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Baja California Missions

In the Footsteps of the Padres

David Burckhalter and Mina Sedgwick

Publication Year: 2013

Bathed in desert light and shadow, rising up from the earth in improbable, faraway places, stand eight original Spanish missions on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. Built of stone by Roman Catholic priests and indigenous laborers in the eighteenth century, these stunning missions dominate the landscape around them. Baja California Missions: In the Footsteps of the Padres is a beautiful and informative book about the eight monumental Spanish colonial churches, buildings seldom seen by those familiar with the missions of California, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico. 

With gorgeous photographs of the architecture and religious art, and supported by a concise history that outlines the peninsula’s exploration and colonization by Roman Catholic priests, Baja California Missions excels as a book of photography and history. It promises adventure for readers at home, as well as for travelers ready to explore the churches in person. 

The eight Spanish colonial stone churches of Baja California endure as the only intact originals of 34 missions built by the padres during the peninsula’s colonization. Due to structural renovations and restorations of the artwork undertaken over the last 30 years, the renowned mission churches have become sources of pride to the citizens of Baja California. Travelers are invited to visit at any time, especially during patron saint day celebrations. 

As a guide, Baja California Missions is fully up to date, with directions for navigating Baja’s paved highways and desert and mountain roads. The mission sites are pinpointed on a topographic roadmap of the peninsula. A church floor plan is provided to accompany a walk-through tour for each church interior. The lovely eighteenth-century oil paintings and wooden statues that grace the church altars are also identified and described.

Published by: University of Arizona Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5

Contents, Dedication

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

In recent years there have been growing numbers of books whose subject matter is the churches and associated structures built in northern New Spain under the auspices of Jesuit, Franciscan, and Dominican religious orders. In addition to detailed surveys, such as that of Gloria Giffords, Sanctuaries of Earth, Stone and Light (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007), and another compiled...

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pp. xi-xiv

I’ve spent a good amount of time during the last four decades photographing and writing about Native Americans of Sonora, Mexico, especially the Seri Indians (Comcaac), who live in the desert by the Sea of Cortés (Gulf of California). When I camped on the beach near the Seri village of Desemboque in the early days, I...

Acknowledgments, Map

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pp. xv-xviii

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The Setting: Baja California Geography

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pp. 1-4

Fresh water has always been the critical element for survival on Baja California. Peninsular Native Americans needed to keep close to permanent waterholes during their search for food. When the Roman Catholic priests arrived, they too needed enduring springs by which to base their operations, to work the magic of creating mission oases. Even...

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pp. 5-10

They appear suddenly, coming into view seemingly out of nowhere, each one an extraordinary structure that dominates its surroundings. They are the eight surviving original Spanish colonial missions of Baja California. It’s a miracle these eighteenth-century churches exist at all: three of them are virtually lost in the desert, two...

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Hernán Cortés and the Discovery of Baja California

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pp. 11-14

After the conquest of Tenochtitlan and the destruction of the Aztec Empire in 1521, the same year of Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual conversion, Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés forged with his sword the new domain of Nueva España. Cortés began his rule in the name of the king of Spain, Charles I, also known as Charles V, ...

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Early Attempts to Colonize Baja California

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pp. 15-18

Cortés returned to Spain in 1541. He died a rich man six years later, bitter at being ignored by the Spanish Crown. Nueva España was now completely controlled by Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza. Mendoza ordered his own sea expedition, undertaken during 1542 and 1543. Led by the Portuguese navigator Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, ...

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Establishing the Baja California Missions

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pp. 19-27

Failure of the well-supported Atondo expedition made it difficult for the Jesuits to fund another effort to colonize Baja California. The persistent arguments of Padre Eusebio Kino and his new partner, Padre Juan María de Salvatierra, assisted by Jesuit benefactors in high places, gave the Jesuits another chance. The violence displayed...

Baja California Missions Time Line

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pp. 28-47

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The Intact Eighteenth-Century Churches of Baja California

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pp. 29-152

The mission church of Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó stands solid and tall in the heart of Loreto, Baja California Sur, a lovely coastal town on the Sea of Cortés located approximately at midpeninsula. The definitive establishment of Loreto mission, the first successful European settlement on Baja California...

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Looking Back at the Baja California Missions

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pp. 153-154

Eight stone churches from the eighteenth century stand as the only intact Spanish colonial monuments on Baja California. Three of the restored mission churches can be easily found off the Transpeninsular Highway in the comfortable tourist towns of San Ignacio, Mulegé, and Loreto, where...


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pp. 155-156

About the Authors, Further Reading

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pp. 157-160


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pp. 161-166

E-ISBN-13: 9780816599974
E-ISBN-10: 0816599971
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816521197
Print-ISBN-10: 0816521190

Page Count: 144
Illustrations: 101 color photos / 12 illust.
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 841912510
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Baja California Missions

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Subject Headings

  • Spanish mission buildings -- Mexico -- Baja California (Peninsula).
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