During my last trip to Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto I visited the San Javier Mission. The complete name of this mission is Mission of San Francisco Javier Vigge Biaundo. This mission is easily one of the best preserved sites from the Jesuit missionaries in Baja California Sur since it is located in a city that preserves its ancient form (Loreto is a Magico Pueblo town) and is almost hidden in the Sierra de la Giganta mountains, making you feel as if time has truly stopped when you are up in this beautiful location.
Driving up to the mission takes about two hours from Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto. The road is a single lane with most of it being unpaved and winding through the mountains (which contributes to why this town is often overlooked by many visitors). The road you take up to the San Javier Mission is called “The Royal Road” and is a historic road that goes north that will eventually lead to all of the Spanish missions in the Baja area. On the drive up to San Javier you will see the beauty of Baja in a very isolated form as there isn’t anything around.
Upon arrival in the quiet town of San Javier, you will get a sense of peace as there are very few people walking through the small town with beautiful mountains and nature surrounding you. I was told that the town’s population is less than one hundred and fifty people. You will see one small family-owned restaurant, a few shops, local housing, ranches, and the center point of the town: the San Javier Mission.
When you arrive at the mission, you will immediately notice the granite stone used to construct this building that has been standing for centuries along with the glass windows. I learned that the chapel was constructed in 1699 but the current mission as it is today was built in 1744 by Father Juan de Ugarte. This mission was made from stone quarry taken from the local area and boasts a beautiful baroque appearance on top of its ability to withstand any weather.
Around the mission, you will see what used to be paths from dams and canals for irrigation along with fruit trees, vines and areas for communal farming. Everything in town is within close proximity so that all residents are living on what used to be the main source of water as well as collaborate together on all farming efforts. You will also see a giant olive tree that is over three hundred years of age. To the right side of this mission, there is a small graveyard with historical tombs where natives were buried in the early 1900’s.
Inside the mission you will see the chapel, prayer room and religious artifacts. What stood out to me was the detail and material of the architecture. In the main chapel, the back wall was constructed of gold with decorative carvings surrounding the statues. There are also three baroque carved wooden altar pieces that glorify the Jesuit priests. You definitely don’t see churches like this anymore.
Currently, this mission is still used by the local community for communions, weddings and recreational events. Speaking to a local, I learned that for a couple to get married in this church they need the approval from the priest as well as the local community. If anyone objects, the marriage cannot happen. Due to the town’s small size, it is very family-oriented community and all must approve and agree on common happenings such as marriages.
I highly recommend that you visit the San Javier Mission during your next vacation to Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto to learn more about the history of Baja, see one of the first missions, and transport yourself back into the 1700’s in this beautiful and almost isolated town.
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