Where we left off in our previous post, Fray Junipero Serra arrived at the Church of San Fernando, on the morning of January 1st, 1750. The standard procedure here was to retain recruits at this Franciscan Center of Propaganda Fide for two years of missionary training, but in the case of Fray Junipero Serra, his stay lasted a mere 5 months.
View of the façade of San Fernando
The central frieze over the main entrance to the
Church of San Fernando, depicts the saint
carrying a sword in his right hand and the world
in his left, triumphant over pagans, and
interceding for the souls in purgatory.
The Church of San Fernando had only been recently created, yet in the middle of the 18th Century, it was the largest Church in Mexico City.
Here is a side view of what once was the Church
of San Fernando as seen today. The archway in
the middle of the sidewall is the side entrance to
the main altar of the Church. The buildings on
the side seam to camouflage the church, a trend
seen frequently in churches and convents in
Mexico after the 1860 Laws of La Reforma
dictated the expropriation of Church property
(the stores on right hand side are privately
Fray Junipero studied the books in the library of San Fernando, on History, Philosophy, Theology and especially Fray Alonso de la Peña Montenegro's Manual on missionary activity, Itinerario de Paracos de Indios, who asserted that the only way to the Indians heart, and to his conversion, was through "his ears". It was absolutely necessary to learn their language.
Carved out of stone, under a seashell,
symbol of purity- Here we find Saint
Francis beholding the Cross of Christ
in his hands, which one day carry
the stigmata, the miraculous sign
of the nails of Christ´s Passion in
the palms of his hands and in
The Missionary work with the Panes Indians in the Sierra Gorda did not begin with Fray Junipero, and not even with other Franciscans: it was the Augustinians who began the Missions in Jalpan as early as during the second half of the 17th Century.
Notice the columns with the zigzag
engraving pattern, popular in the mid
18th Century Baroque style in New
Spain. Here is the Statue of Saint
Dominic on the side of the main
doorway of San Fernando.
doorway of San Fernando.
Before parting from San Fernando, let's talk about its interesting history in the 19th Century. The Chronicler of Mexico City, Don del Valle Arispe in 1861 wrote: "In 1860, the government (of President Juarez)...suppressed all Monastic orders, and the Convent of San Fernando was abandoned, as well as its beautiful Church. Many took to the task of dismantling and destroying (the retables), not leaving one single painting nor one single book: all the altars golden altars had been devastated."
Main altar and retablo at the
Church of San Fernando.
Yet last week, when I visited San Fernando, I found the main altar Retablo intact, as you can see in the above . This experience moved me to write a rule for pilgrims, like myself, because as pilgrims, we live in a world not only of faith, but of facts: Do not be quick to assume that you are looking is what you believe you are seeing.
Christ on the Cross in the top
niche of the Retablo with San
Fernando in the middle box.
Yesterday I visited the 18th Century Church of San Fernando in Mexico City. I was admiring the beautiful main altar retablo or altarpiece, similar to those that Miguel Cabrera was making at the same time in Tepotzotlan, less than 25 miles away. The style is the same: churriguresco or late Baroque.
Maria. Mother of Jesus, and her
Immaculate Conception are the
Inspiration of all Franciscan
Later I read that the original retablo was damaged in 1858 during an earthquake, and then, a year later, after the seizure of Church property, under the laws of Juarez, desecrated and possibly even chopped up as wood. The retablo I was looking at was actually made in the mid 20th Century, as similar as possible to the original.
On the left hand side of the
Retablo of the main altar feature
from top to bottom, Saint Louis
King of France, Saint Francis of
Assisi in the middle and Saint
Anthony of Padua with the
InfantJesus on the bottom
When we visit a church from a certain period, we usually assume that everything we are looking at is original, or from the same period. Churches and convents are similar to living organisms,: they grow, they change, they become old, and at times, die.
On the lower right hand box of
the retablo we find Saint Joseph
carrying the Infant Jesus, and
Saint Dominic above them.
So fellow pilgrim, you have a choice to make. To be a purist or a realist, when it comes to beholding works of arte sacra from centuries past. The fact is, some of what you see is original, some is restored, some is rebuilt, and some are modern pieces of art, using the style and techniques of another time. In the latter case, I hear sometime the term "a fake" used. I think that this misses the whole point of visiting a church. A work of art is beautiful, it moves us, it inspires us, or it doesn't. The questions of authenticity are secondary.
The top box of the right side of
the Retablo of the main altar is
occupied by Saint Elizabeth of
Hungary, married at 14, widow
at ago 20 and an exemplary
Franciscan tertian, attending
to the sick
Coming back to the subject at hand, that is Fray Junipero and the Mission of Jalpan., the objective of the Franciscans and of the Spaniards in the Sierra Gorda when Fray Junipero arrived was to integrate the Panes more into the daily life of Missions, and to have them adopt European agricultural methods, living a life, to use the Franciscan expression, "under the bell".
Fray Junipero had three important allies in this enterprise of the Sierra Gorda: his two Franciscans friars from Mallorca, Francisco Palou and Juan Crespi, and the chief military officer of the zone, assigned to the Sierra Gorda, to extinguish the frequent Indian raids against Jalpan and the other nearby missions, Juan de Escandón.
Pulpit from which Fray Junipero Serra
undoubtedly gave many a sermon in the
Church of San Fernando
Fray Junipero was the Missionary that who went the furthest in achieving the goal of civilizing the Panes.
This pulpit is masterpiece of woodcarving
freaturing on the bottom of the panels, from
right to left, great figures of the Franciscan
Order, starting with the"columns of observation"
Blessed Albert of Sarzana, Saint
James of Marches, Saint Bernadino of Siena
and Saint John of Capistrano, with his chest
plate as soldier and defender of Belgrade.
At the base of the fifth column is the effigy
of Fray Pedro de Gant, the great founder
of la Escuela de los Naturales (or Natives)
in Mexico City, in the first years after the
Conquest. Pedro de Gant appears there
holding two children, one with a headdress.
The Panes, by their own design, like many other native American ethnic groups indigenous of Northern Mexico, who were all collectively considered "Chichimecas" according to the Aztecs, or to translate the term from Nahuatl, "those who nourish themselves with dog dong" or "dirty sons of dogs", never became a fully integrated people of New Spain. Few of them went to live in the Mission farms set up by the Franciscans.
Left side entrance to the Church of San
Fernando with the celosia for the members of
the cloister on the top level, and a series of
narrative paintings depicting the spiritual
genealogical tree of the Franciscan Order.
Statue of Fray Junipero Serra in
the vestibule of the church of
San Fernando, with the Church
in his left hand, and part of
cross (that has been broken off)
Precarious state of the spandrel
as well as other critical points the
vault, in urgent need of
maintenance, at the Church of
San Fernando, which suffered
even greater damage during the
June 18th, 1858 earthquake
Their diet for the most part was seasonal and more varied than the typical diet of beans, grains, beef and pork, popular with Europeans at that time.
Main dome of San Fernando with star symbol
of the Franciscans.
Mary, Queen of Heaven, above the Cross of
Christ on the side walls of the Church of San
- San Miguel de Concá,
- Santa Maria del Agua de Landa,
- San Francisco del Valle de Tilaco,
- Nuestra Señora de la Luz de Tancoyol, beside the jewel of the Sierra Gorda,
This magnificent collage of
canvas paintings give us a great
idea on the spiritual genetic tree
of the Franciscans, their saints
their martyrs and their
In all of these Missions, Serra reorganized the lands and the layout of the towns, and if we can give credit to Fray Francisco Palou's eye-witness accounts, as recorded in his letters, the apostolic work showed phenomenal results. The beautiful churches we see throughout the Sierra Gorda today, are mostly the same as Junipero Serra left them 250 years ago. Junipero preferred stone as the chief material of his churches in the Sierra Gorda, and not adobe brick.
This collage of canvases depicts
San Francisco with his Heavenly
and worldly entourage.
Fountains in the Plaza de San Fernando,As you can see, I have included no pictures of the Sierra Gorda or of the Mission. It is almost 30 years since I have gone there, and when I went, I didn't take a camera. But I hope to be able to return to Jalpan before the end of the year, or early next year. This time, I will bring a camera, and I will post the pictures I take.
once the front atrium of the Church, before
the Expropriation during the Juarez period.
once the front atrium of the Church, before
the Expropriation during the Juarez period.
Because of the beautiful tombs and monuments,
El Panteon de San Fernando has become a
"must go.to place" for la Fiesta de Los Muertos
on November 2nd, every year.
Many people living in Mexico City nowadays are
more familiar with the Panteon de San Fernando
(the cemetery) more than with the Church, as
many of Mexico's most important political
figures of the 19th century, including the wife of
President Benito Juarez (her tomb in this
picture) were buried here.
Then something very unsuspected happened. The Jesuits, who had created missions throughout Northern Mexico, were banished in 1767 from Spain and New Spain by King Carlos III. The crown decided that the Franciscans, Augustinians and Dominicans, as well as the secular clergy could take over their institutions and missions. At first, the Ferdinandos were Galvez in 1768 to take over the abandoned Missions of the Jesuits in Baja California, and both and Palou were assigned to them. Yet as time went on, they realized that Baja California was too scarcely populated to sustain feasible Missions. On March 28th, 1769, a 65 year old Franciscan, with a chronically handicapped leg, set out to walk overland to San Diego Bay, where he would be met with supplies by two vessels.
After the Expropriation of San
Fernando during the presidential
period of Benito Juarez, the Church
cemetery, used up until that period
for the burial of Franciscans and
their benefactors, was destined as a
memorial for the most important
heroes of Mexico. Here is the
tomb of Mexico's Independence
War Heroic General and later
President who abolished slavery
Estela is in one of several courtyards
in what once was the San Fernando
This bridge over the San Juan River in the town
of San Juan del Rio, in the State of Querétaro,
built in 1711 by Pedro de Arrieta, master
architect of the Cathedral of Mexico City and the
Basilica of Guadalupe was part only entrance
to the town at the time of Fray Junípero Serra