History and Highlights
Misión San Ignacio is in San Ignacio. Misión San José is in San José. Misión San Vicente is in San Vicente.
So Misión Santa Rosalía is in Santa Rosalía, right?
The first lesson about Misión Santa Rosalía de Mulegé is critical in helping travelers avoid a 39-mile (63 km) mistake. It’s all in the ending: Misión Santa Rosalía de Mulegé is indeed in the charming coastal community of Mulegé, nearly an hour’s drive south of the equally delightful town of Santa Rosalía.
The second lesson is that it’s not to be missed. Misión Santa Rosalía de Mulegé is one of only three mission sites that stand more or less in tact and are within a stone’s throw of the Transpeninsular Highway, plus it pairs well with the quaint pueblo of Mulegé as an enjoyable mid-peninsula stop on your pan-Baja journey.
Lush Mulegé, situated on a fertile inlet 84 miles (135 km) north along the coast from Loreto, was a similarly attractive site for the establishment of the Jesuits’ fifth, and then-northernmost Baja mission. Father Juan Manuel de Basaldúa founded Misión Santa Rosalía de Mulegé in late 1705, after the Spanish inadvertently discovered the inlet the previous year.
It wasn’t until 1766 that work began on the mission church that visitors see today. Father Francisco Escalante initiated its construction but never saw it through to completion as, the following year, the Jesuits were expelled from Baja, precipitating the mission’s irreversible, decades-long decline. The transition from the Jesuits to the short-lived Franciscans, with the hapless military bridging the gap, was bungled so badly the mission could never fully recover afterward. By 1828, with the situation – and the mission edifices – deteriorating, the 123-year history of Misión Santa Rosalía de Mulegé came to an end as the mission was shuttered for good.
Happily for visitors (and residents), the mission church has weathered over two centuries’ worth of storms and today, with the aid of a series of renovations, benefits the community as both a parish church and community hall. Numerous travelers venture across the river and the Transpeninsular Highway from the town center to take in its history and architecture. The large stone structure, peeking out from the oasis of palm trees, is a marriage of dominance and simplicity, as it stands supreme over all other buildings in Mulegé while eschewing the ornate features of some of the older missions to the south.
Visitors should be sure to poke around not only the church’s stark, simple interior – best viewed when sunlight streams through the windows and enlivens the otherwise dark space – but also around the whole of its exterior, as contrasts in brick and rock installations delineate one restoration effort from the next, telling the building’s story without words.
Who founded it?
The Jesuits, led by Father Juan Manuel de Basaldúa.
What should I expect to see?
The church’s understated beauty has been enhanced through a series of renovations. The church grounds are open and worth a ramble, and the church’s interior – soothingly sparse compared with some of the more southerly missions – is in great shape.
When should I go?
The church does not keep regular hours for visits by the public. Your best bet is to try weekdays before 3pm. Saturday and Sunday openings are spotty and typically tied to the delivery of weekend Masses, so late Sunday mornings may also do the trick.
Where is it and how do I get there?
Set your GPS coordinates to N 26° 53.23’ W 111° 59.17’. Entering Mulegé from the south on the Transpeninsular Highway, the bridge over the Santa Rosalía River begins as the road sweeps to the right. Veer left instead onto the last dirt road before the bridge. From the north, simply follow the bridge over the Santa Rosalía River and take a very hard right as soon as the bridge ends. Follow the roadway that leads beneath the bridge back to the river’s edge, then turn left to follow the river upstream along its southern bank. The church is a little over a quarter-mile (400 m) west from the bottom of the bridge, and easily spotted from both approaches of the Transpeninsular. If you’re coming from town, head south on Calle Zaragoza as it crosses the river on the small bridge beneath the Transpeninsular bridge, then turn right immediately afterward to follow the road west to the church.
Why should I go?
Misión Santa Rosalía de Mulegé is one of the best-preserved mission churches in all of Baja and can be viewed without trekking across bumpy interior roads, as it’s steps from the Transpeninsular Highway.