Tupataro & Cuanajo: A Historic Church & Hand-Carved Furniture
The turnoff for these colonial-era villages is approximately 32km (20 miles) northwest of Pátzcuaro, off Highway 120 on the way to Morelia. The narrow paved road passes first through tiny Tupátaro (pop. 600), which in Tarascan means "place of tule of Chuspata" (tule means "reed").
Just opposite the small main plaza is the Templo del Señor Santiago Tupátaro, with its beautifully painted 18th-century ceiling -- a rare surviving detail. Restored in 1994, it's still the parish church but is overseen by the Institute of Anthropology and History. The church was built in 1775 after the miraculous discovery of a crucifix formed in a pine tree. Indian artists painted the entire wood-plank ceiling with scenes of the life and death of Christ and Mary. The magnificent gilt retablo (altarpiece) still intact behind the altar, features Solomonic columns and paintings. Santiago (St. James) is in the center of the retablo, and the face of the Eternal Father is above him. The sign of the dove crowns the retablo. There's no admission charge, and photography is not permitted. The church is open daily from 8am to 8pm. Days of religious significance include the Tuesday of Carnaval week and July 25, which honors Santiago.
Cuanajo (pop. 8,000) is 8km (5 miles) farther. It's a village devoted to hand-carved pine furniture and weaving. On the road as you enter, and around the pleasant, tree-shaded main plaza, you'll see storefronts with colorful furniture inside and on the street. Parrots, plants, the sun, the moon, and faces are carved on the furniture, which is painted in bright colors. Furniture is also sold at a cooperative on the main plaza. Here you'll also find soft-spoken women who weave tapestries and thin belts on waist looms. Everything is for sale. It's open daily from 9am to 6pm. A new highway runs directly to Cuanajo from Pátzcuaro.
Festival days in Cuanajo include March 8 and September 8, both of which honor the patron saint Virgin María de la Natividad.