Mixing A Bit of Bling With Belief

Ceiling 2

On the outskirts of Morelia’s historic district in Michoacán, Mexico stands a church which is the very definition of the word “contrast” :The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe (El Santuario de Guadalupe).

Because hiding within the plain, weathered brown exterior is one of the most astonishing and ornate interiors that we’ve seen anywhere in the world.


The church was built in the early 1700s, which helps explain its unadorned, Baroque exterior. But when it was revamped in 1915, the designers and craftsmen clearly got different marching orders. 


Every inch of the temple’s interior is adorned with gold leaf and brightly colored flowers. It’s a marvelous study in the beauty of colorful plasterwork and repetitive patterns. And when sunlight streams in, the entire interior glistens and glows. 



I wasn’t able to find much information on the motivations behind the redecoration, but I did find an interesting analogy with another famous church – The Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. According to religious scholars, for Byzantine Christians, a simple exterior with rough, plaster and dull brown color symbolized earthly life and the physical body. The ornate interior with light and lots of color, symbolized heaven and the spiritual life. 

Exterior Lady of Guadalupe

I’m not certain of the real message, but one thing is for sure: someone had no problem mixing a bit of bling with belief.

Happy Trails,
James and Terri


Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

68 thoughts

    1. I haven’t been to Melk Abbey Darlene, but after checking out the photos online, it certainly fits in the over-the-top, ornate category. I’ve seen a few of these Baroque and Rococo style cathedrals in Europe, and I’m always amazed at the detail. ~James

    1. Thanks Smithy for the comment and for dropping by the blog. It’s certainly unusual for a Catholic church, and it brought to mind some of the Buddhist and Hindu temples of SE Asia. ~James

    1. No we didn’t go inside the theatre, but from the details on the exterior, I can imagine that the interior is the best that money could buy. But it seems a bit oxymoronic that a building where stage productions are the focus would be designed extravagantly to pull the eyes away from the stage. ~James

  1. Unbelievable! Did you know the interior would be so amazing or was it one of those jaw dropping moments when you opened the door? It does take me back to Turkey as you mentioned the connection. Wow!

    1. Sue, we had read that the interior was incredible (not all in a complimentary way – some people think it’s too over-the-top), but it still was a jaw-dropper for us. I’ve seen lots of ornate interiors, but for me, I find this one particularly appealing. I thinks that it’s the combination of the geometric repetition, the color palate, and the apparent randomness of the of the textures. It’s hard to explain, but it’s one of those “you know it when you see it” moments. ~James

      1. The photos look incredible and by what I can see very few clues on the outside. Like opening some amazing gift wrapped in brown paper. 🙂

    1. It’s funny Laura, but I wasn’t able to find much info on the history. Apparently, at one point there was a fire, and this could have been the reason the renovation was done. A lot can happen in 300 years. But whatever the history, the designer had to be channeling Liberace. ~James

    1. Bronwyn, this church brought to mind the Hindu and Buddhist temples of SE Asia. When traveling there, I always wondered how the worshippers kept their focus with so much ornate decoration and color. This is especially true in Hindu temples. ~James

  2. The church is absolutely beautiful and the pictures (as usual) are stunning … but I find really ornate churches rather disturbing. All that wealth spent on the promise of an afterlife instead of helping make people’s lives better in the here and now 😦
    … spoken like a true fallen Catholic 🙂

    1. Well said Joanne, and great comment. Terri and I are still laughing. I’m sure you’re not the only fallen Catholic who read this post. And you make a good point about the money spent on ornate churches. This is particularly true of older churches. When I visit a church that took 100 years to build, I have to wonder how much money was spent. ~James

    1. Thanks Francine. With the amount and level of detail in this church, I can imagine that it was incredibly expensive to build as well as maintain. I sometimes wonder where all the money comes from. ~James

  3. Wow. Eye-popping. This looks like adoration to me. Such detail on every surface spells passion of workmanship and belief. I l.i.k.e. This is over-the-top but there’s something endearing a community has this kind of reverence. Where are my sunglasses? 🙂

    1. Thanks Tess. Apparently, this church is very popular with the local community because of the statue of Guadalupe. I’m not sure why the statue is such a big deal (maybe some of our Catholic readers can help here), but it’s a popular church. And it certainly must make Mass more visually appealing. ~James

    1. I agree Joyce. It was impossible to look in any direction (except maybe the floor), and not see something ornate and colorful. This sort of thing probably wouldn’t have gone over well in Summer Shade. I’m sure that the decorations put lots of pressure on the Padre to keep his message perky. Love, JH

    1. This seems to be a recurring theme Anita. Terri and I sat for a long time just trying to take in all the details, and I can imagine how distracting all the gold leaf and flowers would be if I were attending a service. ~James

  4. “A bit of bling,” you say. And what, pray tell, would qualify as a LOT of bling? (I’m kidding you. It’s a beautiful place. Thanks for posting.),

    1. Thanks Tom. You know, I have to be careful about appearing to dis the Catholic Church, so I thought conservative was better. I’m not too worried, but I still need to be careful about my secular soul. 🙂

  5. Florence and I have certainly seen our share of ornate churches during our travels through much of the ‘Catholic world’. It is a bit overwhelming to think of the cost of these architectural wonders. I sometimes wonder who the Plutarchs of those bygone eras were who could afford to underwrite the artists and architects that made their names creating such wonders. These projects had to cost a fortune even back then.

    1. The Catholic Church must be one of the largest and wealthiest owners of real estate in the world. And I’m sure that someone in the Vatican call tell you what it’s all worth. Imagine the garage sale they could have. ~James

    1. I haven’t been to Cuba Andrew, and with all the legal hassles and travel restrictions for Americans, it isn’t on the top of my list. But, from reading Victor’s post, it looks like it would be an eye-opening trip. And it would certainly be different from Mexico. ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog Marie. Even after reading about the ornate and colorful interior, it was still a total shock walking into the church. It took a while to absorb it all. ~James

  6. Once again, you’ve hit it out of the park with that title. 🙂 And you captured this ceiling perfectly! I could stare at these pics for hours.

  7. There are some rooms in the Vatican that remind me of the over-the-top decoration, James. I think they must have hired a cake decorator for Our Lady of Guadalupe. –Curt

  8. Thank you once again for your excellent photography and comments.
    I had heard the wealthy Morelianos were behind the inspiration for the
    ornate interior of the church. They wanted to create something rival the
    Sanctuario de Guadalupe in Mexico City to keep their servants local, instead of making long pilgrimages (often for weeks on their knees)
    to D.F.

    1. Thanks so much Robert for your insights. I can imagine that it took lots of money to complete this interior. And I had no idea about the pilgrimages. Thanks for this interesting detail. ~James

  9. I knew there was beauty in Mexico but not this refined and carefully delineated! The ceilings – well, all this work — reminds me of that found in European cathedrals. Glad you showed these to us.

    1. I really loved this cathedral Rusha. It’s somewhat different that most of the ornate European cathedrals in that there wasn’t an angel or cherub in sight. It was almost all colorful flowers, and repetitive geometric patterns. Very unusual and very cool. ~James

  10. Wow that is beautiful, love the girly pinks:) I once walked in to a chapel in Palermo Sicily and it was ornamented and covered in gold every where.. you never know what you might walk into:) Love it:)

    1. That was the same experience we had in this cathedral. We knew that it was going to be ornate, but we were awestruck when we walked in. It’s fun to be surprised. ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. This truly was an amazingly ornate and colorful church. We had read about the interior, but were still astonished at its level of detail. ~James

      1. Yes that’s understandable. You’ve made me really want to visit it myself! 🙂

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