Jesuit priest Juan Maria Salvatierra arrived in the town of Cerocahui in 1680 and began the long process of converting Tarahumara Indians of Mexico‘s Copper Canyon to Christianity. During the ten years he spent in Cerocahui, he began construction of a mission church, built of simple adobe.
Salvatierra eventually moved on to Baja California, but other Jesuits arrived to carry on the work, which in addition to religious proselytizing included animal husbandry and the production of wine from cuttings they had brought over from the Old World. It was the wine that eventually resulted in the Jesuits being ousted from “New Spain.” When in 1767 the King of Spain replaced the Jesuits with Franciscan missionaries and ordered the vineyards destroyed in order to protect Spanish wine producers, the mission was closed overnight.
It languished in an abandoned state until 1939, when Jesuit Padre Andres Lara arrived and began reconstruction of the mission. Lara replaced the crumbling adobe with pink quarried stone and topped the structure with a gold dome. Upon completion in 1955, rather that having a normal dedication ceremony, the church was consecrated, one of only two churches in the area that have ever been consecrated.
Today the Mission of San Francisco Javier of Cerocahui is the focal point for life in this tiny village of only 800 people, as well as being one of the most beautiful missions within Mexico’s Copper Canyon complex.