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TANCOYOL Hidden gem of the Sierra Gorda




In the 1750's, Father Junípero Serra and his fellow Franciscans ventured into the rugged, semitropical Sierra Gorda area of eastern Querétaro. They set out to evangelize the semi-nomadic Indian tribes who lived there and gather them into mission towns. Their efforts soon bore fruit. Within a few years five missions rose in the verdant valleys of the region, whose churches are now famous for their magnificent painted and sculpted facades: Santiago Jalpan, the flagship mission of the Sierra Gorda; Landa; Tilaco; Tancoyol, and tiny San Miguel Concá.

Of these Tancoyol is the least well known but architecturally the most visually satisfying of the five.

Isolated for centuries in its enclosed valley, accessible only through a narrow, moss-covered ravine, Tancoyol is now easily reached via a new paved road. Dedicated to the Virgin of Light, the hillside mission nestles behind an atrium whose walls and corner chapels are decorated with picturesque "turk's head" pinnacles.

The recently restored "folk baroque" church front is filled with stucco sculpture and intricate vegetal reliefs painted in bright earth tones of ocher and burgundy.

Franciscan emblems dominate the facade iconography, closely linked to symbols of the Crucifixion. The Crossed Arms of the order stand to one side of the doorway opposite the Stigmata, or Five Wounds of Christ.

At the center of the facade, above the choir window, spreads a large relief of St. Francis receiving the Stigmata depicting the rays of divine grace as well as the saint's mute companion Fray León.

The crosses of Jerusalem and Calatrava, both associated with the Franciscans, flank the crucifix in the ornate pediment atop the church front.

Angels also crowd the facade, swinging censers and upholding the Instruments of the Passion.

Text©1998 by Richard D. Perry

For more information on Tancoyol and the other missions of the Sierra Gorda consult Blue Lakes and Silver Cities, our comprehensive guidebook to colonial Western Mexico.