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Exploring the Pimería Alta

San Ignacio Cabórica, Sonora

As part of our series on the Kino missions of the Pimería Alta of northwestern Sonora, we look at the striking mission of San Ignacio Cabórica, or Cabúrica.

Located in the Magdalena River valley, San Ignacio was one of the earliest Sonora missions, founded by Padre Eusebio Kino in 1687 and named for Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order. The primitive pole-and-thatch mission was burned during the Pima revolt of 1697 but was soon rebuilt and enlarged as a head mission, or cabecera, under the energetic and long-lived Jesuit missionary Father Agustín de Campos. It was during his tenure that the present adobe fabric of the church was built and its basic format established. As a training and linguistic center for Jesuit missionaries coming to the Pimería Alta, it remained the focal mission for the region until the expulsion of the Order in 1767.

The Church

The Franciscans took over San Ignacio in 1768*. During the next decade, the church was renovated, with an exterior facelift of fired brick and the addition of a new barrel vault and dome.

The main entry is nevertheless quite striking, framed by sturdy, bulbous columns with prominent capitals set in a projecting cornice. Stylized foliar reliefs decorate the arch of the doorway and snowflake, or starburst, medallions are set above the cornice. A starburst design also rings the ojo de buey choir window overhead.

Still visible inside the church is the winding caracol stairway, housed within its own turret. Constructed of mesquite timber steps, it is one of the few original features.

Although San Ignacio lost its primacy during the decades of Franciscan rule, the mission remains one of the most spacious and imposing in the Pimería Alta.


The church is of special interest for its outstanding works of colonial art. These include the expressively carved wooden statues of St. Francis and the handsome figure of St. Joseph as a young man with flowing robes. Both of these images retain their finely worked estofado decoration.

There is also a venerable painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe, possibly dating to the late 1600s or early 1700s, whose fine draftsmanship is evident despite its current poor condition.


St. Francis


St. Joseph


The Virgin of Guadalupe


The mesquite stairway


  • Text and illustrations ©2005 by Richard D. Perry.
  • For more on northern Sonora and its missions, see The Pimería Alta: Missions and More, edited by Bernard Fontana and Mardith Schuetz-Miller (Southwest Mission Research Center, Arizona State Museum. Tucson, 1996)
  • See our related page on the murals of San Diego de Pitiquito, another intriguing Sonora mission.
  • The Southwest Mission Research Center offers spring and fall tours of the Pimería Alta missions, also known as the Kino Missions after the pioneering Jesuit missionary, Father Eusebio Kino.
  • * Following the expulsion of the Jesuit order from New Spain in 1767, Franciscan missionaries from the reformist Apostolic College of Santa Cruz de Querétaro, Mexico, took over most of the northern Jesuit missions, including those of the Pimería Alta.
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