Inside Bishop Reyes Cathedral

88… Inside Bishop Reyes’ Cathedral where time stands still…

Looking down the center aisle, Bishop Reyes Cathedral interior, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

There always seems to be someone, or group, inside the church.

Bishop Reyes’ Cathedral, the tallest structure in Álamos, Sonora, Mexico, takes up the entire southern side of the Plaza de las Armas. Its three tiered belfry towers above town and touches low passing clouds. Along with multiple daily services the church is also a religious classroom.

Jesuit missionaries founded missions in southern Sonora between 1613 and 1620. Early settlements grow around a mission protected by a fort. The early Jesuits brought Catholic teachings to the Indians as well as trade and farming skills.

From the balcony, Bishop Reyes Cathedral Interior, Alamos. Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

From up high the church looks taller and the echoes sound louder

Think of all the people who have walked on this floor and sat in these pews. Imagine hundreds of voices reverberating off these walls as they enter and leave the church and the wonderful choir filling the space with song during services. And there is always the church bells tolling time 24-7.

Here is a long history. Bachiller y Licenciado Pedro de Barecelon was an acting priest from May, 1685 to August, 1686. The first parish priest, Father Francisco Saenz de Carrissa, wrote the first recorded date in Álamos history in a “book which are entered the Baptisms, Burials and Marriages started by me on the 28th of August, 1686.”

Main altar, Bishop Reyes Cathedral interior, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

The Cathedral's high ceiling atmosphere creates its own sound and weather.

Grandeur on a human scale. No matter how and where one lives this is an extension of their house. It is their communal living room. It is a place that they can come and be with others or be by themselves. It is their place in their time for all of time.

Parish Priest Don Pedro Gabriel de Arago in 1735 reconstructed La Purisima Concepcion, on the same site as of the originalt small Alamos church made from adobe and cut rock with a beamed ceiling. A 1736 inventory by visiting Bishop Martin de Elizacochea Dorre Escheverria noted all the church’s religious objects were silver except for the gold shrine and chalices.

Pulpit, Bishop Reyes Cathedral interior, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Here one can come, rich or poor, and be part of something larger.

This is a place of words, music and prayer. As I was taking these photos I watched and listened to praying individuals scattered across the front pews. The intensity of their prayers spoke of their needs or losses. Before me was the human condition in the court of last appeals.

King Carlos III in 1781 ordered a new diocese for Sonora, Sinaloa and the Californias. Bishop Antonio de los Reyes was stationed in the then capital of Arispe in 1783. A few months later he moved to Álamos to avoid Indian raids. Bishop Reyes started to build around and expanding the old church. Services continued here, on the same site as the present cathedral.

The old church was torn down in 1794 when the new cathedral’s walls were ready for rafters and supporting columns. Don Juan Ross was, according to church records, the first contractor. He received a payment of $11,250 pesos in 1786. The cathedral was finished in 1803 under the supervision of Father Camilo Sanmartin. The silver and bronze altar rail was made in Oaxaca. A silver candelbra and lamps provided manmade illumination. This was a fine cathedral, simple but commanding on the outside and elegantly reassuring on the inside.

Sanctuary, Bishop Reyes Cathedral interior, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Life is not easy, on many levels, and sanctuaries like this ease the pain.

In the home of God, there is handcrafted furniture, art, sculptures, color, gleaming metals, proportion and design. Natural light streams in. In this home of God, Catholics gather and take on life together as a huddled mass. Outside, it has been forever changing as modern times evolve. Inside, it always strives to remain being a continuum of the past, above and beyond forces of change. Life is not easy for the church-goers and it is not easy for the church.

From 1855 to 1861 the War of Reform, church against state, raged on between church members Conservatives and reform minded Liberals. Benito Juarez had created laws that limited the church’s powers, privileges and holdings. Don Jesus Gandara led the Conservatives against General Ignacio Pesqueria’s Liberals supporting the new federal laws. During the war Álamos was won and controlled by both the Conservatives and Liberals. At times, Álamos citizens were engaged against each other.

In 1859 Apaches reached the Alamos district. Álamos Mayor Manuel Salazar came to a peace agreement with the Indians in December 1859. And then the French landed troops in Vera Cruz in December 1861. Conservatives and Liberals ended their War of Reform and came together to defend Mexico from foreign invaders. These were tumultuous times surrounding church and state and Bishop Reyes’ Cathedral stood its ground, as it does today.

Looking upward. Bishop Reyes Cathedral interior, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Through the years weather and armies have laid siege on this church.

It is true, it is not easy to maintain Bishop Reyes’ Cathedral. There are issues of scale, materials, gravity and weather. And warring man has shot at it, broken in and plundered over the years. The church is a symbol respected by many and held by others, through the years, in low regard.

General Angel Martinez on January 7, 1866 near Álamos defeated the Imperialists commanded by Colonel Jose Maria Tranquilino Almado. General Martinez ordered that the church stripped of any precious metal that could be melted. During the next twenty years days of peace were few and far, scattered between unending revolts, battles, wars and plundering.

And through it all, to this very day, winds and rains made life for the Cathedral a battle of man’s maintenance against nature’s forces. The original designers, builders and artisans would be proud that the Cathedral, their efforts, still stands.

Bishop Reyes Cathedral

Bishop Reyes’ Cathedral takes up the entire southern side of the Plaza de las Armas. Its three tiered belfry towers above town and touches low passing clouds. Along with multiple daily services the church is also a religious classroom. Religion speaks of yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows. It speaks of better days and better places. Religious followers are asked to endure and conceptually, eventually, benefit from their days of survival and struggle on this small planet.
Photos and editing by Anders Tomlinson. Music from “Camino Songs” by SonicAtomics.

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