The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) has come under fire for not carrying out restoration work that could have helped save a 17th-century church in the Purépecha region of Michoacán that was destroyed by fire last weekend.
The St. James the Apostle Church in the town of Nurio, described by Culture Minister Alejandra Frausto as “one of the most beautiful churches in the world,” was severely damaged in a blaze on Sunday evening. The cause of the fire is unknown.
The newspaper El País reported that both INAH and the Michoacán Ministry of Culture had planned projects to preserve the building that could have given it a better chance of surviving Sunday’s blaze. But they didn’t commence the work in January as originally scheduled.
At a meeting between town representatives and officials earlier this week the former sought explanations for the delay and their anger was “palpable,” El País said.
“The local authorities criticized INAH because they did not meet their deadlines. By January 8 they should already have started their projects,” said José Manuel Caballero, mayor of Paracho, the municipality in which the church is located.
Michoacán Culture Minister Claudio Méndez told El País in a telephone interview that the work hadn’t started due to a lack of resources. He conceded that the poor condition of the church hampered firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the blaze.
“[The firefighters] couldn’t even direct a jet of water against the stone walls because we did not know if they would hold,” Méndez said. “Fortunately we have records to copy the paintings of the artists of the time and the interior decoration.”
The minister said that other places of worship in Michoacán are also at risk because of a lack of funds for restoration.
El País said that an insurance payout will be essential to rebuilding the church, which has been reduced to a shell of four walls, but noted that the Michoacán and federal governments will also provide funds.
INAH delegate to Michoacán Marco Rodríguez acknowledged that the institute has a limited budget, describing the situation as a “terrible reality” and explaining that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated funding problems.
(A lack of funds has also prevented INAH from commencing repairs of a 16th-century Mexico City church that was damaged during two earthquakes in 2017 and two fires last August.)
Rodríguez also said that Nurio residents had requested that the roof of the church be covered with sheet metal to protect it but explained that such an old building couldn’t support the extra weight.
Nelly Sigaut, an art historian at the Colegio de Michoacán, said the fire had “wrung out” her heart. She said that priests to whom she teaches heritage classes had tears in their eyes when they found out about the blaze at the church, located about 130 kilometers west of Michoacán capital Morelia.
“This is a treasure that was unique in the world, singular in its style,” Sigaut said. “They call it the Sistine Chapel of the [Purépecha] Plateau, and they weren’t exaggerating.”
Source: El País (en)