San Miguel Topilejo is one of the 12 pueblos originarios of Tlalpan. With a magnificent atrium restored in the 1960s, the town provides an exciting immersion into the experience of shopping and small-town life all within a compact few blocks. The town market reaches the church atrium on most days. There’s enough food for the entire area and to not visit is to miss the town entirely.
The name Topilejo derives from the Nahuatl word topilan. It refers to one who carries the precious baton, and perhaps to a place with abundance of sticks or staves. Topilejo was likely founded more than 900 years ago. It’s thought to have been first settled by small groups of migratory Xochimilca peoples, likely from the state of Morelos. By the 7th century when seven Nahuatlaca tribes reached the southern shores of the lake, most of Tlalpan was occupied by Xochimilca and Tepaneca peoples. It’s believed that by 1517 some Acolhua peoples really established a more formal town. Thus, when the Spanish were more firmly in control, Topilejo is said to have been a refuge for Acolhua, Xochimilca, and Anahuacale peoples.
The San Miguel Arcángel Church
With the evangelization of the area, the sacred spaces, teocalis, were the principle places the Franciscans targeted for their new construction plans. The Temple of San Miguel Arcángel is said to have been begun, on just such a site, in 1560. The dome, however, was unfinished until 1812. The tower was only finally completed in 1927. By 1932, the church was declared a historical monument, and only three years later the façade was finally covered in pink quarried stone.
The church is built in three-section, with a tower, a dome, and a bell tower. Inside, the most notable sculpture is of San Miguel Arcángel, dating from the 17th century.
One of the parish church bells was lowered by a man nicknamed “el Negro.” This is said to have been melted to make projectiles used in the struggle for Mexican Independence. El Negro is thought to have been an insurgent guerrilla named Pedro Rojas. He took credit for some 600 Royalist casualties.
The center of San Miguel Topilejo is about 15 minutes ride from the Cuernavaca Railroad Bikeway.