SOUTHWEST SPANISH MISSIONS BROUGHT THE “GOSPEL’S LIGHT TO THE RIM OF CHRISTENDOM”, HELPED THE NATIVES CARVE A LIVELIHOOD FROM THE LAND AND WRITTEN HISTORY BEGAN !
Why did the “White Dove of the Desert”, Tucson’s San Xavier Mission, survive when all it’s brother missions scattered across the South West mostly melted into the desert? Today’s Mission was built between 1783-1797 and is the oldest European structure in Arizona. Its hosts 200,000 visitors from all over the world each year, charging no admission, the Mission is widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States. That wasn’t always the case, San Xavier began life in New Spain, then it was gathered up by Mexico and when the lines were drawn for the Gadsen Purchase, it came to the United States and became a part of the Diocese of Santa Fe and soon major repairs began. It was spared the fate of the Tumacacori Mission whose roof collapsed when locals salvaged the timbers and instead it was adored and appreciated by the nearby Tucson community unlike the Missions of the Baja, beloved by their neighbors, but too poor to build up their missions overtaken by the weight of time. The Tucson Presidio contributed to San Xavier’s success by extending its protections to the remote village, and while the Apache razed San Xavier in 1770, the soldiers from the fort allowed repairs to be made then and work today continues to restore the ancient relic to its original state.
“Father Kino, made his first visit to the Tohono O’odham village of Wa:k (Bac) in 1692, the centuries old village was called the “place where the water appears” for the natural springs fueled by the nearby Santa Cruz River.
Kino began to build a church in 1700. It apparently never got beyond its foundations. According to The South West Mission Research Center on “The Pimeria Alta” in 1751 the Jesuit Father Visitor Jacobo Sedelmayr said of the Indian community, ‘It is still very backward without a catechist, without obedience, and without any church other than a ramada and a wretched house. It is clear to see that this village has been visited very little.’ San Xavier’s first church, other than a ramada, was a flat-roofed, hall-shaped adobe building begun after the arrival of Jesuit missionary Father Alonso Espinosa in 1756, it was in service by 1763. Espinosa failed to level the site and there were no stone in the foundations, so structural problems existed from the beginning. “The adobe church built by Father Espinosa was the one inherited by Father Francisco Garcés when he arrived at San Xavier in 1768 as its first Franciscan minister.”
Bishop Antonio de los Reyes on 6 July 1772 wrote a report on the condition of the missions in the Upper and Lower Pimeria Alta. This is his report on San Xavier as translated by Father Kieran McCarty:
The mission at Bac is located on a long, flat lowland. To the east lies a land, little known and occupied by the wandering and warlike Apache nation. To the west lie the settlements of an infinity of pagan Indians, meek and docile, who people the land all the way to the Gulf of California, a distance a little more than a hundred leagues. To the south at distances of eighteen and twenty leagues lie the two missions at Guevavi and Suamnca and the Presidios of Tubac and Terrenate. To the north lies the little-known land stretching some forty leagues to the Gila River. The village of San Xavier at Bac is situated on open ground with an abundance of water and good land where the Indians cultivate a few small fields of wheat, Indian corn, and other crops. The church is of medium capacity, adorned with two side chapels with paintings in gilded frames. In the sacristy are four chalices, two of which are unserviceable, a pyx, a censer, dish and cruets, a baptismal shell, all of silver, four sets of vestments of various colors, with other ornaments for the altar and divine services – all very poor. According to the census Book, which I have before me, there are forty-eight married couples, seven widowers, twelve widows, twenty-six orphans, the number of souls in all – two hundred seventy.
“Improvements in the architectural at San Xavier had to await the 1776 arrival of Father Juan Bautista Beldarrain, a Basque friar. Building San Xavier was expensive, but Father Juan Bautista Beldarrain, was able to borrow $7,000 pesos – the equivalent of more than twenty years of a missionary’s salary – from a businessman, Don Antonio Herreros. The friar’s only collateral was wheat from crops not yet planted – almost as if he expected Don Antonio to join his vows of poverty. He hired an architect, Ignacio Gaona, and a large workforce of O’odham to create the present church. The church is roofed with masonry vaults, making it unique among Spanish Colonial buildings within U. S. borders. Gaona, is credited with building another church in Caborca, Sonora. The good Padre was never able to repay the debt; he died at San Xavier in 1790, the church still was undecorated and incomplete. Father Juan Bautista Llorens, oversaw the finish in 1797.
“In the nineteenth century, when Southern Arizona was still part of New Spain, around 1783 Father Espinosa’s old church was torn down and its adobes, wooden columns, and ceiling beams were re-used to build a convento wing extending east from the east bell tower of the Franciscan structure. Today’s church itself has interior and exterior walls of fired bricks set in lime mortar with an interior core filled with stone rubble over which lime mortar was poured as the walls went up.”
Following Mexican independence in 1821, San Xavier became part of Mexico. The last resident Franciscan of the 19th Century departed in 1837. With the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, the Mission joined the United States.
In 1859 San Xavier became part of the Diocese of Santa Fe, which began the first repairs of the Mission. In 1866 Tucson became an diocese and regular services were held at the Mission once again. Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet opened a school at the Mission in 1872. Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity now teach at the school and reside in the convent. In 1913 the Franciscans return to Bac.
An earthquake in 1887 knocked down the mortuary wall and damaged parts of the church, extensive repairs began in 1905, under Bishop Henry Granjon. The next restoration followed the years after 1939 when a lightning strike hit the West Tower. In 1953 the church facade was restored. San Xavier became a National Historic Landmark in 1963. The Mission is nine miles south of downtown Tucson, just off of Interstate 19. Take exit 92 to San Xavier Road, follow the signs.
The Patronanto of San Xavier in 1978 arose from within the Tucson Community to promote the preservation of Mission San Xavier. The group led a comprehensive study of the church’s architectural condition and found water seeping into the west wall of the church’s sanctuary, forcing emergency repair. An international team of conservators cleaned, removed over-painting, and repaired the interior, painted and cleaned the sculptured art within San Xavier. More work remains to be done to guarantee this landmark for future generations.
A kissing cousin to San Xavier del Bac California’s Old Mission San Luis Rey de Francia was founded in 1798 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, the Mission was named after St. Louis IX, King of France, who lived during the 13th century. Due to its large size the mission was nicknamed “King of the Missions.” Its construction is similiar to San Xavier, more than any of the twenty-one missions, built between San Diego to the San Francisco Bay region. San Luis Rey may be the King of the California Missions but San Xavier was built first and towers over all the Spanish Mission now or historically, and today, is found on the City of Tucson Logo and Great Seal of Pima County.
Phillipp Segessor awoke to the understanding at age ten he was born to be a missionary on the edge of civilization in some far distant land. Within twenty years he would realize that dream, and for forty years his life in New Spain would bring many hardships far beyond the sweet promise of childhood daydreams. Segessor would bring many souls into the light and dispatch many more with the promise of salvation in eternity. Phillipp found himself far from the lush Switzerland slopes of his youth and in a land where there is only “the sky above and the ground below”. If one wishes more, he would have to either build it or grow it and then defend it.
Many letters were written between the missionary, his mother and brother who sponsored his spiritual service by shipping the needed seeds, and supplies required to kick-start a civilization just finding the wheel. Knifes, forks and spoons, plates, farm tools; hoes, books, writing paper and chocolate. Correspondence, record-keeping and journals became today’s history or the first written record which helps us understand the hardship these pilgrims endured, for their love of GOD.
The Catholic Jesuit Order built a mission based economy on the frontier by harvesting everything of value. Missions less fortunate were re-enforced by more prosperous missions who shipped the Baja missions grain and dried beef from the mainland. For the malnourished Indians of the Baja, the missionaries changed their lives. In Mexico and southern Arizona, the Pima Indians were less taken by God’s representatives in New Spain and ignored them as long as they did not annoy. After a few dust-ups over late night dances and singing, missionaries tried cracking down on “their villages” and found the natives ready to revolt and after some unfortunate deaths on both sides the Indians saw the wisdom in the word of their father’s god and moved back to the villages, to work the fields, milk the cows, tame the horses and bring in the harvests. Death was everywhere from disease and both sides wallowed in superstitions that only made the deaths worse, breeding more fear and misunderstanding. The Indians moved closer to the Church in hopes it would protect them from the disease killing their family and friends and not affecting the men in robe, could they save them ?
As for Father Segessor, when he was young, sleeping still under his mother’s roof-he was ready to conquer the world for Jesus Christ. The further he got from his homeland, his confidence eroded, until after years of being on the frontier where the Apache made each day a lottery. He became pretty realistic about the demands on his time and how much one man could possibly accomplish under such extreme conditions.
“For ten years the Seri and recently also the unbearable Apache, who have often come to my mission, raided it four times in three months, carrying off all the livestock. Nevertheless, they have reduced my mission and the neighboring indian to such a wretched state that I have even found myself forced to beg for a coat to cloth myself, and others do not have a shirt to cover themselves.”
“So that we can eat, it is necessary that my Indians, like the mountain hunters, procure wild cattle or oxen. No such misery has been experienced for as long as the mission have existed.”
“It is so dangerous to travel the paths and byways that no one is safe. All travelers are in great danger of falling into the hands of the enemy or dying from poisoned arrows and lances. I wish that the soldiers would humble my neighboring enemies, the Seri. “Last night”, he reported, “they finally carried off the few cattle, mules and horses that had previously escaped their thievish hands and have robbed me of all needed support, so I know not how I shall subsist in the future. Gold help us! On top of that, this year the crops have been very meager, so I do not know how we shall maintain ourselves.”
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.
Blessed be the Name of the Lord.
I hope he will not desert us. God’s will be done.”
Later still there was less of the “His Will be Done!”, and more of a complaining tone which noted how much was accomplished and how more was impossible until such time as more money was contributed from the Crown or the Lord provided! Still the Mission system grew and grew, prospered, greened over while providing the surrounding tribes with a crop to sustain them and establishing a barter network that allowed missions to swap stuff needed elsewhere and some comforts from the Old World made the New World better.
“The missionary in America makes his way by horse, writes Segessor, which can be ninety miles or more, while in Europe he goes on foot. The differences are in Europe he sleeps in a bed in a house at night, has a nice roast and some wine and can get some rest. In America he sleeps in the field and has to drink muddy water scooped from a pond, or has no water at all, as has happened to me more than once. The difference is that in Europe the priest can get together with his friends or other competent residents and take care of his duties in a calm manner. The American must deal with a very careless Indian and even must put his own hand to the plow if he wants to support himself and his Indians. The difference is that the European has ample income, while the American missionary Father has to live day after day in sworn poverty and pray by the light of a candle.”
New diseases from the Old World were everywhere, the plague took tens of thousands in Europe. But the chickenpox bedeviled Segessor and his missions, like San Xavier del Bac, Guevavi, Urias, his own health was up and down from the time he boarded a ship and sea-sickness wracked his system, still while he attended to his duties he had repeated bouts of malaria and at times, he gave death blessings for his fellow priests. Soon his letters spoke of a willingness to move closer to Jesus, a readiness for eternity if it pleased his Lord!
“I am in a state of distress in all things this year (1760), partly on account of enemy attacks, partly because we can’t work in the fields for fear of the enemy. Robbers attack the inhabitants and beat them horribly.
“Besides this, in the past year lightning hit my house and church three times causing great damage. I have not yet been able to repair the damaged house and church roof for a lack of nourishment, for everything in the field was lost.”
“During these dangerous uprisings when one is not safe on any road, or indeed even in his own house. My neighboring enemies, the Seri, burn and slaughter at will and kill the inhabitants. They cleverly appear first in one place, then in another, and there are too few Spanish soldiers partly because of the great expanse of the region and partly because of the great drought, the enemy has free reign to pursue his evil deeds.”
“I fear they will soon reduce my villages to ashes because they are roaming in the area and have killed or taken away all the horses, not to mention the great damage they have done to the herds of cattle.”
“I am not at all sure that they wouldn’t capture me, because I have to travel to the visitas (the outlying churches). “I am not even safe with my own Indians.” “Their fellow countrymen, the Upper Pima at San Xavier, killed two missionaries, a Spaniard and a priest in the Pima Rebellion of 1751 which took many lives, all between breakfast and dinner”, reported Father Segesser, writing from Horcasitas, April 11, 1761, rather his assigned Ures Mission which lay in ruin.
Segesser was at the Presidio of San Miguel de Horcasitas to execute the will of the new governor and friend who decided to visit and was greeted by a hail of poison arrows from Seri tribesmen. Juan Antonio de Mendoza, governor of Sonora and Sinaloa, died November 28th, 1760, he had had a promising future, but left no son.
Five years after Kino’s death, Padre Luis Velarde, wrote that he died as he lived, “very humble and poor”.
His bed was two calf skins as his mattress and a saddle as his pillow. Hot-headed when reprimanding sinners in public. He would pray a hundred times a day, and after supper he would enter the church and Father Velarde never saw him leave. He had no vices, he did not smoke, use snuff, drink, nor use a bed. He took his food without salt. He gave everything he had to the Indians. He was pious with everyone and cruel to himself, lacerating (flogging) his body. Father Vellarde stated that “to discover lands and convert souls were the virtues of Padre Kino”
Father Kino died in Magdalena, Sonora on March 15, 1711, his bones lie there still. He had traveled from his mission at Nuestra Senora de los Dolores to celebrate with Padre Agustin de Campos the Mass of Dedication for the new chapel to San Francisco Xavier, Kino’s patron saint. At the time of his death, Padre Kino had established 24 missions or vistas. Padre Kino established the California peninsula was not an island, a popular theory in his time. After their discoveries in the New World by Kino and other Jesuits, in their absence, little knowledge was gained for the next 150 years.
Kino followed ancient trading routes established by the natives, these trails were later expanded into roads. His many expeditions on horseback, covered over 50,000 square miles, during which he mapped an area 200 miles long and 250 miles wide. Kino was important in the economic growth of the southwest. He introduced the indian to European seed, fruits, herbs and grains. He also taught them to raise cattle, sheep and goats. Kino’s initial mission herd of twenty cattle imported to Pimería Alta grew during his period to 70,000. One historian called Kino Arizona’s first rancher. While traveling in the Pimería Alta, Father Kino interacted with 16 different tribes.
MacDougall’s Papagueria essay says ten or twelve centuries ago, the Tohono Oodham (Papago) Tribe was encountered by the Spanish in Coronado’s expedition in the mid-16th century. The area became known as Papagueria and was traveled in all directions by priests establishing missions.
Padre Kino, climbed the summit of Sierra Pinacate to view the Sea of Cortez, the peninsula of Baja California and the mouth of the Colorado River to determine whether Baja California was a peninsula or an island. Padre Kino believed it was a peninsula, though today, most folks feel he could not have seen that far. However, giving credit where it is due–when Kino’s caravan moved into a water spot to camp–it was dry when he left and that meant he could never return the way he came and constantly was looking for new water, a fearless approach to life. In the early days the ancient road from Sonora coming through Altar and Carboca led through the oasis of Sonoyta and across the desert to California, crossing the Colorado River in Yuma. It was traveled religiously by Spanish priests and the guards for the missions, it was the route followed by Father Kino in 1699, and became known as the “Camino Real”. During the Gold Rush, many inexperienced in desert travel, attempted the long arid stretches, it was the scene of many tragedies, as evidenced by the numerous crosses of stones spread out along the way. Particularly near Tinajas Altas, a series of holes high up on the granite, holding the only water in a three-day journey, this became known as the “Camino del Diablo” through the Tule Desert.
The University of Arizona conducted their Spring Archaeology Field School at the Guevavi Mission in 2013 and 2014, under the direction of Dr. Barnet Pavao-Zuckerman of the University, Homer Thiel of Desert Archaeology, Inc., and Jeremy Moss of the National Park Service.
Father Juan Domingo Arricivita, in 1792, writes “In 1768 Fray Juan Chrisostomo was assigned to the mission Los Santos Angles de Guevavi in Primeria Alta. Guevavi had three villages or visitas in its jurisdiction: Calabazas, two leagues away, Sonoitac, six and Tumacacori, seven leagues. It also had in its charge the Presidio of Tubac.
The Guevavi Mission site is owned today by the National Park Service, as part of the Tumacacori National Historical Park, and the City of Nogales, AZ. Today 21 students have participated in the field school’s mapping project that revealed features being damaged by traffic, erosion, and burrowing animals who were digging into a mission-era trash midden. The students found copper ore and slag at the top of the midden and believe it relates to Yaqui occupation of the site by miners in the 1810s. Deeper levels revealed mission-era Native American ceramics, Spanish olive jar fragments, Mexican majolica, Chinese porcelain, metal items, and large amounts of bone and plant remains, including maize cobs and peach pits. Aerial photos of a light-colored soil area revealed possible wall alignments, that proved to be trenches for animal pens, likely used to manage cattle and sheep herds. The students have on-going soil analyses in an attempt to find signs of animal manure, and chemical analyses of animal teeth, to find the origins of the cattle teeth found on site.
Their studies suggests the cattle was free-ranged. The bones were predominantly rabbit, deer and fish but found an active tallow rendering process to make candles for their light and axle grease to keep things moving. Trincheras pottery was found from Mexico, shell beads and one glass bead. A hand made cross was found at 3.5 inches dig depth, the Chinese porcelain was probably from Hong Kong which came from the Philippines, then Mexico by ship, then overland to Arizona, Spanish Olive jars, and peach pits from the oldest known specie of Peach tree, Tohono and Subaipuri ceramics. Barnet Pavao-Zuckerman notes this small and the less prosperous of frontier missions “had material coming into Arizona from all over the world”, noting China, the Sea of Cortez, Gulf of California, Spain/Mexico also Czech and Italian influences were found in this 1700 era mission.
The Letters of the Swiss Jesuit Missionary Philipp Segesser (1689–1762): An Eyewitness to Settlement of Eighteenth-Century Sonora (Pimería Alta)
Mission San Ignacio was founded by the Jesuit missionary Juan Bautista de Luyando in 1728 at today’s San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico./>[/caption] San Ignacio brags it has more date palms trees than residents, it is an oasis that is in contrast to the cactus and rock of the Baja. The palm covered oasis of San Ignacio is a welcome sight for all Baja travelers, the Jesuits planted the date palms and citrus orchards after 1728 when they built the mission. This site proved agriculturally productive, and was the base for Jesuit central peninsula expansion. In 1706 the surviving church was constructed by the Dominican missionary Juan Gómez and eventually abandoned by 1840.
A whale skeleton on Highway 1 marks the halfway point from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas, it also marks the turnoff into the small town which serves as the gateway to Laguna San Ignacio, one of the best whale watching areas in Baja. The peaceful natural lagoon opens up to the Pacific and lies 40 miles to the west of San Ignacio. This is the only lagoon that is still completely undeveloped and a seasonal stop for the California gray whales.
After the Spanish conquered the Mexican mainland early in the 16th century, they began searching westward for the fabled Island of Gold. In 1532, the conquistador Hernán Cortés sent two fleets of ships to look for the island. They failed to find it, so Cortés decided to lead the search himself. In 1535, he landed north of La Paz near the southern end of the Baja California peninsula where he found black pearls but no gold. Cortés and his men returned to the mainland, only to launch another expedition in 1539 under the leadership of Captain Francisco de Ulloa. This time the Spaniards sailed the full length of the Sea of Cortés, confirming that Baja was a peninsula. Ulloa was lost at sea the next year; Cortés returned to Spain in 1541 without fully exploring or colonizing Baja California. In 1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo ventured into the region, but it proved to be the last exploration for 50 years.
La Paz was frequently the site of conflicts between the Spanish and the local Guaycura and Pericú Indians. In 1555, Cortés led a large party that attempted but failed to establish a settlement. Isidro de Atondo y Antillón and Eusebio Francisco Kino attempted to establish a mission settlement in 1683 but failed because of conflicts with Indians. When Jesuit missions finally took root in Baja California after 1697, their focus went north to Loreto.
The Heart of La Paz is the city’s main square, the plaza is the heart of cultural and political life. La Paz’s main square, Velasco Garden, has been rebuilt and modernized since colonial days. On one side is the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Paz, was built in 1861 by Dominican priests on the site of the city’s original Jesuit mission, built in 1720. Inside, you’ll find paintings rescued from old missions. On the plaza’s north side you will see the former Palacio de Gobierno, now housing the Biblioteca de Historia Regional de las Californias (Library of Regional History of the Californias) and a Youth Center. A meeting point for locals and visitors, the Velasco Garden or Constitution Plaza is a place to relax. Its shaded from the sun by trees with a fountain in the center and makes a stage for a wide variety of activities-from dancing to book fairs or late evenings when folks congregate in the coffee shops, bars and night clubs. The Cathedral was established by the Jesuit missionaries Juan de Ugarte and Jaime Bravo in 1720. This church was the scene of the earliest Spanish activity in Baja California, and finally abandoned in 1748, when its Indian neophytes were relocated to Todos Santos.
Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Todos Santos (Our Lady of Pilar Church) was built in 1733 perched above the town of Todos Santos and has a spectacular view of the ocean. Much of the mission’s original architecture and many of the period furnishings have survived intact. Take the guided tour, which presents the mission’s history, for a fee. The church towers protectively over the square, but it is not the 1730’s original but an adobe reconstruction. This mission site was selected by Father Jaime Bravo in 1723. He built a “visita” town able to help support the mission of Nuestra Señora del Pilar in La Paz. He explored these lands and chose this place due to the number of “Pericúe” indians he found there, as well as, its climate and good soil conditions. Under Bravo’s direction, sowing of some crops began, their most important crops, were corn and sugar cane. As time went by, Todos Santos became one of the main providers for the La Paz mission. In 1733 the “visita” town became the mission Santa Rosa de Todos Santos and when the La Paz mission was closed, the mission of Santa Rosa de Todos Santos adopted it’s name Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Todos Santos.
Unlike the mainland settlements that were designed to be self-sustaining enterprises, the remote and harsh conditions on the BAJA peninsula made it all but impossible to build and maintain these missions without help from the mainland. Supply lines from across the Sea of Cortez including from the missions and ranches of Padre Eusebio Kino on the mainland to the Port of Guaymas played a crucial role in keeping the Baja California mission system intact. Along with religion, the Europeans brought diseases to indians who had no immunity. By 1767, epidemics of measles, plague, smallpox, typhus, and venereal diseases had decimated the indian population. From an initial population of 50,000 indians, only some 5,000 are thought to have survived. In Segessor’s letters he speaks of one priest who had spent a lifetime amongst the Pima and when he appeared to be getting soft on his Indians, they removed him, fearing he had become unstable and not more humane. This story reminds us in the wake of the Spanish wave across the New World that “they could be very cruel”…
Indians were housed often by gender, forced to convert to Catholicism and trained in the ways of the Spanish Empire within the confines of the mission. Indians often ran away or revolted, and many missions tettered on disaster. Use of firearms, whippings, religious ritual and psychological punishments were all methods employed by the missionaries to maintain control of their slaves. The cost of getting into Heaven, went sky-high, since there was little else for the Church to sell their flock.”From the wealthiest, whether it be for marriage or burial, the pastor demands as much as seems appropriate, even if it comes to two or three thousand whalers” writes Phillipe Segessor of his experience on the frontier. “The burial of an Indian servant or of his child costs 16 thalers, provided the large cross is not carried in the forefront of the procession. If it is carried, the cost is twenty-five thalers. Burial of a wealthy Spanish costs 30 thalers, with Mass and offices for the soul extra.” None of this money went to the Missionary father who provided all services for free in the belief that, “God would provide”.
During the sixty years that the Jesuits served the natives of California, 56 members of the Society of Jesus came to the Baja California peninsula, sixteen died at their posts, two were martyrs. Fifteen priests and one lay brother survived the hardships, only to feel the sting of the Jesuit removal decree launched against the Society by King Carlos III of Spain. Rumors that the Jesuit priests had amassed a fortune on the peninsula and were becoming very powerful, produced he order on February 3, 1768 when the King ordered the Jesuits forcibly expelled from the Americas and returned to the home. The Franciscans, under Fray Junípero Serra, took charge of the missions-closing or consolidating settlements.
When the expulsion order was issued from the King of Spain for the Jesuits to be rounded up and shipped to Europe, no resistance resulted. Instead the Jesuits from the fourteen operating missions said goodbye to the Indians who had worked for them and sadly left for Loreto. Following their forced march, many of their loyal friends reportedly followed their path and provided food and water to the priests throughout their ordeal. One priest later wrote “Not only did I weep then but throughout the journey, and even now as I write the tears stand in my eyes.” While few believed the Jesuits had amassed the fortunes believed to be hidden in the hills, it is true, on the mainland there were priests more tolerant of the natives and their ways than others. There beatings and hard labor was the measure of their devotion. On the Baja where life was strikingly harder, the Jesuit fathers changed the lives of many of their Indians neophytes and in return, they reportedly returned the love shown them. When they arrived in Loreto, the King’s order was read to them. Together they said a farewell prayer for their native friends and themselves; and in the dark of night they marched to the beach, to board the ship home. Still, the natives cried and kissed the hands that had worked so hard to lift them up from their hunger, as true friends, they begged the priests not to desert them. It is written even the governor shed tears, as the exiled missionaries stepped into the boat and together chanted the litany of Our Lady. Their voices rang out from the dark, reaching the weeping crowd on shore and the Jesuits sent their last farewell to Baja and their flock. Of the 678 Jesuits expelled from Mexico, seventy-five per cent were Mexican born. The royal decree said any Jesuit who returned to Spanish land under any pretext, was subject to the penalty of death. All the missionaries were sent to Vera Cruz, where they were held until their brothers from remote lands joined them there, so they all could be shipped together. There thirty-two of the Jesuits priests died while awaiting transit.
The only Franciscans mission in Baja was Missión San Fernando Rey de España de Velicatá and the nearby Visita de la Presentación was built in 1769. Thirty-nine Friars toiled on the peninsula during the five years and five months of Franciscan rule. Four died, ten transferred to Alta California, and the rest returned to Europe. Along with Governor Gaspar de Portolà, Father Serra was ordered by the Spanish government to travel north and establish a series of mission sites in Upper California. The Dominican order arrived in 1772, and by 1800, had established nine more missions in northern Baja, while running all the former Jesuit missions.
MULEGE BAJA SUR…CLICK HERE
Mission Santa Rosalía de Mulegé was a ranchería of Cochimí Indians, known as Mulegé, at the entrance of Bahía de Concepción, a part of the Gulf of California. A hurricane in 1717 reportedly devastated the fields that supported the settlement, finally construction of a stone church began in 1766, with a 300 Indian workforce. In 1733 the Dominicans began to rebuild, but their work force of less than 100 forced closure in 1828. The Mother Church of Baja’s Missions have been restored in what is now downtown Loreto, Baja Sur. Spanish Missions on the BAJA began on October 19, 1697, when Father Juan María de Salvatierra, with a small group of soldiers, disembarked from the ship “Santa Elvira” into the Bay of San Dionisio at 26° N latitude. In the first days after their arrival, the missionary erected a modest structure that served as a chapel, and they placed a wood cross on the front. On October 25 they carried the image of the Virgin of Our Lady of Loreto in a solemn procession, a ritual of faith that claimed this land as Spanish territory.
Thus began the Mission Loreto. Loreto served as the base for expansion of the Jesuit mission system, first in south-central Baja California and then to more remote portions of the peninsula both to the north and to the south. The mission’s stone church, which stands today, was started in 1740. After the Jesuits were expelled from Baja California and replaced, first by the Franciscans in 1768 and then by the Dominicans in 1773 Loreto continued to be the headquarters. In 1769, the Loreto Mission was the starting point for the land portion of the land/sea exploratory expedition the joint military-missionary expedition that traveled into today’s state of California as far north as San Francisco Bay, led by Juan Bautista de Anza who later established new Franciscan missions at Velicatá Baja, San Diego and Monterrey. The Mexican Captain established a land route to California which aided colonization and cut off Russian and English encroachments.
San Javier is a village in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. It is approximately 25 miles southwest of Loreto on an dirt mountain road. It has a population of 131 residents and contains the Misión San Francisco Xavier de Viggé-Biaundó (more commonly called Misión San Javier). In 2002 San Javier Mission was checkpoint #8 in the Baja 1000 off-road race. Located in a deep valley in the Sierra de La Giganta, Mision San Javier is one of the few original Baja California Missions in an almost perfect state of preservation.
Mission San Javier was the second mission founded by the Jesuits and dates from 1699. That Mission is considered the most beautiful and best preserved Mission of the Californias. San Javier was built with stone hauled from a quarry 16 miles away. Its interior has a golden altarpiece with five oil paintings, brought from Mexico City in thirty two boxes; two statues: one of San Francisco Javier and another one of Our Lady of Guadalupe; a crucifix, all from the 18th century. It has three bells, two of them are dated 1761 and the other one 1803. There is a monument at the end of the street that leads to the church, known as “the Cross of Calvary”, from there hundreds of pilgrims walk on their knees to visit the Church of San Francisco Javier.
Festivities of the Patron Saint Day are from December 1st-3rd; There will be horse races, cock fights, folklore dances, a few national artists will perform. On the way up the road, take a side trip to Las Parras Ranch, which has a 200-year-old chapel to visit. During the annual celebration that attracts hundreds of pilgrims to participate in the county fair/carnival atmosphere that overwhelms the hamlet every year. One women decided to build a hot-dog stand – her first such venture at the Festival, although she grew up there. She had her portable wood stove set up from which she was making and selling tortillas, and while she sold lots of hot-dogs, she was surprised that her tortilla stove attracted a crowd of fascinated on-lookers waiting to be customers. The town’s wants to establish a self-guided nature walk of the surrounding area, including the orchards that date back almost three centuries to the Jesuit founders of the original mission. Dedicated to All Saints on the 1st of November 1699, by Father Juan María de Salvatierra it was later destroyed by hostile Indians. In 1701, the task of rebuilding the mission was given to Father Juan de Ugarte, he introduced cattle breeding, big and small species, developed agriculture and taught the locals to thread and knit wool, not only for themselves, but also for the missionary project in general. It was not until 1744 when they started construction of the mission that stands today, because of the difficulty in obtaining masons who wanted to come to a remote land, the mission was not completed until 1759. Its strong waIls and foundations are built of limestone have withstood the ravages of time.
Mission San Borja was established in 1762 by the Jesuit Wenceslaus Linck at the Cochimí settlement of Adac, west of Bahía de los Ángeles. Before becoming a mission, the site of San Borja served as a visita for Missión Santa Gertrudis. The construction of buildings started in 1759 and a stone church was completed in 1801 during the Dominican period. The mission was abandoned in 1818, as the native population disappeared. Early on, the Mission was supplied from the mainland by boat which shipped grain by wagon a dozen miles from the gulf. This mission was financed by one women in Europe who supported the name of her favorite saint.
SAN BORJA, BAJA
It was the silver smelted from Mount Alamos that fueled the interest from the Spanish Crown to colonize the New World. Coronado camped here in 1540, but Alamos and Aduana really boomed when silver was discovered in 1680. Alamos then held sway over a vast region and was arguably the most historically important spot in Sonora, the ecologically richest spot where the Sonoran Desert met a dry tropical forest,
In 1955 the Aduana Mine just outside Alamos, Sonora was gearing up for a new decade of silver mining and work crews were assembled to tear down the 200 foot smoke stacks, tools in hand not a worker moved, instead the Indian work force, explained the stack was needed the Indian’s believe so “that thousands of ghosts could nightly leave their tombs in the depths of the mountain each night wandering as free spirits. Before dawn the ghosts return through the smokestack to passages networking throughout the mountain, without the stacks, the ghosts would be doomed to wander homeless forever without rest. The huge stack was protected from demolition by superstitions and stands still today as a symbol of the past rich silver age. Time and time again Alamos, Sonora has planted the seed of History, and has helped spread Civilization across the South West. This rich mining community nestled in a Tropical region of Northern Mexico has flown many flags including Mexico, Spain and France and its history has been turbulent, it was once almost a country itself.
In 1780 Álamos was at its peak of population and wealth. It was an era of mansions building and furnishings from the world’s finest items, Philippine galleons brought fabrics, rich silver and all the best of the Orient. The mines were exporting silver bars and the wealthy business community was importing the best Europe had to offer, during this time Father Baegert wrote, ” even at times of fasting, when they come to us in confession…such finery among the women as I scarcely ever saw in Mexico… With astonishment and pity I have seen many a woman dressed in velvet cloth of gold.”
Seven miles west of Alamos surrounded by 4,700′ mountains, Aduana has less than 300 people where once there was 5,000, there is a store, cemetery, a small restaurant-inn, a plaza and a church named Nuestra Senora de Balvanera. At the altar is a painting of the Virgin of Balvanera and in the shrine below is her statue. Legend says the statue was actually brought here from Spain where it was discovered hidden in a cave. The cactus growing from the church wall 12′ above the ground represents the cactus which a legend says from when a Mayo Indian saw a lady on top of a cactus. Thinking she needed help the Indians built a pile of rocks to climb up and reach her. Once there, they discovered she had vanished and in her place was a rich vein of silver.
La Aduana became one of Mexico’s richest silver mines, for four hundred years from 1737, the Aduana mine produced silver. In 1906, mining stopped and the isolated small mining communities fell into ruin, ghosts took the place of the residents and slowly the jungle began reclaiming it’s own. The pages of history speaks of a 1000 mule train that left the tax collection site in Alamos and labored for five months winding along the Kings highway, the Camino Real, to Mexico City. The cactus growing in the church wall represents the cactus the Virgin was seen on and late each November Aduana’s Fiesta of Nuestra Señora de La Balvanera the statue of the Virgin is taken from the Aduana church to the Alamos church in a Saturday procession. Before dawn on Sunday morning, the Alamos bells ring for the start of the quiet religious procession back to
Aduana. During the week, pilgrims walk, some on their knees, from all over Sonora to fulfill their vows to the Virgin. The weekend of the Fiesta, Aduana is jammed with thousands of people, bands playing, food and religious art vendors, take a bus to the junction and walk-in, traffic snarls quickly.
In 1775 on September 29th de Anza’s expedition leaves Alamos, it arrives in Tubac in 17 days. On October 23, de Anza departs Tubac with 300 people and more than a 1000 head of livestock. They have no wagons or carts, all supplies were loaded on pack mules every morning and unloaded each night. The expedition follows reports of a great river flowing into the bay, where they built a presidio, mission and a pueblo now known as the San Francisco. In March 1776 deAnza arrived in Monterrey, California, 1800 miles from where he started, on March 28th Mexican Captain Juan Bautista de Anza and Padre Pedro Font arrive at the tip of San Francisco, where deAnza planted a cross, claiming all lands for the King of Spain.
In February 1781 Ramoñ Laso de la Vega came to Álamos to recruit settlers for Los Angeles. He left with 11 settlers and 17 soldier families. Several of the soldiers had married in Álamos. Ramoñ Laso de la Vega was under the command of Fernando de Rivera y Moncado who was leading a group of 42 soldiers. Fernando de Rivera followed the de Anza trail north through Sonora to Arizona and then west towards Los Angeles. He was killed along with his men, before reaching the San Gabriel Mission. On September 4 Ramoñ Laso de la Vega arrives in Los Angeles. His party had gone from Álamos to Guaymas and then sailed to Loreto, Baja California. From there they marched up the Peninsula. The official record states that 11 families of settlers from Sinaloa and Sonora along with four soldiers and their families founded Los Angeles.
In the extreme southeast corner of California, far from the more famous chain of twenty-one coastal missions, were two forgotten missions. The short lived missions of the Colorado River, near present day Yuma, remain a sketchy record and exist only as one historical marker each. Purísima Concepción, established in October 1780 at Fort Yuma and Mission San Pedro Y San Pablo de Bicuñer, founded January 7, 1781, were really “Arizona” missions on the California side of the Colorado River and not part of the better known coastal California Mission system. One mission site, Mission La Purisima Conception de la Virgen Santisima, most likely was built here because of the commanding hill top location.
Both mission’s short history are closely intertwined.
Mission San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer was founded on January 7, 1781 by Father Francisco Garcés to protect the Anza Trail where it forded the Colorado River. The settlement, located about ten miles northeast of Yuma Crossing, was a part of the Arizona mission system. It could not adequately support it’s Indians, the Spanish colonists had seized the best lands and destroyed the Indians’ crops, and ignored their rights. In retaliation, the Quechan Indians attacked and destroyed the settlement and the neighboring Mission Puerto de Purísima Concepción during a three-day period, beginning on July 17, 1781. Some 50 Spaniards, including Father Garcés as well as three friars and Captain Fernando Rivera y Moncada were killed, and the women and children taken captive. The attack closed the crossing and crippled communications between Las Californias and New Spain-Mexico. Today, a historical marker is on Imperial County Road 524, 0.2 mi W of intersection of Levee and Mehring Roads, 4.4 mi NE of Bard, California, eight miles away, along the river.
Saint Thomas Yuma Indian Mission is a Catholic mission in Winterhaven, California. It was dedicated in 1923, and its design replicates the Mission Puerto de Purisima, which once stood on this site. Built on the grounds of the original mission founded by Father Garces in 1780, the mission is a reminder of the long history of the Quechan Indian Nation and Yuman People. The present Catholic Mission Church was built in 1922 and is a replica of the original Mission destroyed during the uprising in 1855. Mass Sat. 4:30 and Sun. 9:30 a.m. June-Sept
St.Thomas Indian Mission is at Fort Yuma, California, on the Colorado River’s west bank, opposite the present city of Yuma. Take Interstate 8 almost to the Arizona border. After the check station, turn off on Winterhaven. Fort Yuma (1849-1885) would become a U.S. military outpost and was revived as an active mission in 1919.
During his travels, Father Garcés became acquainted with Chief Palma, head of the Yuman Indians living along the Colorado River. Palma had embraced Christianity and visited Mexico. He asked Garcés to live with the natives and seemed interested in conversion. After some study the king ordered a mission be built. Father Garcés strongly recommended against too large a presence. The Yumans, unlike the California Indians who lived off the land, were agriculturalists likely to resent settlers, who appropriate Indian crop land. Unfortunately the commandant general, Carlos de Croix did not listen to Garcés, and he ordered that two missions be built, Purisima Concepcion at Fort Yuma and San Pedro y San Pablo at Bicuner. On August 1st, 1779, leaving Padre Diaz with a small escort of soldiers at Sonoyta, Padre Garcés started with two soldiers on his last expedition into what is now Arizona. He reached Yuma late in the month, and on September 3rd, sent the soldiers back to Diaz at Sonoyta, with the information that he was already having trouble on account of the dissensions among the Yumas. The soldiers reached Diaz, just when a Papago reported that some of his tribe had revolted and were planning to attack the soldiers.
Just as Garces had predicted, the natives resented the white presence and Garcés was given several warnings that the missions would be attacked. The Yumans finally did attack both missions on Tuesday, July 17, 1781. Garces was saying mass at Concepción to a few people, mostly women, when the attacks started. While the killings and looting was occurring, both priests heard confession and administered the sacrament to some of the dying. The same day the Indians attacked Padres Diaz and Moreno at Bicuner as they were preparing to say mass, and they, and most of the soldiers, were killed in the attack. Through the influence of Palma, Garcés and Father Barranche survived until the 19th when they were both beaten to death with clubs. The four priests were afterwards recovered and laid to rest in one coffin in the church at Tubutama.
The Baja resisted European colonization for more than a century after its discovery, the Spanish finally managed it using the missions we find in poor condition today or have disappeared completely, but tourists today still visit sites such as Misión San Vicente Ferrer, Misión El Descanso and Misión San Miguel Arcángel de la Frontera.
Missión San Vicente Ferrer was established on August 27, 1780 on the western edge of the basin of San Vicente, a permanent creek creating rich pasture lands allowed this mission to grow corn, wheat, beans and barley. The brothers, Miguel Hidalgo and Joaquin Valero also raised cattle, goats and sheep. Wild plants as mezcal, jojoba and various kinds of cactus were harvested. At its founding, St. Vincent Ferrer was the administrative center of the military missions, with the job of preventing attacks on the Indians coming down the stream of San Vicente and to protect the mountain missions they were erecting. Of all the Dominican missionary settlements, San Vicente Ferrer was the largest, with almost 1300 square kilometers, including the church, bedrooms, kitchen, dining and the presidio walls and towers. Today the ruins are ninety miles south of Ensenada by the federal highway about seven miles north of San Vicente.
Nowadays, indigenous Cocopah people still inhabit a small government-protected corner of the Colorado River delta near the junction of the Hardy and the Rio Colorado. The Cocopah Tribe is split into two groups, one of the U.S. side of the border and another poorer group living in Mexico who mostly work on fishing and agricultural ejidos. While working in the Colorado River Delta, I happened by the Cocapau village about the time the Bishop of Mexicali, the Monsenor José Isidro Guerrero Macías, was visiting the “Vista” which the Catholic church still serves and hosts mass for the locals, much like the missionaries of old, who visited the outlier villages and held mass for the locals. There was a large turnout and the church provided rosary beads for those attending, a few babies got kissed and blessed–the Bishop’s ring was kissed and the Monsenor then moved on down the road til the next time. The locals really enjoyed and appreciated the visit, it was well-attended and food was served following Monsenor Macias visit.
A Spanish mission was more than a religious institution. Its purpose was to take an indian population and convert it not only to Catholicism, but to the Spanish way of life. In building the missions in Texas, the Spanish wanted to create a self-sufficient population that would become loyal Spanish subjects, thereby staving off any involvement of foreign powers like France. Indian converts were taught farming, raising livestock, black-smithing, carpentry, stonework, and weaving. To sustain a mission, the padres needed strong backs, to cultivate crops and run enough live stock to support a mission. Indians were often forced into living at the missions, and beatings enforced the conversion to Catholicism. Forcing tribes into missions was enforced by Spanish soldiers, simple flogging was handled by the priest or assistants. Indians and missionaries at San Antonio de Valero found protection at the mission from Apaches from the west and Comanches from the north, the local tribes, were under constant attack. Mission life brought protection as well as a shelter with a stable food supply. It also gave Indians access to: firearms and horses. On June 30, 1745, an Apache attack on the town of San Fernando was driven back by 100 mission converts from Valero. You might remember another story of Americans holding off the Mexican Army in a Mission of the same name “San Antonio de Valero Mission”, or more fondly asthe Alamo, the cradle of Texas Liberty.
The Spanish Missions in New Mexico territory were a series of religious outposts established by Franciscan friars under charter from the Spanish Empire and the government of the Vice royalty of New Spain for Indian Reductions of the Native Americans—Indians into Christianity. The Spanish wanted to hispanicise the Indians, including the rich cultures of 21 distinct Pueblo people; the Tewa; the Navajo; and the Apache. The missions also tried to pacify resistance to the European invasion of the tribes’ pre-Columbian homelands. The missions introduced European livestock, fruits, vegetables, and small-scale industry into the Southwest region. Fray Marcos de Niza, was sent by Coronado, he first saw New Mexico in 1539, where the picturesque mission church of San José de la Laguna was built around 1706 by Fray Antonio Miranda and shows the single aisle floor plan commonly used in pueblo churches. It has been repaired many times, and acquired its distinctive white stucco exterior in 1977. The church contains a beautiful altar screen made between 1800 and 1808 by a folk artist. The interior walls are mud plastered and white washed, and the floor is packed earth. Marker is on Interstate 40 at milepost 113.5.
Three historic sites in the sparsely-populated grasslands of central New Mexico, southeast of Albuquerque, are protected as Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, a relatively little-known preserve with low annual visitation. Centerpiece of each are the ruins of 17th century Spanish Franciscan missions, dating from the earliest period of European colonization, when the settlers began to spread Christianity to the local Tompiro and Tewa Indians. The sites have ancient pueblos, mostly overgrown and unexcavated but one village is large and well preserved. Although all structures are ruins and have been abandoned for since 1677, the general remoteness and lack of subsequent settlement in this part of the state have left the remains in excellent condition.
The northernmost site, and the least visited, is Quarai, in the foothills of the Manzano Mountains – this contains a sizeable red brick church plus outbuildings and grassy mounds with pueblo foundations. Twelve miles south, the Abó ruins receive more visitors as they lie along a main road (US 60), but are similar to Quarai except the surroundings are more desert-like, less tree-covered, with long distance views across open plains to the mountains. The third and most extensive site is 20 miles further southeast, at Gran Quivira; this too is based around a mission complex, next to a multi-room pueblo village, both rather different in appearance to the reddish sandstone buildings further north, being instead made of white-grey limestone. The national monument headquarters is in the small town of Mountainair along US 60 though each site also has its own visitor center. No fee is charged for entry, and the ruins are open between 9 and 6 pm.
First contact with the Spanish happened in 1583 with the arrival of Don Antonio de Espejo who mentions a settlement that sounds like Gran Quivira. In 1598 with the expedition of Don Juan de Oñate who was the first Spaniard to colonize New Mexico. As part of the mission system, Gran Quivira was first placed under the Pecos Mission District, with the arrival of Fray Alonso de Benavides in 1626, Gran Quivira became a visita of Abo in 1629, then construction began on the first permanent mission at Gran Quivira. Soon a larger church, San Buenaventura, was begun. By 1672 a combination of disease, drought, famine, and Apache raids led to the abandonment of Gran Quivira.
The Acoma Pueblo had contact with Spanish explorers heading north, all generally recorded as peaceful interactions. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s Expedition, described the Pueblo in 1540 as “one of the strongest places we have seen.” Upon visiting the Pueblo the expedition “repented having gone up to the place.” The only access to the Acoma Pueblo during this time was a set of almost vertical stairs cut into the rock face. It is believed Coronado’s expedition was the first European contact with the Acoma.
By 1598, relationships with Spain had declined. In December, the Acoma heard that Juan de Oñate intended to colonize the area. The Acoma ambushed a group of Oñate’s men, killing 11 of them, including Oñate’s nephew. The Spanish took revenge on the Acoma, burning most of the village and killing more than 600 people and imprisoning approximately 500 others. Prisoners of war were forced into slavery and men over 25 years old had their right foot amputated. Wikipedia says that a row of houses on the north side of the mesa still retain marks from the fire started by a cannon during the Acoma War.
Many Acoma people resent Juan de Oñate being called New Mexico’s founder. In 1998, after an Oñate statue was erected as a tribute at the Onate Monument Center in Alcalde, someone cut off the bronze right foot of his statue with a chainsaw. Karma!
Pope Franciscanonized Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Spanish Franciscan priest who created the first Catholic missions in California in 1769 and is credited with ushering in Catholicism in a region that today has become one of the religion’s strongholds in the United States. Before a crowd of more than 20,000 people — nuns, cardinals, bishops, Catholic University of America students and lay people — gathered Wednesday afternoon at and around the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. as the pontiff celebrated a Mass to usher in the church’s newest saint. The controversial Franciscan missionary is the first saint canonized on American soil. The Huffington Post reports Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Spanish Franciscan priest who created the first Catholic missions in California in 1769 and is credited with ushering in Catholicism in a region that today has become one of the religion’s strongholds in the United States. Serra’s sainthood has been long in the making, beginning with a push in the 1830s. Pope John Paul II beatified the priest in 1988 and the canonization, the final step to sainthood, has been highly anticipated since the the pope himself announced it in January. For Serra, the pope fast-tracked the usual process for saints, which requires the Vatican to certify two miracles attributed to them. Serra has been only credited with one: a nun who prayed to him in 1960 said she was cured of lupus. Serra, who founded the first nine of what would became 21 famed Catholic missions in California as part the Spanish colonial-era conversion of Native Americans, has become one of the most controversial sainthoods in recent years because of the role activists and historians say Serra played in the death and torture of thousands of people.
The Native American view differs saying Junípero Serra actually created and brought genocide to the California Indian people, Corrina Gould, co-founder of Indian People Organizing for Change and an Ohlone tribal member, told The Huffington Post. “In less than 100 years, our way of life, our language, our foods — everything — was destroyed.”
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