Yesterday was Sunday and the town had a real holiday feel about it. Young families strolling about: Dad in front followed by Mum and two or three small children, wide eyed and excited. People like to eat lunch out here on Sundays and the stalls and roadside restaurants were full of groups loving each other's company , laughing and enjoying the hundred and one ways to eat a tortilla. The covered market downtown is a bit like Pontypridd market. It's a mixture of fruit and vegetables, baby clothes, CDs, shoes, flowers, more CDs & DVDs, raw chicken, watches, handicrafts, cactus, toys & lots of women's fashion. Working women were having their hair streaked or styled. 'Can't imagine Ponty hairdressers opening on Sundays.
We'd decided to visit Atotonilco, a dusty village about ten miles from San Miguel de Allende. It's famous because of the church, Sanctuario del Jesus Nazareno, newly declared World Heritage by UNESCO. Here it's called a temple. It's ceiling are covered in murals, the conquisadors are pictured giving Jesus vinegar on a sponge. Some call it the Mexican Sistine Chapel. It's name means 'place of hot water' as it's near to Gruta hot springs.
So we went looking for the bus. It took sometime, asking lots of people, for us to understand that where the first bus had dropped us was the correct place to get the bus out of town to Atotonilco. This bus had a different system from the ones we've been on. You pay when you get off the bus and you don't get a ticket. I said to Rhys that it seemed an expensive bus ride and it was. The driver over-charged us coming and going. The fare should have been seven pesos each one way, we read later, and we paid thirty-eight. We've just got to learn our Spanish numbers.
The village is in a rural area and the main occupation for men is bricklaying. In front of the temple,women sell rosary beads and gruesome pictures of an anguished Christ wearing a bloody crown of thorns, and other religious knick-knacks and handicrafts. The monthly income of families is around 1500-2000 pesos, about £125.
The church was full one moment and the next most of the congregation had disappeared. A priest in white dashed in front of us into a grilled door, that was opened and closed behind him by a sacristan. Then we saw a notice, which said, 'No Flash', and behind it was the whole congregation, who had moved into a side chapel. It was a community baptism. About seven or eight babies, swaddled in lace and satin in their teenage mother's arms and flanked by young fathers and god parents, casually dressed in denim jeans and smart tops.We spied the whole event through the grille. It was in four parts. First, the priest came round and with his thumb drew a cross on the forehead of each baby.The father of the child did the same thing as if to stress his belief in Christ. Then the baby was taken by the godmother to the font for the baptism itself. The godmother had a box with a little handkerchief and white candle. The father wiped the wet baby's head with the cloth.The
blue-eyed priest came around again and with oil made the sign of the cross once more on the child's forehead. By this time most of the babies were screaming like a pack of nocturnal dogs out on a hacienda.
Then the godfather lit his candle from the large white candle at the baptismal font and the parent, godparents and priest all held the candle while a photo was taken. The priest called each child's name and the godparent came forward to claim the baptism certificate. Another eight catholics received into the church.
We hung out with a few stray dogs and some bored young people while waiting for the bus to return. A brass band and what sounded like a rock group played in loud competition with each other. We guessed it was all part of the post-baptismal fiesta. We didn't like to gate crash.