Jalpan | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Jalpan

Five mission towns dot the Sierra Gorda in eastern Querétaro State. We visited the most accessible of them, Jalpan, a little more than four hours drive from San Miguel de Allende, over some serious mountain ridges.

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The town (full name: Jalpan de Serra, about which more later) is the commercial center for this part of the Sierra Gorda, the big city for hundreds of tiny pueblas. A real working Mexican town, it's visited by relatively few tourists.

We spent a night in the Hotel Inn Misión Jalpan, right on the central plaza, the yellow building in the photo below.

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Ordinarily, we try to stay at hotels at some remove from town centers because they can be noisy, but being a Thursday night, we figured it would be fairly quiet, and besides the tree-shaded plaza looked inviting and peaceful.

We wanted to visit the well-regarded museum—the terra-cotta building just beyond the hotel—but a sign said it was closed for renovation for the next month. (We seem to run into that situation frequently. Recently, museums in Guadalajara, Mérida and Campeche have all been "closed for renovation" when we arrived. Forces us to become more accepting in our way of thinking: "Not to worry. We'll see it the next time we come here. Unless it's closed again. Which it could be. ¿Quién sabe?")

Jalpan is important to us expatriates from California because it is where Father Junipero Serra founded his first mission. (Hence, Jalpan de Serra.) Actually he founded five of them in the Sierra Gorda before going to California to build the famous string of missions along the Pacific Coast. Because of its historical significance, Jalpan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Father Serra is Honored in Jalpan with a statue.

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Of additional interest to Californians is the bell-shaped structure next to Father Serra's statue. It is one of the "Mission Bells" that mark El Camino Real (The Royal Highway) that runs up the California coast. Anyone who grew up in California fondly remembers these bells.

All five of Serra's Sierra Gorda missions have been restored. The Jalpan Mission has a beautiful baroque façade.

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Sculptures of important religious figures reside in niches; among them, the ubiquitous Virgen de Guadalupe, the Madonna of Mexico.

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Some of the walls appear to be constructed of beautifully dressed stone blocks, but they're not—it's trompe l'oeil.

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The yellow nylon lines dropping across the window are bell ropes, hanging right outside where anyone could pull them. I watched a young woman walk over and ring the bell to announce mass. Can you imagine the mischief American teenagers would do in this situation? I can. Fifty years ago I would have been out there at three in the morning ringing for all I was worth.

The Misión Jalpan is not a museum. (Well, neither is the Jalpan Museum, come to think of it.) The mission is an active church, serving the spiritual needs of hundreds of parishioners.

The exterior of the church belongs to the State, which renovated it in its bid for UNESCO recognition. The interior belongs to the faithful. Anymore, these appear to be mostly the elderly. Young people head for the cities or the U. S., attracted to more lucrative, more secular lives.

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