Talpa de Allende: Another Side of Mexican Culture
Tara A. Spears
Long before there were all inclusive oceanfront hotels thousands have trecked to the isolated mountain village of Talpa, Jalisco. And when you realize that the attraction is spiritual- not a party based good time – it is even more amazing that so many travel from throughout Mexico and other countries to this humble town. The reason that people visit Talpa is the belief that the diminutive, antique statue of Our Lady of the Rosary-nuestra senora del Rosario- has life-changing powers. Hundreds of miracles are attributed to the handmade statue from the mid 1600s.
According to a tour guide in Talpa, the story goes like this: “In September 19, 1644 the humble church was being repaired by order of Padre Pedro Rubio Felix. There was an old handmade doll that was broken and dusty, falling apart from being infested with worms and moths so the padre said to bury the virgin doll in an open pit in the sacristy. An Indian woman was in charge of the cleaning. When María Tenanchi took an old tablecloth to wrap up the doll, she wanted to touch the Virgin. As Maria touched the cornstalk paste doll, all of a sudden rays of fire and a very intense light covered the old Virgin doll and the chapel was filled with clouds and Angels; those present in the church fell unconscious from the shock of seeing the transformation. The doll underwent transubstantiation, i.e., a change of substance, turning from cornstalk dough into to a kind of strong and uncorrupted cedar. We call her (the statue) the miracle of renewal.”
Even if you are not a practicing faithful, it is a powerful experience to leave the 21st century and the amenities of coastal cities to drive through uninhabited virgin jungle to suddenly come down a mountain and see the golden spires of a massive church in the middle of nowhere. Even more amazing is observing hundreds of pilgrims crawling on their knees in the dirt towards the church. It is impressive that in our era of modern technology that such a simple life still exists; that in our jaded world there are individuals that still believe in a higher power.
May 10 thru 12 is one of the four major celebrations in Talpa- the anniversary of crowning of the Virgin of Talpa. The Talpa mayor, Salvador Uribe Gil stated, “From Friday to Sunday, Talpa de Allende kept hotel occupancy at 100 percent and saw an influx of visitors that weekend of between 35 and 50 thousand pilgrims.”
The ‘Path of the Pilgrim’ is a road that goes from Ameca to Talpa de Allende in Jalisco. (see blue map) It is important not just as a religious site but also because the region showcases Mexican traditions and a specific culture. Each year, about 3 million people walk along this route. Recognizing the importance of the route, authorities provide for the pilgrims several shelters and viewpoints that function as “Landmarks” as well as other services. The Path of the Pilgrims is a joint effort between municipal, state and federal governments plus corporations to provide security, crime prevention, road assistance, and information to the thousands of pilgrims throughout the year who walk through valleys and mountains to Talpa.
If you visit Talpa during one of the four festivals, there are multiple activities besides going to church. Booming fireworks are shot off early in the morning, to awaken people for the first mass of the day. The use of noise making fireworks is due to the traditional belief that fireworks will “scare the devils away.” (Now you have the backstory for the La Penita pastor’s repeated use of predawn firecrackers.) The town’s most popular religious festivals include fireworks, mariachis and parades in addition to Mass and other forms of religious devotion.
Be prepared to get a lot of exercise even if you arrive by vehicle or bus- there are several noteworthy attractions spread around the town. After praying and sightseeing, there is limited shopping and simple dining available. The small pueblo of Talpa has many small tiendas/ stores that sell religious articles, regional coffee, candy, and homemade cream-based rompope liquor in several flavors. There is also interesting religious art available.
A visit to the historic town of Talpa de Allende is an excellent side trip when you are visiting the Pacific Coast. The drive through the jungle is absolutely breathtaking besides the astonishing décor of the churches.