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Figure 1: Overlooking the valley to the church.
First, the roosters sing out in the chill desert dawn. Their calls reverberate along the burnt adobe and white plastered walls of the small barrio neighborhoods that twine the stony arroyos of Alamos. Next, the sun seeps over the Sierra Madre, filters across the valley and gilds the soaring tower and sheltering domes of the church.
Then, the throaty chimes of the bell resonate from the tower, just as they have since colonial times, calling the people to early morning mass, to work, to wake up, light the fire, warm some tortillas and beans for breakfast, dress the children and send them off down the cobblestone streets and the shortcut paths along the arroyos to school, sweep the steps in front of the house, saddle the horses, pick up the bus passengers going to work in Navojoa, open the shops, uncover the stalls in the market, water the flowers in the pots and the plants in the garden before the heat of the day arrives. When neighbors pass by, they greet each other, "A Díos" meaning "Go with God."
The oldest buildings in Alamos were built and rebuilt at different times. The original mission church in the 1600's would have been of adobe. La Parroquia de la Purísima Concepción was started in 1786 and completed in 1826. Its style is similar to San Xavier del Bac in Tucson. The massive church walls and buttresses, domes and the tower are a cobbled texture of stone, adobe and burnt adobe, plastered and unplastered. The back of the church is as interesting in this way as the front. Escape tunnels are rumored to run from the early homes around the plaza into the church. Its thick stone walls made it the place of refugee during raids by the Mayo Indians. The church also survived the civil and revolutionary wars that ripped Mexico apart for generations.
Figure 2: Stone and domes.
Figure 3: Church bell tower.
Alamos did not fare well in war. Either the town backed the losing side or the leading families backed different sides. As a result, the interior of the church was looted. It has neither the extensive gold leaf of the church in Taxco near Mexico City, nor the folk art painting and sculptures of San Xavier Del Bac in Tucson, but its strong walls still embrace the heart and the souls of the town.
Alamos has two plazas connected by the narrow, cobblestone passage known as "kissing lane". On Saturday night, the market plaza and Parque de Alameda near the riverbed has the action, but on Sunday after evening mass, the young people come to promenade in front of the church in the Plaza de las Armas with its original gazebo. Sonorans say that the most beautiful girls in Mexico come from Alamos. The rich silver mines mingled people from all over the world. In the faces of the families are the bloodlines of Europe and North Africa, the Mayo Indians and other tribes, the Chinese and many trading nations of the Pacific.
The church is full of ceremony during the year: baptisms, first communions, a girl's coming out on her fifteenth birthday. Here engagements are posted, and the bride and her pretty bridesmaids in their satin dresses shine brighter than silver on her wedding day.
In colonial days, Alamos was so rich that wedding gowns were imported from Europe. The daughter of a wealthy family is said to have walked on silver bars from her house to her wedding in the church. Many of the prominent families of Sonora and some from Arizona originally came from Alamos, so important visitors and family reunions bring the elegance of wealth back to this plaza for special occasions.
Figure 4: The Alamos bell tower from a garden patio.
During the year, families come in from the surrounding rancheros in pickups. The young vaqueros come prancing on horseback. Families bring their children to play while they stroll around visiting with friends. The older people sit on the benches at the edge of the plaza rose garden and chat. Sometimes there is a small traveling carnival or a local fair to celebrate holidays.
Every Sunday the señoras sell homemade cake, tostadas and atole around the church plaza. Early in the evening, before mass lets out, they may have homemade tamales. At the other end of the block is an excellent taco stand with picnic tables. A nice way to spend Sunday evening is to buy tacos, tostadas and a piece of cake, sit down on a bench facing the church and watch the families of the town pass by.
See also: the church in Aduana in Day trips and tours from Alamos, Books on adobe buildings for historical adobe buildings, the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Note: Although La Parroquia de la Purísima Concepción is sometimes referred to as a cathedral, it is not. A cathedral is the main church of a diocese, the church where the bishop of the diocese is located. In Mexico, each state is a diocese. The cathedral is usually in the capital city or another large city. Thanks to John Barreiro for this information.
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