Sierra Gorda & Missions

Since 2001, the rugged Sierra Gorda has been a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which protects ancient sabino-trees covered with tillandsia and bromeliads, oak and pine forests, as well as tropical and desert-like areas.

Among the cultural highlights of the Sierra Gorda are the five Franciscan missions erected in the mid-18th century by indigenous master builders and craftsmen, whose characteristic architectural style – a combination of Baroque and Indian ornamentation – earned them World Heritage status in 2003. The church facades are particularly elaborately designed, as they were intended to attract the indigenous people who were to be converted. The interior of the churches, on the other hand, is rather unadorned, as the entering of the temples was forbidden to the people in the indigenous cultures and reserved for the caste of priests.
Angels, fantastic ornaments and plant patterns are among the most important decorative elements of the facades. Their design is the result of the meeting of European and Indian cultural traditions in the last phase of Christianisation. The driving force behind the church buildings was the legendary Franciscan Father Junipero Serra, from Petra in Mallorca, who was later also responsible for the missions in California, where he died in Carmel in 1784.
Two of the five mission churches, those of Landa de Matamoros and Jalpan de Serra, are located on the road from Querétaro (or Bernal) to Xilitla, while the other three – San Francisco del Valle de Tilaco, Nuestra Señora de la Luz de Tancoyol and San Miguel Concá – are secluded and rarely visited. Jalpan de Serra is the best starting point to visit the missions and the surrounding landscapes. The winding route through the mountains can be interrupted again and again for interesting short hikes, walks or lookouts.