This world heritage site comprises five mid-18th century missions in the mountainous region north east of Queretaro. Visiting them all by public transport would have taken some days so I settled on a trip to just one of them, in the largest and therefore the easiest to get to of the small towns – Jalpan de Serra.
The bus journey there was four hours of sharply twisting roads taken at some speed, so by the time I arrived I was feeling rather queasy. I was then dismayed to discover that I was going to have to go through it all again as there was no bus service onwards to my next stop – there were various options but they all involved going back to Mexico City. Not sure what to do about this I went into town and found that the hotel I’d seen recommended was full and the other only had a room available for one night. That settled it – I would see the mission in the morning and take the stomach churning ride back to Queretaro the next afternoon.
Wandering out in the evening to find some food I got chatting at a taco stand to a Mexican university lecturer who was in town for a conference, which explained the shortage of hotel rooms. He helped my acquire a taco without cow brain in it (he assured me it was tasty, I assured him I was English and we get funny about that kind of thing) and when he paid for his and his colleagues’ food, he kindly bought mine as well.
These missions were built as part of the campaign to convert the hard to reach indigenous people in this mountainous region to Christianity. The ornately decorated moulded plaster facades are seen as a marriage of the Franciscans’ iconography with a local decorative style. The Spanish friar who spearheaded this evangelisation later went on to found the first mission in California.
I’ve commented before on the evils of missionary work and the UNESCO listing describes the process here thus:
Each mission had to erect the church, find the natives, subdue them, and then group them in huts around the church. The missionaries had to learn the native language, supply the population with food, teach them how to behave, and only then evangelize them.
The rather ugly clock in the photo above was apparently added in the 20th century and replaces another figure of a saint. Anyway, on with the Lego!