The town of Angahuan in Mexico’s Michoacán state is home to about 4,000 people, a majority of whom belong to the Purépecha (also spelled P’urhépecha) community. One of its landmarks is Iglesia de Santo Santiago Apóstol (Church of Saint James the Apostle). The church was built for Franciscan missionaries in the late 16th century, and its facade features carvings in the Mudéjar style, which blends Christian and Islamic architecture. It is one of the earliest religious buildings built in Michoacán
At the front of the church sits a cross carved from volcanic stone with a skull at its base. Missionaries used symbols like these to convert indigenous people who worshipped death and death-related gods. By tying a symbol of Catholicism to a symbol of the existing religion, they hoped to convince indigenous people to approach churches and convents.
Iglesia de Santo Santiago Apóstol is dedicated to Saint James, and features imagery of him as an apostle and as the Matamoros (Moor-Killer), a supposed apparition of the saint in Spain’s Reconquista period. Offerings left for the saint include United States currency, in the hopes of economic prosperity and the well-being of loved ones living north of the border.
Across the street you’ll find Angahuan’s huatápera, a Purépecha community house used by locals for decision-making and celebrations. The town falls under Mexico’s usos y costumbres (rituals and customs) system, which gives indigenous-majority communities more autonomy in their governmental organization.