Closing Doors

In years past, San Miguel de Allende has been a regular destination for National Geographic’s week-long photography workshops. While buildings in the main section of historic “Centro” in San Miguel are restricted by the Regulation of Construction to shades of ocre and earth tones, vivid accent colors abound in the form of bougainvillea, hibiscus, and greenery planted in brightly colored pottery. But no accent is more intriguing than the doors of San Miguel. There’s even a book of photography featuring only photos of the ornately carved doors.


This house is outside the parameters of the historic district, so pink is okay…

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Behind these closed doors can be found some of the most elaborate mansions in Mexico, or little more than the family living room of mix-matched furniture and the only TV tube in the house.  A favorite pastime is strolling the streets sneaking a peek, particularly in the evenings when families assemble in the doorway like Brooklynites on their neighborhood stoop.   This intimate look into their living rooms reveals the reverence Mexicans have for family, as the aged to the infants sit together, looking out as I look in.

What makes this door unique is what sits above it...

What makes this door unique is what sits above it…

My favorite spot in San Miguel de Allende is a bit of a challenge to visit.  Very few people know of its existence, and even fewer can pinpoint when its doors will be open.   The tiny Chapel de la Casa de Loreto is well hidden inside the 18th century baroque church, Oratorio de San Felipe Neri, whose doors are rarely found open.   Only during mass times in the evening, around 5:45pm have I ever been able to gain entry into the church and navigate to the little side chapel without disrupting Mass.

I love the ornate ceiling over this doorway.

I love the ornate ceiling over this doorway.


About 3 seconds after I snapped this shot, the door opened. Busted!

About 3 seconds after I snapped this shot, the door opened. Busted!

I was first captivated by the chapel from the outside by its ornate, six-sided cupola, so petite next to the surrounding structures.  Its size makes it hard to photograph, though, as it’s dwarfed by buildings and walls in the tightly-packed centro, or historic section.   IMG_2541 IMG_2542

But then, a door opens as I stroll down the street on one of my many meanders. I look to my right to see the most magnificent view…the angle I’ve tried to get from many different streets.   Through a large metal door, I can finally get the wedding-tiered chapel in my line of sight.

I wander in through the doorway just as a large SUV is pulling out.   As I turn on my camera and frame the cupola, I hear the loud CLANG of the door as it slams shut behind me.   A quick look around reveals that I am standing in the middle of a very large secured parking lot with barbed wire along the top of the metal walls.  The door I came through is now locked. Trying not to panic, I start to trace the wall, looking for another exit, when I hear the door open again.  There in the doorway is the driver of the big SUV, his hands on his hips, looking at me like “Are you coming, or what??”   He stands in the doorway, patiently waiting as I run through the door, apologizing profusely, “Lo siento! Lo siento!”

The best view of the chapel I've found thus far. Unfortunately, it's in a locked parking lot.

The best view of the chapel I’ve found thus far. Unfortunately, it’s in a locked parking lot. Casa Loreto is the one on the left that looks like a tiered wedding cake.

The Oratorio de San Felipe Neri, which is connected to the little chapel.

The Oratorio de San Felipe Neri, which is connected to the little chapel.

To reach the little camarín, or chapel with its six elaborately gilded baroque altars, walk through the front door of the Templo del Oratorio, go down the mail aisle, then turn left down the west transept to find a small chapel. You may think you are there, but not yet.  While standing at the front doors of this side chapel, look to the right and you will see a small dark hallway leading further forward.  If you go to the end of that hallway, you will find the little six-sided, smaller chapel, only about 20 feet in diameter.  The gilded walls and six baroque altars look like something one would expect to find in old-world Italy, more-so than in Mexico.

It's difficult to tell from the photo, but the chapel is very small...probably not much more than 20 ft across.

It’s difficult to tell from the photo, but the chapel is very small…probably not much more than 20 ft across.

Frescos on the ceiling are beautiful.

Frescos on the ceiling are beautiful.

I closed a door in San Miguel of another sort…hopefully not permanently.  I received a very generous offer to house-sit for a week in my favorite casa in all of San Miguel.  But the timing was not right.  I would have needed to backtrack from the beach, the opposite direction of my intended route westward.  So I passed on the opportunity in the hopes that there will be another down the road.  It’s a door I hope I didn’t close permanently…IMG_2579 IMG_2611 IMG_2612

17 thoughts on “Closing Doors

  1. Suzanne, I marvel at your courage and envious of your travels. Doors are a great subject. Do you just stumble onto these places or do you get tips from others?

    • Thanks for the nice comment, John. I wish I could claim “intrepid traveler” status, but the truth is, I cheat off others homework. I think I read about the little chapel in the Lonely Planet guide. But sometimes, finding a place can be almost as much fun as discovering it…like a treasure hunt. 😉

  2. Hi,
    Well, another thing we both love….doors! Everyplace I travel I take photos of doors. They speak to me because of the design, the age, the “what’s behind the door” curiosity. Beautiful photos.

  3. Hi Suzanne! I am a newcomer to your blog. I am close friends with John & Mary Wells. It was John who “introduced” me to you. At any rate, as a retired high school Spanish teacher, I LOVE Mexico. My husband, Terry, and I have traveled to Oaxaca twice, Puebla twice, Cuernavaca and Mexico City. We will be visiting San Miguel de Allende shortly and I wondered how long you would be there. I, too, am fascinated by doors and have started a photographic file on my laptop labeled “Doorways of the World”. I hope to put together a photographic journal some time soon…after my next trip to Mexico. At any rate, would love to connect with you . Perhaps we can email privately if that is better for you. Let me know what works best for you!

    • Hi Mary, thanks for the great comment (and thanks to John and Mary for sending you my way. Such lovely people!)

      I’m on the bus now but will email you when I get back to the laptop.

  4. Suzanne! My favorite blog post to date! As a fellow “door lover” I began photographing doors while living near Venice years ago; spending many a weekend afternoon capturing on film beautiful and unique doors along tiny cobblestone pathways lining inlet canals. More recently, during a trip to Croatia, I discovered a treasure trove of beautiful doors in the small town of Rovinj, in southern Istria, on the Adriatic Sea. This post reminded me of my visit to that magical seaside town and the myriad door photos taken at dusk that wonderful day. A brief recap of my first solo camping trip along the Emerald Coast to Cedar Key, FL: It was fab! Took a small Cessna plane ride high above Cedar Key to see the area with a bird’s eye view! Thanks, again, for being an inspiration to solo women travelers. I would so enjoy visiting the charming town of SMdA before it gets loved to death. Your photos are gorgeous! 🙂

    • Hey there, fellow wanderer! I’ve been wondering how your trip went. A Cessna plane ride? Sounds like you did okay! 😉 Figures both our wandering kindred spirits would share a love of mysterious doors. “While living near Venice?” Your comments are the gift that keeps on giving…

      • Not all that romantic, but a wonderful three year travel opportunity in the mid 70’s. Hubs was in the military stationed at Camp Ederle, outside Vicenza. Venice was a quick train ride away, through Padua. Our only child, a daughter, was born in Vicenza, so when hubs was out of the country for weeks at a time with work I’d throw babycakes in my backpack and off we’d go to the train station bound for Venice, camera in hand. It was an adventurous time in my early 20’s for my baby and me. Your doors of SMdA brought back sweet memories of us walking among those ancient doors along the pathways of Venice, long ago and far away…

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