Construction of the Apostle Santiago Church was initiated in the 16th century in the Michoacán Sierra to form part of a huatápera, or hospital complex. The complex was built by the Spanish Renaissance humanist and bishop of Michoacán, Vasco de Quiroga, who was sent to the New World by the Spanish Crown to investigate accusations of improper conduct being leveled against the conquistadors. The church’s interior boasts elaborate decorations from the 17th and 18th centuries in the Mexican Baroque style, which combined mudéjar carpentry and paintings done in the maque technique, a pre-Hispanic painting method that incorporates natural oils and minerals. The painted, exposed wood structure, including the coffered ceiling, was subject to insect infestation, fungal attack and exposure to moisture, leaving the interior finishes with iconographic paintings and decorative paint on the architectural elements in poor condition.
How We Helped
Between 2000 and 2004 WMF, through the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage, supported the restoration of the polychrome wood ceilings, mural paintings, portals, and ornate altarpieces. The project specifically focused on the consolidation and repair of wooden architectural features and the stabilization and conservation of decorative paint.
The church’s elaborate decorations represent a variety of both native and European styles, techniques, and materials. The establishment of the settlement, which was inspired by Thomas Moore’s Utopia, represents an important point in colonial history, as humanist efforts such as Quiroga’s recognized the rights of the indigenous people.
A Devastating Fire
On March 7, 2021, the Apostle Santiago Church was devastated by a fire which destroyed the entirety of the building’s interior and roof. Only a few moveable art pieces and religious objects were saved from the blaze. While the cause of the fire is yet undetermined, this was a tremendous loss for the people of Nurio, for whom the site served as a cherished hub of community life.