Facade of the Landa church
Facade of the Tilaco church
The municipality is home to two of the five Franciscan missions in the Sierra Gorda, which were registered together at a World Heritage Site in 2003. The mission complexes standing today were constructed with stone and mortar under the leadership of Junípero Serra after he took over evangelization of the area in 1750. However, both sites had been Augustinian missions earlier in the colonial period, and the Franciscan missions themselves were founded in the 1740s. After the missions were handed over to regular clergy in 1770, they deteriorated over the centuries. Restoration work on all five churches began from 1979 to 1985, initially focusing on the integrity of the structures and the facades. From 1991 to 1997, restoration of the towns around the missions, including work on monuments, plazas, fountains, building facades, paving streets with stone and more were undertaken. From the late 1990s to the early 2000s, restoration of interiors were done, including to altars, choir areas, organs and paintings. Much of the work was done to encourage tourism to the area, and the work cost anywhere from one to two million pesos for each church.
The Santa María del Agua de Landa is dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. The Franciscan mission was founded in 1744, the work on the current complex was done between 1761 and 1768, the last of the five mission complexes built. Its construction is generally attributed to Friar Miguel de la Campa, but a number of other Franciscans were active in the area at the same time such as José de la Sierpe, Domingo de Arroyabe, Esteban de Basabe, Palóu y Pedro José Lugo Perez, Antonio Paterna Ramos de Lora and José Campos. According to legend, when the Landa mission was being built, there was a small stream that flowed from the Cerro de San Esteban past the mission site. Workers used the water from this stream to quench their thirst. When the complex was finished, the stream dried up and disappeared.
The Landa mission is the most elaborately adorned and considered to have the most equilibrium in its composition. It contains a chapel, sacrament portal, baptistery, sacristy, cloister, atrium and garden area. The atrium is bordered by a wall with access on three sides. In the center is an atrium cross and there are stone paths in the interior of the atrium. It has a narrow bell tower, which is unified with the facade, which is primarily in ochre tones. The main portal includes a very large number of Baroque style ornaments, with vegetative elements and angels with support curtains. There is an image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, along with a number of saints including
James of the Marshes, Bernardino of Siena, John of Capistrano and Francis of Assisi. On the sides of the choir window, there are two important Franciscans, Duns Scotus and María de Ágreda, along with the coat of arms of the order. At the summit in the center, there is an image of the Archangel Michael defeating a demon. The facade has a number of indigenous elements, including an indigenous headdress on the head of the Archangel Michael, but it is not obvious.
For Landa, the mission was restored at a cost of one million pesos. The main plaza was also restored with items such as benches and lighting added. Lighting was later added to the mission itself. During restoration work in 1985, a mastodon bone fossil was found at the base of the church.
The Tilaco mission contains a choir area, baptistery, sacristy, cloister, chapels and gardens. The mission was built on a mostly leveled incline. Its bell tower is separate from the body of the church, but connected through the baptistery. Structurally, the tower functions as a buttress. It is the smallest and simplest of the five missions. The main doorway is guarded by sculptures of Saints Peter and Paul. There are two niches with Saint Joseph with the Child Jesus and one with an image of the Immaculate Conception. Between the two, there is a dove, which represents the Holy Spirit. Above this, there is a rhomboid choir window marked by curtains supported by two angels. An image of Francis of Assisi is at the top of the portal surrounded by cherubs, some of which are reclined against pre-Hispanic style eagles. There are also four columns, each one supported by a mermaid. Mermaids are not often seen in colonial architecture and it is not known why they were included. Much of the rest of the portal is decorated with flowers and vines along with a representation of the cord Franciscans use to tie their habits.
To encourage tourism to the mission, basic services were installed. There was also restoration of the main plaza and many of the facades around the mission church as well as paving work, which cost about 1.5 million pesos.