Tonantzintla Shop Sells Cholula-Style ‘Talavera’
The tiny town of Santa María Tonantzintla, which lies just south of Cholula off the old federal highway to Atlixco, is probably best known to outsiders for its magnificent church. The architectural gem is said to be the rural community’s version of the ostentatious Capilla del Rosario in Puebla, which centuries ago was heralded as the eighth wonder of the world.
Tonantzintla’s 17th-century edifice beckons parishioners and tourists alike with dueling tower bells and intricately laid white and cobalt blue talavera tiles on its facade. Inside, the nave is literally plastered from floor to ceiling with colorful religious symbols, both European and indigenous, that seem to bring the walls to life. It is, in a word, spectacular.
Visitors may not take pictures of the church’s interior without special permission (or a wedding invitation), but they may purchase locally made talavera at a nearby shop. In fact, one of our favorite producers in the entire region is Talavera Tonantzintla. Although its wares aren’t certified by the government, in part because its pottery is lead- and cadmium-free, the craftsmanship of the artists who painstakingly throw and paint every piece by hand is, at its best, exquisite.
Yet the real treasures turned out by this family-run operation are made of cotto, a type of pottery named after the “baked” porcelain and ceramic tiles of Italy. (We suspect that neighboring Chipilo may have had some influence here.) The pieces produced by Talavera Tonantzintla celebrate the area’s pre-Hispanic culture by flaunting one or more of 55 designs from a Cholultecan codex [PDF]. The images, such as the native turkey (pictured below, far right) are chronicled alongside many others in the book Diseño Gráfico en Cerámica Prehispanica Cholulteca. Their reproduction is approved by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).
Shoppers may visit the small factory, which is located inside an unassuming, graffiti-covered building near kilometer 11.5 on the highway. It’s open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays until 3 p.m. However, according to the owners, the best selection of the shop’s work can be found at Tonantzin, Avenida Hidalgo #33 (at Iturbide), in Santa María Tonantzintla. The store is open Wednesday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. —Rebecca Smith Hurd