Location: West-Central Mexico
Altitude: 2200 Meters / 7200 Feet
Founded: 1553 by Augustine Missionaries
Population: 38,502 (2005)
Name: The word Santa means Saint - and Cobre means Copper.
Santa Clara del Cobre (originally Salvador Escalante) was founded in 1521, and is located in the heart of Michoacan at an elevation of 7,200 feet. The town is home to just under 40,000 people, though originally this was the traditional territory of the P'urhepecha people.
The P'urhepecha have been crafting fine items from copper since the pre-Hispanic era, creating an economy that flourished between 1519-1821. The copper industry suffered here between the 1940's and 1970's, when community efforts worked to revive it.
Xacuaro is the closest indigenous village to Santa Clara del Cobre, and it was settled in the 12th century. It is interesting to note that of all Mesoamerican cultures, the P'urhepecha and Zapotec peoples (Oaxaca) were the only peoples successful in using copper so extensively. Of the two, the P'urhepecha were the most advanced, and demonstrated vast diversity through their ability to produce both large and small pieces, including inlay with with gold.
At the beginning of the conquest, most of the indigenous peoples fled from the Spanish. After Guzman was sent to Spain and charged for his crimes against the indigenous peoples, a lawyer and Judge by the name of Vasco de Quiroga was made the first bishop of Michoacan. He created clever incentives and encouraged the P'urhepecha to return to the Santa Clara del Cobre area by offering them them exclusive right to craft cazos, which are wide pots that are still used today for cooking carnitas and candy. Quiroga also taught the masters new techniques for smelting copper, which resulted in a large forge being built here in 1540 for the purpose of smetling copper. Though the mines that supplied the forge here was miles away, the smelting was done in Santa Clara del Cobre due to the large amounts of charcoal available in the forest. Santa Clara del Cobre was the most important copper smelting town in New Spain, and its craftspeople made church bells, cazos, casks, and even sent copper to the mint for coins.
Today the copper that comes to Santa Clara del Cobre is recycled copper wire, and cable from electric and telephone companies in both Mexico and abroad. It is estimated that Santa Clara del Cobre recieves 10,000 tons of recycled copper per week.
One of the most beautiful things about Santa Clara del Cobre, is the maintenance of "Pueblo Hospital" since the days of Quiroga. At the beginning of each year, 52 families are appointed to spend one week each, tending to the church grounds and doing any maintenance that is required. Each family keeps a record of what they have done so the next family can continue the work. Every week, the community members meet to discuss issues in the community. The cooperation required to keep something like this going is astounding to me. Each family that moves into the building beside the church is brought gifts of food and money from other community members, and the gifts are very generous because everyone knows that they will have a turn in future, and they hope their generosity is returned.
When you visit Santa Clara del Cobre with Soul of Mexico Tours, we will introduce you to artists directly, where you can enjoy a demonstration.
If you are interested in booking a workshop here for a field study or private group, please contact Jennifer for more information at email@example.com