This article analyses the character of local religious practice in the archdiocese of Michoacán during Mexico's cristero rebellion, and explores the relationship between ‘official’ and ‘popular’ religion under persecution. In particular, it shows how the Catholic clergy and laity reconstructed the religious life at parish level in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the revolutionary state's campaigns against the Church. For a variety of reasons, the significance of such passive resistance to the state, and the complexity of the interaction between the ecclesiastical elite and the Catholic laity, tend to be downplayed in many existing accounts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many historians see cristero violence as the most important response to religious persecution, and therefore study it to the exclusion of alternative, less visible, modes of resistance. As for the Church, the hierarchy's wranglings with the regime similarly tend to overshadow the labours of priests and their parishioners under persecution. But the full range of popular experiences has also been deliberately compressed for ideological reasons. Many Catholic writers, for instance, seek to exalt the Church by describing a persecution of mythical ferocity. While Calles is likened to Herod, Nero, or Diocletian, the clergy and laity comprise a uniform Church of martyrs designate in revolt against a godless state. To achieve this instructive vision, however, a few exemplary martyrs—such as Father Pro and Anacleto González Flores—are allowed to stand for the whole mass of priests and believers, in the same way that Edmund Campion is revered as the protomartyr of the Elizabethan persecution in England. As a result, a stereotypical but politically serviceable image of a monolithic Church is perpetuated, an image which was recently institutionalised by the canonisation of 25 ‘cristero’ martyrs in May 2000.