The missions of Sierra Gorda
View of Nuestra Señora de la Luz Mission in Tancoyol
During the 16th and 17th century, there were attempts to evangelize the Sierra Gorda of Querétaro by the Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans. However, almost all of these missions were never completed or were destroyed soon after they were built by the indigenous communities. The military pacification of the area by José de Escandón in the 1740s allowed for the building of permanent missions in the heart of the Sierra Gorda. However, the five Franciscans missions accredited to Junípero Serra were built in Pame territory, as these people were more accepting of Spanish domination. The placement of the missions had the purpose of dividing the heart of the Sierra Gorda and to open roads into San Luis Potosí . The missions were built by Pame hands, under the direction of various Franciscan monks including José Antonio de Murguía in Concá, Juan Crispi in Tilaco, Juan Ramos de Lora in Tancoyol and Miguel de la Campa in Landa. However, the vision for the building of the missions was Serra’s, as he imagined a type of utopia based on Franciscan principles. Serra insisted that the missionaries learn the local languages and experience hunger along with the rest of the population. There was still hostility to the Spanish presence, and Serra’s response was economic as well as spiritual.
The main feature of these churches is the ornate decoration of the main portals, although there is decoration on the bell towers and in some churches, other areas as well. This decoration is termed "Mestizo Baroque" or "Mestizo architecture" according to INAH. The ornate decoration is primarily aimed at teaching the new religion to the indigenous peoples, but unlike even the Baroque works further south, indigenous influence is obvious as the Serra’s idea was to demonstrate a blending of cultures rather than complete conquest. One element is the use of red, orange, and yellow, including pastel shades, and native sacred figures such as the rabbit and jaguar appear. The mission churches have a single nave, covered by a cannon vault, but each has its own peculiarities, especially in the portals. Serra spent eleven years in the Sierra Gorda before moving on in the late 1760s north.
San Francisco Mission in Tilaco
The mission in Jalpan was established before the arrival of Junípero Serra in 1744, but Serra was in charge of building the mission complex that stands today from 1751 to 1758. It is dedicated to the Apostle James, the first evangelist. This complex is situated in the center of the modern town in front of the main plaza and formed by an atrium, cloister, pilgrim portal and church, with a chapel annex on the left side. The original atrium wall was lost, but reconstructed in the same style, with three portals and inverted arches. The main features of the ornate portal on the facade are Our Lady of the Pillar and the Virgin of Guadalupe, both with Mesoamerican connections, as well as a double headed eagle, meant to symbolize the blending of the two cultures.
A second mission is located in the community of Tancoyol called Nuestra Señora de la Luz de Tancoyol, dedicated to Our Lady of Light. This facade has profuse vegetative ornamentation, with ears of corn prominent and is the most elaborate of the five missions. It is likely that this mission was constructed by Juan Ramos de Lora, who resided here from 1761 to 1767. The structure is similar to those in Jalpan and Landa. It has a church with a Latin cross layout and choir area, a sacristy, atrium with cross and chapels in the corners of the atrium called "capillas posas". There is also a pilgrims' gate, a cloister and quarters for the priest. The interior has a number of sculptures including one of "Our Lady of Light".
The facade consists of three bodies, a pediment and four estípite columns. The lower body has sculptures of Saints Peter and Paul and who Franciscan coats of arms. The second body has sculptures of
Joachem and Saint Anne, with the Virgin Mary in her arms, and a niche in the center. There are also images from the Passion such as nails and a lance. This niche contained an image of Our Lady of Light, but it is empty now. Between the second and third bodies, there is a large window and above it, a representation of the stigmata of Francis of Assisi. The pediment contains a large cross in relief of two styles related to the Franciscan and Dominican orders. The bell tower is narrow and the baptistery is at the base of this tower. On the lower part appears a small window which illuminates the baptistery. The cupola of the tower is in a pyramid shape with a Baroque iron cross on top. Indigenous influence is noted in the interior columns of the church, which have images of a jaguar and a person with Olmec features.
Mission of San Miguel Concá
San Miguel Concá is located forty km from Jalpan on Highway 69 to Río Verde. The church is in the center of the community on one side of Guerrero Street. It is oriented to the south and dedicated to the Archangel Michael. It is the smallest of the mission churches and was probably finished in 1754, according to an inscription located inside the church. Concá is a Pame word which means "with me". The decoration is mestizo as well with large flowers, foliage and coarse figures in indigenous style. It is distinguished by an image of the Holy Trinity at the crest along with a rabbit and double-headed eagle. San Francisco del Valle de Tilaco is a small community eighteen km northeast of Landa de Matamoros. It was constructed between 1754 and 1762 by Juan Crespi and dedicated to Francis of Assisi. It has some characteristics different from the other missions. First, it is built on a gradient. The bell tower is separated from the main nave of the church by the baptistery and structurally functions as a buttress for the church. Tilaco is the best conserved of the five missions and has the most subtle ornamentation on its facade. Its facades are composed of three horizontal and three vertical partitions, with the Franciscan coat of arms prominent over the main entrance. In Tilaco, the facade has small angels, ears of corn and a strange large jar over which is an image of Francis of Assisi. One distinctive decorative element is four mermaids with indigenous features. Tilaco has the best conserved atrium corner chapels called "capillas posas", which were used for processions.
Santa María del Agua de Landa is located twenty km from Jalpan on Highway 120 towards Xilitla. The mission was built between 1760 and 1768 by Miguel de la Campa is dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, which gives rise to part of the community's name. It was the last of the missions to be built. The atrium is bordered by a wall and centered by a cross, and paved in stone. It is noted for its equilibrium in composition and very narrow bell tower, which is integrated into the facade. The sculpture of this facade is considered to be the best of the five according to Arqueología Mexicana magazine. The faces of the mermaids at Landa have indigenous features.
Junípero Serra spent eight years on the project of building the missions until 1770. When a number of historical events, including the expulsion of the Jesuits, forced the abandonment of the missions. Serra moved on to California. When Serra left, the missions were left in the hands of regular clergy. During both the Mexican War of Independence and the Mexican Revolution, the missions suffered sacking and destruction. Initial restoration work to the outside of the mission churches was begun in the 1980s. Between 1991 and 1997, interior work on altars, choirs, organs and paintings was done. Further work was sponsored by the state between 1997 and 2002. Work done in the 1990s also included that on surrounding plazas and monuments. The effort to inscribe the missions as a World Heritage Site began in 2000 and was ultimately successful in 2003, when it was added during the 27th meeting of the World Heritage Committee.