In this region, especially around Mission Conca, there are miles and miles of tomato, orange, and banana plantations. When you get over near Xilitla in the more tropical area, there are many, many coffee plantations. You can smell the fragrance in the air! I bought a few coffee bean bracelets.
As you can see the exterior of the Missions are extremely elaborate with all kinds of symbology carved on the front of each mission. I have read extensively about the churches of Mexico and in my readings it states that the Indians would include many symbols (hidden in the carvings) of their gods..............Often these churches were built on top of their holy grounds and I guess they were bringing forth what they were able to, to keep their beliefs alive!
The first photo is of the Mission at Jalpan which is a town of 5000 people. Note the difference in the sky color in Jalpan from the sky color as we went into the more remote areas. This color is not "touched up" but is actually the color of the sky - it was magnificent. This next mission is Tilaco. You know the old saying "It's the journey and not necessarily the destination" - well that is ABSOLUTELY the case in getting to Tilaco. Once you leave the highway and get on the road to Tilaco it winds around the mountains for about 45 minutes with vistas that take your breath away. You see villages nestled in the valleys of the mountains (Sierra Madres). Upon arriving in Tilaco which is made up of about six streets, it seems like a mirage to see this magnificent Mission. The teenage girls were in the tiny jardine making altars for Dia de los Muertos out of wild orchids and banana leaves - another blog on altars to follow!
When I was here almost ten years ago there was a Franciscan priest who was in charge of this mission. His name was Padre Miracle, truly. He lived from 1927 until 2004 and spent over 50 years in this village. He was responsible for having the road built that we traversed on to get to the village. There are photos of him in Rome with the Pope and all kinds of cool things in a little building across from the mission.
The above photo is Mission Landa de Matamoros. I thought as we arrived that I wish that all the politicians and media and people that talk about how illiterate and ugly Mexico is could experience the beauty of this civilization! In this village as I sat on a stone wall in the sun waiting for the group to finish looking at everything a Mexican man in his pickup truck stopped in the middle of the street and came over to talk to me. He wanted to practice his English. He was delightful and welcomed me to "his" village and wanted to know if I liked the church. He then proudly talked in English - it soon became apparent that he knew key phrases (like me in Spanish) and if you strayed from that - we both became quiet. It was really sweet. He is a butcher and has two children. He said he learned English in the State of Tamaulipas-not sure of that spelling-and wanted to speak it more. There is always such a naivete and innocence in these people.........it so touches my heart. I must admit, there is talk in the media about the machismo of Mexico but I truly have NEVER experienced that or seen it. Another "urban myth" perhaps?
This is the Mission Tancoyol which is REALLY remote also. It took us three days traveling to see all these missions! Can you imagine without paved roads, and traveling by foot or burro? Wow! It is said that Fr. Serra walked from Mexico City to the Sierra Gorda and then when finished there he WALKED to California. It boggles my mind.
The streamers you see and the wrapped wreaths on the cross are from past celebrations, probably from the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel which is celebrated ALL over Mexico. The wreaths are made initially and covered with flowers which are held on with orchid paste.
Notice on the churches the geometric patterns painted on the towers on each side of the decorative entrances. I found that fascinating because I have never seen that in any other part of Mexico or anywhere else. You also probably notice that many of the heads are missing from the statuary. It is said that this occurred during the Cristeros War in the 1930's when the true separation of church and state occurred in Mexico. A LONG story.
As elaborate as the exteriors of the missions are, here is an interior view of the Mission at Conca. Actually these missions are really village churches that are used on a daily basis. In one mission, they were preparing for a Quincenario and the women and children were sweeping and arranging flowers in pink and candles everywhere. In another mission they were chanting the rosary. It was very touching to see the daily life of these humble people. I feel honored to be allowed this glimpse....................