Oh, those crazy monks with their walking and their teaching and their building! In Central Mexico the Franciscans take the prize, thanks in part to the amazing achievements of friar Junípero Serra who, between 1751 and 1766, oversaw the completion of five Mexican Baroque missions.
The missions are stunning today–collectively they were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003–but they must have seemed like miracles in the 18th century.
The facades are the things with the Sierra Gorda missions. While we know that the facade of the mission in Tancoyol is carved out of stone it somehow seems soft. Almost like sculpted marshmallow.
Like all of the missions, the Tancoyol decor includes Christian symbols as well as symbols associated with the indigenous religion in the area. Jaguars, some dude who looks like a member of the Olmec people and St. Francis are all part of the Tancoyol mission facade which is the most elaborate of all of the missions.
The interior of the mission, by contrast, is perfectly plain.
The mission in Tilaco has the smallest facade of the five missions and it looks like a page out of a storybook with fanciful depictions of mermaids and tasseled curtains and flowers. The village of Tilaco has a bit of a storybook feel to it as well with exceptionally well-planned and well-kept streets and neighborhoods.
The mission in Landa, dedicated to the immaculate conception, has the darkest facade of the five missions and is bursting with saints: there’s Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Saint John of Capistrano Saint Stephen, Saint Lawrence, Blessed Alberto of Sarzana, Saint Vincent and Saint Michael the Archangel and we’re sure we’re missing a few.
Friar Serra died in 1784 in Carmel, California. Yes, he walked that far. He was beautified in the late 1900s.
Jalpan is the biggest town on the mission circuit and the mission here was actually constructed by Friar Serra (not just overseen by him). We liked the fact that the Virgin of the Pillar (Spain’s virgin) and the Virgin of Guadalupe (Mexico’s virgin) are carved on an equal level in the mission’s facade. The facade also features Mexico’s official emblem: an eagle devouring a snake.
The mission in Concá was our favorite in part because the images on its facade are more organic, more indigenous and less dogmatic. Instead of a yearbook’s worth of saints, this mission presents fruits and vines and flowers. Okay, and a few saints…