Just ashore of the peaceful Sea of Cortez you will find a small subtropical town rich in both historical significance and outdoor activities for the hardiest of adventurers. This sultry paradise is called Loreto. Cobblestone streets lead to its central hub, the magnificent Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó, which has only recently been restored to its original grandeur.
Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó – formed in the shape of a Greek cross - was founded by Spanish Jesuit missionary Juan María Salvatierra in the year 1697, fourteen years after the original Spanish attempt to create a regional outpost in Baja California (at La Paz) had failed. The new Misión was the brainchild of dedicated Jesuit priest Eusebio Kino, who had been a co-leader of the ill-fated first settlement effort.
After Misión San Bruno failed it took a long time for Kino to convince his associates and the Spanish crown that the Jesuits should be allowed to return to the Baja peninsula and try again. Fourteen years passed, but finally permission was granted. This time however, responsibility for the venture was placed directly upon the settlers - who financed the new trip mainly out of their own pockets. Sadly for Kino, a rebellion of natives in Sonora required that he remain on the mainland. He was unable to accompany Salvatierra and the small band of soldiers who returned across the Sea of Cortez and reached Santa Elvira in the Bay of Dionisio on October 19, 1697.
Upon arrival, Salvatierra and his men immediately built a humble chapel and placed a wooden cross on its front. Six days later they performed a ritual of faith intended to claim the territory for New Spain and the Catholic Church, carrying the image of the Virgin of Our Lady of Loreto in a solemn ceremony. After this, they began to build the actual Misión. Salvatierra received support from the mainland thanks to the Misión procurador, Juan de Ugarte, and was also joined at Loreto by his assistant Francisco María Piccolo (a Jesuit missionary of Sicilian heritage).
Thanks in large part to the efforts of these men, Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó survived and gradually became a base for continued expansion throughout Baja California for the Jesuit missionaries. Known as “Cabeza y Madre de las Misiones de Baja y Alta California”, this Misión acted as the head and mother of all later Misións in Upper and Lower California. Even after the Jesuits were forcibly expelled from California, Loreto served as the religious and organizational center for all Franciscan and Dominican missionaries who followed.
The stone church of the Misión (which still stands today) was begun in the year 1740. It suffered major damage in an 1829 hurricane but has recently been refurbished.
Visitors to Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó may wish to attend Mass or visit the Misión museum which has done a nice job of showing a realistic view of the collapse of indigenous society in Baja while still honoring the many achievements of the Spanish settlers and missionaries.
Misión visitors may enjoy other enticing Loreto attractions during their stay, including fishing, diving, snorkeling, shopping, whale watching, mountain biking, horseback riding, and sea kayaking. Romantics will prize beautiful sunset strolls along the long malecón. Several reasonably priced restaurants can also be found within close walking distance of the Misión – and don’t miss a chance to sample some delicious street tacos at charming taco stands such as El Rey del Taco.
Wikipedia.Org, Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó, Author Unknown, Cited on March 15, 2007.