Santa Clara del Cobre, Mexico: A History Built on Copper

Published On May 7, 2015

On sunny days there is a distinctive orange glow around the town square of Santa Clara del Cobre, Mexico. It is the reflection from the copper wares hanging outside the shops, of the copper kettle suspended from the top of the kiosk that marks the town center and from the pillars, roofs and architectural adornments that pay homage to the town’s livelihood.

“Cobre” means “copper,” a name that is apropos given the history of Santa Clara del Cobre. The indigenous P’urhépecha, who inhabited the area beginning in the 14th century, were considered the world’s most advanced metallurgists of pre-Hispanic times. Their sophisticated command of crafting tools and weapons from copper enabled them to defeat invading Aztecs. Although the P’urhépecha enjoyed access to copper mines in the nearby mountains, it was the abundant forests that provided fuel for smelting the ore, establishing a livelihood that would endure for centuries.

Today 82 percent of the population continues to work in copper crafting – and many of them are direct descendants of the early P’urhépecha. Children begin working in the family copper workshop as young as age 9. Although coppersmithing techniques are passed down through families, children also may attend La Casa del Artesano to learn the craft.

Throughout history coppersmithing has experienced fluctuations in its contribution to the Santa Clara del Cobre economy. But there is no question of copper’s influence on the local culture.

Among local churches is Nuestra Señora del Sagrario (Our Lady of Refuge), dedicated to Saint Clare of Assisi — the patron saint of artisans – and adorned with beautiful copper candelabras inside. There’s a copper museum (Museo Nacional del Cobre) and an annual copper festival (Feria del Cobre), a weeklong celebration of all things copper whose highlights include a copper-hammering competition.

With a company-owned factory in this renowned copper-crafting town, Thompson Traders is part of the Santa Clara del Cobra community. Their hand-crafted products for the kitchen and bath bring the authentic copper legacy of Santa Clara del Cobre, home.