The place on the other side Parhíkutini
Text by Priscila Vanneuville
The deepest excavation man has performed in history is 12 kilometers. If Earth’s radius is 3,500 km, geologists still have 3,488 km to go. One of the limitations to achieve the fantastic enterprise that Jules Verne imagined in Journey to the center of the Earth are the high temperatures: the planet’s center is composed of molten rock at a temperature of between 700 and 1,200 degrees Celsius and heat increases with depth. The so called magma is similar to the composition of the sun, but at a temperature 5 times lower (the sun’s surface is 5,500 C°) and continents and seas float on this liquid.
Sometimes bubbles are generated in the burning substance. These bubbles grow and, with time, increase the levels of gases and other components until they turn into a kind of pressure cooker that is likely to explode at any given moment. The explosion of these bubbles due to stored energy or tectonic movement generates a break in the earth’s crust and creates a volcano.
In 1943, in Michoacán, the inhabitants of Paricutín and San Juan Viejo Parangaricutiro witnessed the phenomenon described briefly above. Paricutín, or Parhíkutini in Purepecha, is the youngest volcano in the northern hemisphere and the only one scientists have been monitoring from its birth to its extinction.
According to Felipe, current Purepecha guide of the area, the first crack occurred in the cornfields of Dionisio Pulido, a farmer from the village of Paricutín who felt a tremor and saw how the floor opened. Dionisio didn’t imagine what he was witnessing or what would happen next: the birth of a volcano that would remain active for nine years. Some of the current inhabitants of Angahuan, the elderly, remember that period. Before the first earthquake there was a great plague of locusts that devastated the crops; they say it might have been an omen of the consecutive earthquakes that would occur weeks later. Of the two villages, Paricutín and San Juan, only the church of the latter had a priest. This priest blessed a cross that was placed in San Juan to invoke divine protection, but this provoked the displeasure from the inhabitants of Paricutín who cut the cross from which flowed blood.
“During those nine years ash fell continuously and we could hear explosions,” he tells his grandfather Felipe. And in the meantime, as the volcano grew day by day, the two villages remained buried by lava and up to two meters high in ash. Legend has it that this was the punishment their inhabitants received for “burning” the cross.
Nowadays, the area remains a source of conflict between neighboring populations and this is one reason why UNESCO has not approved the nomination of Michoacán geologists for this area to become a geopark. These conflicts are ideological and forms of exploitation of the area, but the truth is that thanks to the rooted religious beliefs, the first successful evacuation was achieved in 1994 without any human casualties. An evacuation of this magnitude can be difficult because people don’t want to leave their belongings or their properties, which is why the government relied on the Church to organize the pilgrimage of the Lord of Miracles to which all citizens attended. It is said that behind the procession, lava followed the footsteps of the pilgrims who were successfully relocated.
The village of Paricutín remained engulfed by volcanic rock., today, Only traces of streets covered by ash and the leftover walls of some buildings remain today in San Juan Viejo.
Mysteries remain unsolved on this land that fascinated Dr. Atl, who witnessed the birth of the volcano and abandoned his artistic activities in the Mexico City to study it. Victor Hugo Garduño, a volcanologist from Michoacán, told us, for example, of a research carried out on mineral lava from Paricutín, because they feature a very peculiar magnetic anomaly: if you bring a compass to certain areas of the eruption, the needle does not indicate North, it only moves incessantly.
Another mystery is the persistence of the altar of the church of the Lord of Miracles in San Juan Viejo after nine years of volcanic activity. The scientific explanation of this event comes from the observation that the lava moved in a perfectly parallel to the solid wall and bell towers. But on the other hand, the Purepecha people will always believe that a miracle occurred there. The altar of the sanctuary, although inaccessible because of volcanic rock, is continually visited by the inhabitants to leave their offerings and prayers to Christ.
The last eruption of Paricutín before its extinction occurred in 1952.