In Mexico, in Querétaro
State, there are several exceptional monuments in the Sierra
Gorda. The Sierra Gorda is a mountain area of the Oriental Sierra
Madre, a mountain range that lies from South to North along the
coast of the Gulf of Mexico,
from the northern part of Coahuila, close to the border with the
USA to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec which is the geographic mark of
Extract of UNESCO site : The Franciscan Missions have been on the
World Heritage list of UNESCO
since July 2003.
”The five Franciscan missions of Sierra Gorda were built during
the last phase of the conversion to Christianity of the interior
of Mexico in the mid-18th century and became an
important reference for the continuation of the evangelization of
California, Arizona and Texas. The richly decorated church façades
are of special interest as they represent an example of the joint
creative efforts of the missionaries and the Indios. The rural settlements
that grew around the missions have retained their vernacular character.
The five missions are located in the mountain area of the Sierra
Gorda in Querétaro State,
where the evangelization arrived later than everywhere else. Among
the five missions, Santiago de Jalpán (the first built in1751-1758)
and Nuestra Señora de la Luz de Tancoyol are established
in the municipality of Jalpán de Sierra; Santa Maria del
Agua de Landa and San Francisco del Valle de Tilaco are in the municipality
of Landa de Matamoros and the mission of San Miguel Concá
is in the municipality of Arroyo Seco. Jalpán means “on
the sand” in Náhuatl language and Tilaco means "black
water"; Landa means “mud” in Chichimec language
and Tancoyol means “place of the wild date” in Huaxtec
The Franciscan missions were units of complex organizations,
managed by monks wishing to evangelize Indigenous people, to put
them in congregations and to teach them.
Each mission needed to erect its own church, get Indigenous people,
to subdue them and group them in huts around the church. The missionaries
had to learn the autochthon language, feed the population, teach
them the rules of behavior and only then evangelize them. The five
missions share similar elements about environment, the city and
the religious edifices :
The environment offers wonderful mountain landscapes; the strategic
location of the missions determined the development of the autochthones
around there. At present, they became a traditional rural population.
The architecture of the missions follows a general common scheme
in spite of individual differences. Their characteristics recall
the convents of the sixteenth century, with a patio, a gate, an
open chapel, procession chapels and a cloister. You also can observe
some designs from the Mexican Baroque Art of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, such as the cross-shaped plan of the church,
the stucco sculpted facade and the use of lime plaster inside. These
last characteristics are more visible in Jalpán, Landa and
Tancoyol, while Tilaco and Concá show a more particular conception
: there is no chapel and the edifices are built with local stone
The orientation of the ensemble is different in each case : the
main facade looks towards the West in Tilaco, the East in Jalpán,
the South in Tancoyol and the South-East in Concá and Landa.
The congregation used to meet outside and the church
is so richly decorated with sinuous plants and flowers, fantastic
architectural elements, angels, figures of the Virgin and Saints,
among them San Francisco. Even if the general disposition of the
ensemble shows the Franciscan model, the spirit and the decorations
refer to the local traditions and the local products, considered
as gifts from God. On an artistic plan, there is an air of innocence
and naivety. On a strategic plan, the images were used to reinforce
the didactic impact of the mission. The facade is made of six panels,
three horizontal and three vertical. However, in Tancoyol, there
are five horizontal panels. The dominant color is ochre.
By contrast, the inside is a lot less pretentious;
there is a very simple plaster; the forms of the altar are plain.
A cupola crowns the junction of the transept. A high bell tower
is attached to the left side of the church. The bottom part of the
tower bell is square and simple while the top is richly decorated
with architectural ornaments.
The residential part, on the right side of the church, shows a vaulted
entrance, sometimes with cloister galleria around the courtyard.
In addition, it is quite bare, without decoration.
The northern part of the Sierra Gorda, where the missions are located,
is part of the Central Mountain region in Mexico.
In the past, the autochthones worked in the mines and businesses
and lived in small villages spread around the foothill of the mountains.
The Sierra Gorda was a natural barrier between the sedentary peasants
and the nomadic hunters of the North. When the Spaniards arrived,
the autochthones mainly lived on agriculture. The Huastec lived
on vast feudal domains and were skilled in cotton-spinning. The
Jonaces lived in caves and attacked these domains. The important
tribe of Pames grew corn and lived in houses made of branches or
palm trees; they were docile and cooperative with the monks.
During the seventeenth century, the political interests
and the silver mines often caused armed fights involving Spanish
and autochthon groups. These fights destroyed an important part
of the first missions. At this time, the Franciscans tried to penetrate
the country but didn’t succeed to establish a permanent presence.
At the eighteenth century, they obtained a new authorization that
led to the decision, in 1744, of founding the five missions (Jalpán,
Concá, Tancoyol, Landa and Tilaco). Because of the persistent
conflicts in the region, the first years were difficult and delayed
the construction of the complexes until 1750-1751, under the aegis
of Father Junípero Serra. This Franciscan father had to be
tenacious and persistent to have these five architectural jewels
of the Sierra Gorda built.
The phase of construction stretched over two decades.
It was combined with an active work of evangelization from the Franciscans.
In 1770, the mission was done. The political situation had changed
and the missions were secularized. In the nineteenth century, the
missions suffered as a result of armed fights and rebellions : The
golden altars were destroyed; At the end of the century, some churches
were confronted by other problems : some images were substituted,
for example in the central part of the church of Jalpán.
In the twentieth century, the population decreased and some missions
were abandoned; others endured alterations, such as the patios of
Landa (1966) and Jalpán (1964).
Nevertheless, they lasted as religious entities, dominating the
people around and representing a reference for the region. Since
the publication of Monique Gustin in 1969 about the baroque art
in the region of the la Sierra Gorda, they started the protection
and the restoration (in 1990) of these masterpieces of baroque.
Junípero Serra (1713-1784), Spanish Franciscan
father who obtained the title of Apostle of California for his job
as a missionary in North America (beatified by the Pope in 1988)
started the phase of evangelization. He contributed to the establishment
of the missions of the Sierra Gorda where he taught from 1750 to
1758, before leaving to the center-south of Mexico
(1758-1767). When Spain started to occupy the Alta California (actual
California), Serra joined the expedition and founded the mission
San Diego in 1769, the first mission in California.
J.Serra and his successors founded 21 missions in California. These
missions became the main factors of development of the region.
from the state of Mexico
Criterion ii: The Sierra Gorda Missions exhibit an important interchange
of values in the process of evangelisation of central and northern
Mexico, and the western United States. Criterion
iii: The five Sierra Gorda missions bear witness to the cultural
encounter of the European missions with the nomadic populations
of central Mexico, remaining a significant testimony
to this second phase of evangelisation in North America.
for the visitor
Start in Querétaro
either with a car or a tour (information at the Tourist Office),
drive on the Highway 57 then Highway 120 via San Juan del Rio and
Tequisquipian or via Bernal (the third bigger monolith in the world).
Start the visit at the Misión de Jalpán, dedicated
to Saint Jacques, 190 km (119 miles) from Querétaro.
It was the first built; it is the biggest one. Admire the facade
with the statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe (pillar of Mexican faith)
and Virgin of Pilar (spiritual protector of Spain), as well as the
double symbol of the bicephalous eagle devouring a snake at the
bottom of the facade. The main motive of this church is the scallop
Then, go to Misión de Concá, 34 km (21 miles) further
east : it is the smallest church in the Sierra Gorda. With its amazing
and beautiful red and orange ochre facade, this church differs from
the others with imposing wine grapes and luxuriant foliage of the
semi-tropical valley of the region. Admire the Archangel Miguel
and the representations of Saint Trinity. Concá is dedicated
to Archangel Miguel, venerated by the Franciscans as "the one
who leads the souls to Paradise." Look at a representation
of Saint Trinity at the top of the facade.
Go back on the road towards east during 20 km (12.5 miles) to reach
the third mission, Misión de Landa de Mataromos, dedicated
to the Immaculate Conception Virgin. It is the last mission built
and the best kept with its church, cloister, chapels and an atrium.
On the facade, there is a staging of several chapters and interpretations
of the Bible (niches housing statues of Saints). This decoration
of facade symbolizes "The City of God".
Keep driving north for 10 km (7 miles) then east for 16 km (10 miles)
to reach the Misión de Tilaco, dedicated to Saint Francisco
de Asis. This mission comprises a church with a slender tower, a
convent, open chapels, a square and an artificial cross. The statues
of Saints such as Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Saint Josef and the Virgin
are generously represented with many angels probably playing huapangos
on a violin and a guitar.
Go back on the road in the opposite direction to reach the crossing
with Highway 120, cross the wooden valley of Tancoyol "place
of the coyotes” and you will reach the last mission, the Misión
de Tancoyol. The facade, dedicated to Our Lady of Light, is ornate
with Saints and Franciscan symbols. Two of the inside columns are
crowned with a jaguar and an Indian face personage. Its facade is
one of the most elaborate of the five temples. One of the most remarkable
elements of this facade represents six angels along the sides.
Each mission is open from 7 AM to sunset.
On the road back to Querétaro,
you can visit two archaeological sites. First, Ranas (open daily
until 6 PM) : it is an archaeological zone with a fortress city
and a ceremonial centre showing original ball games, pyramid-shaped
bases and plazas adapted to the topography of the hill and it is
surrounded by luxuriant vegetation.
A little further east is Toluquilla. This place is strategically
located at the top of a hill; there are four ball games and a building
with remaining stucco on its outside wall (open daily until 6 PM).
The village of Jalpan de Serra is part of the "magic
village" since 2010.
|No comment has been yet posted on this page.|