Nuestra Señora del Pilar y Santiago de Cocóspera

Located on a high bluff overlooking the Río Babasac, an eastern tributary of the Magdalena River,

Cocóspera is perhaps the most imposing mission ruins in Sonora. In the 1980s the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), or the National Institute of Anthropology and History, had to put up scaffolding at the front of the building to prevent the Franciscan era-added brick façade from pulling away from the original Jesuit adobe wall and collapsing into a pile of rubble.

Fr. Kino probably visited the area sometime after 1687, while the first recorded mention of Cocóspera was made in 1689 by the Jesuit missionary Manuel González.  In that same year, or perhaps a year later, Fr. Juan del Castillejo became the resident priest.  It is located at the eastern edge of the Pimería Alta, which left it exposed to raids by Apaches, Sumas, and Jocomes.

By the early 1700s Cocóspera was a visita of the cabecera at Dolores. A new temple was dedicated in 1704, and the dedication ceremony was attended by the Yumas of the lower Colorado River who brought shells of blue abalone, a marine animal absent in the Gulf of California but present along the Pacific coast of California. Based on these gifts, Fr. Kino surmised that trade in such shells demonstrated that California was not an island but rather connected to the Pimería Alta by land.

Soon after Fr. Kino’s death Cocóspera set in decline.  For example, the Apaches burned the mission down in 1746, although it continued to take in O’odham refugees from Dolores and Remedios when those places were abandoned in the 1740s.  Cocóspera became a visita of Soamca in the 1750s.  The Franciscans sought refuge there when Apaches attacked the region in the 1770s; the last Franciscan missionary left in 1836 during the secularization movement initiated by the Mexican government.  Constant Apache attacks ensured a rapidly declining local population.

Upcoming SMRC Mission Tours

Retrace the steps of Father Kino and the missionaries who followed him. You’ll be guided by scholars and enthusiasts who know and love the region and volunteer their time to share it with others.