has remained underwater since.
However, you could view the chapel’s cacti-bearing steeple piercing the water line from the town’s new location on higher ground. Today the town of Agustin Gonzales is a small, lakeside agricultural community featuring a quarry where the pink limestone for the Parroquia came from and a namesake chapel to St. Agustin.
With the lack of rain this summer and fall, plus the dam distributing water to other places, the lake is at a record low water level enabling the church’s ruins to show themselves. This could be a feat that won’t be possible in the future as the water further erodes the stone causing the Zeferino Gutierrez designed steeple to collapse. (Zeferino designed the Parroquia’s façade and is the namesake to San Miguel de Allende’s newest park.) The ruins are pretty and pretty dry to get to, naturally a detriment to the lakeside communities that depend on fishing.
The foray through the hinterlands to reach the church feature many parts of the lake that are now dry. So much so that when you Google Map your location it shows you as being deep under water. Not this year with the way to get to the church by vehicle is through the community of Tlaxcalilla.
Tlaxcalilla features two chapels with one to Guadalupe and the other to Christ the King. Guadalupe is still in use while Christ the King’s ruins feature ancient paintings on the walls and in the calvario.
Calvarios are small out-buildings to hold a cross, flowers and candles for the indigenous to worship their ancestors at before entering the church and new faith the Spanish insisted upon. At a farm next to Guadalupe’s church is a calvario that also has some petroglyphs looking strikingly similar to cave drawings found in nearby caves. Plus at the base you can tell when the presa has flooded and wiped away the calvario’s foundation.
Looking up, on top of Guadalupe’s steeple is a headless St. Michael. You can tell it is Michael because the wind appears to be blowing up his skirt a la Marilyn Monroe on a subway grate. Locally, it is a classic St. Michael pose.
It is thrilling to come up to the normally submerged church surrounded by a millstone ruins, fields of heather and several fishermen. It was the perfect spot to light a candle for those suffering from the virus.
On the way back into San Miguel de Allende we visited Julia at her chapel to the Sacred Cross in Calderon marking where the Battle of the Barbarians ended in 1530 when a giant cross appeared in the sky on St. Michael’s day. The cross gave the area the moniker San Miguel forever marking us as the center for both the cult of the cross and witchcraft, but that’s a story for another time!
In the meantime, come say your own prayers at the picturesque church that won’t be above the water line for long!