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The Last Jesuit Mission in Baja : San Francisco Borja (Misión San Francisco Borja)

Mexico seeks to preserve the cultural heritage of Baja California: Misión San Francisco Borja

Reprinted with permission from

The Last Jesuit Mission in Baja : San Francisco Borja (Misión San Francisco Borja) (photo by Carla White)

The conquest and subsequent colonization of Mexico was a long process, violent at times. The great Mesoamerican cultures were subjugated by the sword while foreign bacteria destroyed the native population. In the Baja California peninsula, however, it was not the same story. The conquest was not an armed one but a spiritual one, and in the quest for a heaven on earth free of sin, the Missions were established. The missions were commended by the orders of the king and queen of Spain to evangelize and “civilize” the area almost in totality.

There are 38 mission establishments, founded by Jesuits, Franciscans and Dominicans that formed the Camino Real de la California from 1667 to 1823 spanning from San José del Cabo, Baja California Sur, to San Francisco, California.

The 21 missionary institutions that were established in the United States – from the San Diego de Alcalá mission to the San Francisco Solano de Sonoma one – are currently operating as tourist centers or museums and most keep a mass schedule. Yet, out of the 17 missions in Baja California only six are open to the public: El Rosario de Arriba, El Rosario de Abajo, Santo Domingo de la Frontera, San Vicente Ferrer, San Miguel Arcángel and San Fernando Velicatá; and only the Santa Gertrudis mission (1751) and the  San Francisco Borja  (1762) are still standing and still have their roof; the rest has been lost.

Misión San Francisco Borja, the last Jesuit mission of Baja California, was founded in 1762 thanks to the contribution of Doña María de Borja, duchess of Bejar and Gandía, in honor of her ancestry. The mission was established in Adac, a community located 102 km away from Santa Gertrudis, and it was initiated by Jesuits either in 1759 or 1760, a date that is still discussed.

The original building consisted of three adobe constructions of which now only ruins remain. The Franciscans added a porch of carved stone, later the Dominicans (1776) would start building in quarry and finish the project – the mission and the convent- in 1801, but they would abandon it 20 years later when the natives left the area.

Today, visitors can see the ruins of the first constructions in the patio behind the building.

The part that is still preserved is distributed in a rectangular setting; there are two roofed rooms with a dome on the right side of the premises, one of which is the sacristy; there are other rooms to the left side that take up to the front of the place. The distribution allows for all the rooms to have access to an indoors patio.

The preserved vestry of Misión San Francisco Borja

The façade is made of two parts, the main access is an arch flanked by small pillars that finishes in a cornice, in the center of it there’s a coat of arms in relief.

The second part has a picture in relief of a flower and a cross, above which is an arch held in place by pillars like the ones from the main access.

The art pieces the mission housed (17 oil paintings, including a few ones by Velázquez) were stolen despite the harshness of the road to the mission; even the original bells were stolen. To date, the only art the mission has is a statue of the patron saint in very bad conditions.

Recovering the Mission Route

Despite the damaged caused by vandalism and the passage of time, the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH in Spanish) is trying to recover the mission sites with the “Corredor Turístico Camino Real Misionero de la Baja California” project, which seeks to preserve the cultural and natural heritage of what was an important channel of communication during the missionary period.

The presbytry of Misión San Francisco Borja was restored with budget provided by this project, which also provided funding for the injection of lime and sand in two rooms and what once was the kitchen, all of which were in danger of falling down. Although the mission has structural damage in the walls and the vault, the building still amazes those brave enough to venture into the Baja desert.


Directions: Head south on the Transpeninsular road, between the Punta Prieta and Guerrero Negro towns is the mission’s access (pay attention to road signs). Take into account that you’ll be crossing a 40 km rough dirt track and it’s advisable that you take a four-wheel vehicle, water and food should you decide to camp in the area.

 Misión San Francisco Borja is not far from the beautiful Bahia de los Angeles.  Find out where to stay in that fascinating area! 

Original Text: Gabriela Vidauri, Binomio 1+4

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