Page 94 - Montecito Journal Glossy Edition Summer Fall 2011

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nyone with passing knowledge of California’s settlement history is familiar with Junipero Serra,
the stalwart Franciscan friar who founded twenty-one mission churches stretching from San Diego
to Sonoma during the era of Spain’s colonization of
Alta California
. The Mallorcan-born priest logged
thousands of 18
-century miles on foot and mule-back, bringing The Word of God to the native people
inhabiting the land Spain was settling with Presidios (military garrisons), families and their livestock.
But fewer people know that Junipero Serra (1713-1784) oversaw the successful establishment of an earlier chain of
mission churches in the rugged and remote valleys of México’s Sierra Gorda mountain range, where he labored for nine
years before moving on to California. As a group, the five mission churches – Concá, Jalpan, Landa, Tancoyol and Tilaco
– were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003. They are unlike anything found
in California, featuring exuberant façades decorated in a style known as “folk-
baroque.” Marvels of movement, color and whimsy, the mission churches of the
Sierra Gorda are worthy of a modern-day pilgrimage, both for their secular
artistic appeal and spiritual inspiration.
The Missions of México’s
Sierra Gorda Mountains
A 2,000-foot-tall
monolith looms over
the town of Bernal
in the foothills of the
Sierra Gorda.