Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 6, 2004
Romance and ruins abound
18th century mission church is dedicated to Mexico's patron saint, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe
Our Lady of Guadalupe — December, 12
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
A little pastel church in tiny Guerrero is steeped in history. It's one of the few buildings remaining from an 18th century mission complex on the northern frontier of Mexico's Coahuila State.
Virtually unrecognized until recently, the Spanish outpost was for many years an important gateway on EI Camino Real (the Royal Way) to the Texas frontier. A fort (Presidio de San Juan Bautista del Rio Grande) was established in 1703 to protect three adjacent Franciscan missions.
Mexico's patron saint
Rising above an ornamental bordered wall, the simple, early mission style church faces west on the town plaza. Well-kept grounds, painted walls and new decorative lamp posts show a concern for maintaining the historic site.
It is dedicated to Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint, whose image adorns the fa‡ade above the small door.
Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego on Tepeyac World and its peoples. To convince local bishop Zumarraga, the image of Our Lady appeared on the tilma or cloak of the peasant, who also gathered roses at the site in mid-winter.
Since then, large basilicas have been built on the hill of the apparitions and veneration of Mary under this appellation has spread worldwide. In 1945, Pope Pius XII declared Our Lady of Guadalupe "Empress of all the Americas."
New metal peaked roofs protect the old masonry nave and bell tower of the church but improved access to the border city of Piedras Negras has cause the church to be used irregularly. It's usually locked by a key that can be obtained at nearby City Hall.
Viewed from the tiny choir loft, the small, dark nave has the bow-like, flat-ceilinged style of period churches. Noteworthy is an inscribed viga (roof beam) bearing the date 1810. The church was built to serve the Fort Garrison military employees, their dependents and a few Spanish settlers. Caustic comments in 1778 by astute traveller/historian Fray Agustin Morfi on the poor state of the building spurred completion of the present church.
A semi-hazardous ascent of the exterior staircase of the church's bell tower is a must for visitors, where a large bell that commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Presidio can be examined. The panoramic view of manicured town plaza grounds is worth the climb.
Once the old parade square of the Presidio, they provided a staging area for military and missionary expeditions into remote east Texas and Louisiana.
It was Spain's main outpost on la frontera and the only connection to Mexico City far to the south.
In 1688, the ford on the Rio Grande here was known as EI Paso Francia, a reminder the French explorers were then encroaching on the Spanish frontier.
Romance bloomed here too, when in 1714 Canadian adventurer Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, wooed and won the daughter of his jailer, post commander Don Diego Ramon.
Much later, the forces of General Santa Ana paused here en route to the historic battle at the Alamo. Of the missions established at San Juan Bautista, only the stone walls of the unfinished church of San Bernardo are recognizable.
Another, Mission San Francisco Solano, was moved in 1718 to San Antonio to ultimately become the Alamo. Good paved Highway 2 from Piedras Negras and Eagle Pass, Texas, helps attract more visitors to tiny Guerrero as does new signage on some ruins and surviving portions of the old Camino Real.
A number of historic tours, organized in Eagle Pass have also publicized the potential of the area as a prime historic attraction.
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