the size of nickels. I tried to find shelter under a tree, but the tree's canopy only broke the
large raindrops into smaller ones. Just as I could feel my Timberline water-repellent jacket
no longer repelled and panic was setting in, I spotted two headlights in the rain, hailed the
bus and rode in dry comfort to Xilítla. August mornings are grand in Mexico, but after-
noon showers can strike quickly with a ferocious, tropical downpour.
I checked into El Castillo, once the private home of Edward James, now a unique bed and
breakfast with swimming pool and art treasures. I sat in my room and reviewed the mis-
sions in my camera's LED display, read a brochure and organized my experience. I visited
the Cyber Café, which was open late.
I took out my notes typed: Sierra Missions, and sent myself the following email.
The bus route followed a corridor of five mission churches, each adorned and painted in
folk-churrigueresque Baroque style that glorified the Franciscan Order, incorporating sym-
bols of the knotted cord, stigmata, and the crossed arms of Christ and St. Francis. The
church façades were painted, polychromed, in radiant, brilliant colors, decorated with a
sculptured profusion of native plants and vines, with niches for saints and ornamented with
the doubled-headed eagle, both a Spanish-Hapsburg and indigenous symbol. Each façade
was a sermon in stone.
An open-aired atrium enclosed a wide plaza in front of each church where biblical story-
dramas accompanied by music and dance were often performed to educate and convert the
native population. Iron-forged crosses stood protected by roundabouts in the courtyards,
which offered bench seating, and the crosses themselves gave further evidence of the qual-
ity of workmanship provided by the indigenous people.
Concá was the smallest yet the most colorful. Its yellow tower stood out against the blue
sky. The Holy Trinity crowned the church and St. Michael, sword in hand, placed his foot
on the devil. St. Roque stood with his faithful dog. St. Francis and St. Anthony flanked the
Moorish-styled entrance. A rabbit, an indigenous symbol, pranced on the sidewall. Origin-
al colors, rust, ochre and china blue, had been restored.
A clock occupied the central niche where a statute of St. James once stood in the church at
Jalpan, which was also the administrative headquarters for the missions. St. Peter and St.
Paul guarded the arched entrance, and the patron saints of Spain and Mexico, the Virgin
of Pilar and the Virgin of Guadalupe, were placed above St. Dominic and St. Francis. The
double-headed eagle in the lower base looked more Aztec than Hapsburg.