Wednesday, December 27, 2017

touring costalegre -- villa purificación

When my guests come to spend time at the beach, I drive them to the mountains.

Not out of perversity. Or not solely out of perversity. I am a big believer in variety. And the little mountain town of Villa Purificación provides a break from the modernity of the tourist villages here on the beach.

I cannot verify this, but I suspect there are no permanent structures in Barra de Navidad, Villa Obregon, San Patricio, or Melaque than are older than I am. My anthropologist friend says most of the pre-Conquest Indians passed through here in the winters and left before the summer set in. And, after building their ships in Barra de Navidad to send off to The Philippines, the Spanish soon left town. Our villages are relatively new.

Not so Villa Purificación. The 60 mile drive can be made in just over an hour from Barra de Navidad. But it is a different world.

The village does not rest on Mexico's central plain. However, it is half way there. After the first set of Sierra Madres, where it surrounded by fields of sugar cane and by a circle of mountains. Postcards were invented to 
memorialize such landscapes.

That is not what makes it different from the beach, though. Its history is rich. And long.

When the Spanish arrived, various Indian tribes had been living in the area for a centuries. That did not stop the Spanish from moving in and taking control of the land. In 1525.

Think about that date for a moment. Cortes landed in Mexico in 1519. The Spanish did not topple the Aztec empire until late 1520. Within 5 years, the Spanish had almost crossed the width of Mexico, conquering other tribes as they went.

In 1538, one of the true villains of the conquest, 
Nuño Beltran de Guzmán (we met him earlier on our trips to Pátzcuaro), sent an expedition to wrest a portion of the conquered land from their fellow conquerors. It is from that re-conquest that Captain Juan Fernández de Híjar founded Villa Purificación in 1533. Naming it for a basic Christian tenet. (The Calvinist village of La Predestinación is just a few miles down the same road.)

The result was a charming colonial town of about 5000 people that wears its history proudly.

Its claim to fame is the church. It was originally founded as a chapel, making it the oldest church structure in Jalisco state. I have been told it is the second oldest church in Mexico. The 1533 date makes that possible, but not very probable. Considering the other chapels Cortes established in the 1520s.

Usually, the church is open. But it was not on the day Robin and I visited. Instead of visiting inside, we toured the civic plaza that fronts city hall and other government buildings in true Spanish colonial style. Complete with the obligatory Porfirio Diaz-era gazebo.

But it is not the founders' plaza that intrigues me. One block over is a pocket-sized plaza next to the colonial jail house.

The plaza does not look like much. But it contains one of Villa Purificación's connections with Barra de Navidad's sole star turn on the history stage.

Most people know that the Spanish built ships in the lagoon of Barra de Navidad to find a path to and from The Philippines across the Pacific. The ships sailed on 21 November 1564 under the leadership of Miguel López de Legazpi.

But it never occurred to me to ask who were the sailors on those ships. I must have imagined that they were a Spanish crew. If that is what I thought, I was wrong.

The plaque in the plaza honors the village people who joined the expedition to The Philippines. Ancillary sources point out the villagers who "joined" were Indians and were press ganged into becoming crew members. Most of them died on the voyage.

Between 1926 and 1929, the village was very active in the Cristero War. Rising in rebellion against the anti-clerical laws of the Calles administration. A tourist can pick up an interesting book about the three years of war some believe to be the last armed conflict of the Revolution at Pemex (gas) stations along the highway in this part of Jalisco.

Compared to Barra de Navidad, Villa Purificación is a gold mine of history. On each visit, I have discovery some new tidbit that keeps me coming back for more.

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