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California became known to the world through Hernando Cortés, the conqueror of Mexico, who probably first applied the name. It is divided into Lower or Old California and Upper California. The first Missionaries were the Franciscans, who, under the leadership of Martin de la Coruna, one of the so-called "Twelve Apostles of Mexico," on the 3d of May, 1535, landed with Cortés at Santa Cruz Bay, near what is now La Paz on the lower eastern coast of the peninsula. After a year of extreme privations, due to the sterility of the soil, the undertaking, which had cost the famous conqueror $300,000, had to be abandoned. The Friars Minor made another effort to establish missions among the natives, when in 1596 Sebastian Vizcaino set out to found a colony in California. The missionaries were Diego de Perdomo, Bernardino de Zamudio, Antonio Tello, Nicolás de Arabia, and a lay brother, Cristóbal López. Hunger and hostility of the savages, who proved to be on the lowest plane of humanity, put an end to the venture before the close of the year.
In 1683, the Jesuit Fathers Eusebius Kuehn, better known as Kino, and Pedro Matias Goni, with Fray José Guijosa, of the Order of St. John of God, accompanying Admiral Isidro Otondo y Antillon, landed somewhat north of La Paz for the purpose of converting the natives and establishing a Spanish colony. After two years and six months as many as four hundred Indians attended the catechetical instructions. Owing to the precarious state of the enterprise, the missionaries administered baptism only to those neophytes who were found in danger of death. For want of supplies, and after an expenditure of $225,000 on the part of the Government, the Spaniards once more withdrew, in September 1685, despite the protests of the religious, and the sorrow of the catechumens.
Anxious to secure a foothold in the territory lest a foreign power take possession, but having learned from experience that the military could not succeed, the Spanish Government, through the viceroy, invited the Society of Jesus to establish to undertake the conquest and the settlement of the country. Urged by Fathers Kino and Salvatierra the Superiors of the Society at length accepted the charge. Thereupon, the Viceroy Moctezuma, on the 5th of February, 1697, formally authorized the Society of Jesus to establish missions in California on the condition that the royal treasury not be expected to pay any expenses incurred without order of the king, and that possession of the territory be taken in the name of the King of Spain. In turn the Jesuits were to enjoy the privilege of enlisting soldiers to act as guards for the missions at the expense of the Society, and at time of war these soldiers were to be considered on the same footing with those of the regular army. The Jesuits were to have absolute authority on the peninsula in temporal as well as spiritual affairs, and were empowered to choose men suitable for the administration of justice. Father Juan Maria Salvatierra was appointed superior of the California missions. He at once began to collect funds to place the undertaking on a firm basis. It would require ten thousand dollars, he thought, to furnish a revenue of five hundred dollars a year to maintain one priest at each mission. The Rev. Juan Caballero of Querétaro donated twenty thousand dollars for two missions, and the Confraternity of Our Lady of Sorrows in the city of Mexico supplied ten thousand dollars for the founding and maintaining of a third establishment. This was the beginning of the celebrated Pius Fund of California. Other benefactors in the course of time provided necessary capital for additional missions until the fund, which was judiciously invested in Mexican real estate, with its accumulations amount to half a million dollars by the year 1767. A Jesuit, the Rev. Juan de Ugarte, was appointed to manage the fund and act as procurator for the missionaries. After collecting minor donations and goods to the value of fifteen thousand dollars, and having enlisted five trustworthy guards under the command of Captain Luis Tortolero y Torres, Father Salvatierra crossed the Gulf of California and landed at San Dionisio Bay on the 19th of October, 1697.
The first and the principal mission of Lower California was established a league from the shore and placed under the patronage of Our Lady of Loreto. The necessary buildings were hastily constructed, and the zealous Jesuit assembled the neighbouring Indians. He first endeavored to learn their language, and meanwhile through signs tried to make them understand his object and the most necessary truths of religion. Father Francisco Maria Piccolo soon joined him, and assisted especially in teaching the little ones. Father Juan de Ugarte, who had resigned the procuratorship, followed in 1700. Next to Salvatierra this religious is the most noted of the early California missionaries. It was he who introduced agriculture and stock-raising at the second mission of San Francisco Xavier, for the purpose of making the missions self-supporting. He succeeded to some extent, but the barrenness of the soil, and the lack of water, except at two or three other establishments, prevented the system from becoming general on the peninsula. Indeed the scarcity of water and arable land brought the mission establishments to the verge of abandonment several times, even before the death of Salvatierra, which occurred at Guadalajara in 1717. It was also the energetic Ugarte who built the first large ship in California, of native timber, and made a voyage of exploration to the mouth of the Colorado River in 1712. Though the missionaries devoted themselves heart and soul to their task, the work of conversion proved truly disheartening, inasmuch as polygamy, sorcery, and the vilest habits prevailed among the lower Californians to a degree not known elsewhere. If we add to this the total indifference of the natives, who possessed no religious ideas whatever, the frequent epidemics and almost constant wars which destroyed the labours of years and caused the desertions of several missions, it becomes plain that only the most zealous and ascetic men could have succeeded as well as these missionaries did. Pagan hatred frequently attacked the isolated religious, and in October, 1734, brought about the violent death of two priests. These were Father Lorrenzo Carranzo of Mission Santiago, and Nicolás Tamaral of Mission San José del Cabo, of the southern part of the peninsula, both of whom were killed with arrows and clubs, after which the bodies were frightfully mutilated. Two other religious, warned in time, barely escaped with their lives. Notwithstanding all these drawbacks and obstacles, to which must be added the animosity of the pearl-fishers and their friends in Mexico, besides the want of every convenience of life, the Jesuits in time established a chain of mission which extended from Cape San Lucas to the thirty-first degree of latitude. These missions and the year of their establishment, beginning from south to north, were:
No statistics exist from which the success of the Jesuit missionary labours can be estimated, because no such minute reports were required by the Government as were demanded at subsequent periods. Some of the missionaries were rather enthusiastic in describing the reception given to the Gospel by the natives in their respective localities, but owing to the unfavorable conditions, according to the Jesuit, Father John Jacob Baegert who had toiled for seventeen years at one of the missions, the religious and moral impression was nowhere very deep or lasting. Like other Jesuit historians, he describes the Indians as indolent to the last degree, dull, cruel, treacherous, indifferent, and addicted to the lowest vices, from which it was exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to wean them, on account of the little control which the missionaries could exercise over the neophytes. Owing to the sterility of the soil and the lack of water for irrigation, it was impossible, except in a few places, to feed and clothe a large number of people at the missions and thus keep them under the watchful eye of the missionaries. After a course of instruction more or less long, during which period they were fed at the missionary establishments, the neophytes were permitted to return to their haunts in order to search for food in the mountains, as had been their custom from time immemorial. A chief and a catechist would, indeed, exercise some kind of supervision over the concerts and report grievous transgressions to the missionary; but the neophytes were necessarily left to themselves, save when the turn came for each particular village to repair for a week to the mission for examination in the catechism and for further instruction, during which week the Fathers had to maintain them. Nevertheless, the missionaries succeeded in opening the gates of heaven to many thousands of souls who, but for the unselfish efforts of the religious, would not have learned even of the existence of God.
During the sixty years that the Jesuits were permitted to labour among the natives of California, fifty-six members of the Society of Jesus came to the peninsula, of whom sixteen, two as martyrs, died at their posts. Fifteen priests and one lay brother survived the hardships, only to be subjected to enforcement of the brutal decree launched against the Society of Jesus by King Carlos III of Spain. The Jesuits of lower California were placed on board a ship in February, 1768, and brought to Mexico whence, with the Mexican religious, those who outlived the cruelties inflicted on the way thither were shipped to Europe. The missions meanwhile were left in charge of military officers called comisionados, who for a year mismanaged the temporalities regardless of the rights of the Indians.
Immediately after the decree of expulsion had been published at the capital in Mexico (July, 1767). Viceroy De Croiz requested the Franciscans of the Apostolic Missionary College of San Fernando in the city of Mexico to accept the missions of California. Their superiors acquiesced reluctantly, for they were not in a position to furnish the requisite number of missionaries. To be able to comply with the demand, five flourishing Indian missions in the Sierra Gorda were surrendered to the Archbishop of Mexico. Fifteen volunteer friars, led by the famous Junipero Serra, finally arrived at Loreto on Good Friday, the 1st of April, 1768, and were at once assigned to deserted missions. They were given charge of the spiritual affairs only, to the amazement of the Indians who had been accustomed to receive food, clothing, and presents as well as religious instruction from their spiritual guides. When, however, the inspector-general, Don José Galvez, arrived in July, 1768, with almost unlimited power to remedy the irregularities brought on by the sudden change, and discovered from personal observation how the comisionados had squandered the mission property, he at once turned it over to the Franciscans who, thereafter, could manage the missions as freely as the Jesuits had done. The friars continued the system of their predecessors and sought, though in vain at various places, to repair the damage wrought during the misrule of the secular officials. A year after their arrival another mission as founded to the north of Santa María at Velicatá under the patronage of San Fernando. The fathers were about to establish five additional missions in obedience to the orders of the viceroy, who had already named the patron saints, when the hostility of Governor Barri frustrated the plan. From a report, the only general one we have concerning Lower California during the mission period, which Father Francisco Palou, then superior, or presidente, of the missions, sent to Mexico, we learn that the Franciscans, from April, 1768, to September, 1771, baptized 1731 persons, nearly all Indians. During the same period they blessed 787 marriages and buried 2165 dead.
As early as 1768, the Dominican vicar-general, Father Juan Pedro de Iriarte, sought permission from the king to found missions in Lower California, and succeeded in obtaining a royal decree to that effect on the 8th of April, 1770; but the Franciscan College of San Fernando, deeming the territory too sparsely populated for two different missionary bands, offered to cede the whole peninsula to the Dominican Order. An agreement between Father Raphael Verger, the guardian of the college, and Father Juan Pedro de Iriarte, the vicar-general of the Dominicans, was accordingly drawn up on the 7th of April, 1772, and approved by the viceroy Bucareli on the twelfth of May, 1772. Nine Dominicans Fathers and one lay brother landed at Loreto on the 14th of October, 1772, but refused to accept control of the missions until their superior, Father Iriarte, should arrive. The latter some time after suffered shipwreck and was drowned in the Gulf of California. Father Vincente Mora was then appointed superior or presidente, whereupon Father Francisco Palou began the formal transfer at Loreto in May, 1773, and repeated the ceremony at each mission as he travelled north on his way to Upper California. Thirty-nine friars Minor had been active on the peninsula during the five years and five months of Franciscan rule. Four of them died, ten were transferred to Upper California, where Father Junipero Serra had begun to open a much larger field for his brethren, and the remainder returned to the mother-house.
During their long incumbency, which lasted to about the year 1840, the Dominicans established the following new missions between San Fernando de Velicatá and San Diego:
Don José de Galvez, the inspector-general, was sent to Lower California not merely for the purposes of correcting abuses; he had been directed to secure for the crown of Spain the whole northwest coast as far as it had been discovered and explored by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542, and by Sebastian Vizcaino in 1602-1603. The Russians had often visited that territory with a view, Spain believed, of taking possession, which would have endangered the lucrative Philippine trade. To prevent any foreign power from acquiring the country, which Spain claimed by right of discovery, the Spanish king resolved to found missions among the natives and to erect forts or presidios for their protection. Galvez consulted Father Junipero Serra, then superior of the peninsula missions, who enthusiastically agreed to the plan, as it gave to his insatiable desire for a wider sphere. Two ships, the San Carlos and the San Antonio, were equipped and weighted with provisions, agricultural implements, and church-goods. The San Carlos sailed for the port of San Diego from La Paz in January, 1769; the San Antonio departed from Cape San Lucas in February. The latter ship, having on board a Franciscan friar, reached the port on the 11th of April; the San Carlos, also bringing a friar, and with a crew suffering from scurvy, arrived on the 29th of April.
Meanwhile Galvez also sent out two land expeditions for the same port. The first under Captain Rivera arrived at San Diego on the 14th of May; the other, under Governor Portolá with Father Juniper Serra, came up 1 July, 1769. By order of the inspector-general, all the missions along the routes contributed church-goods, provisions, and livestock according to their means for the benefit of the new establishments in the north. San Diego had been discovered by Cabrillo and named San Miguel for the archangel; the appellation San Diego was given by Vizcaino, who also named a bay farther north Monterey. It was at this bay that the presidio or fort was to be located. Governor Portolá therefore set out by land to find it, but failed and instead discovered the present San Francisco Bay, 1 November, 1769. Meanwhile, Father Junipero founded, 16 July 1769, the first in the chain of missions which extended from San Diego to Sonoma, a distance of about six hundred miles.
A second expedition by land, and another by sea, at last reached the port of Monterey in May, 1770; thereafter it was the headquarters for the governor as well as the presidente of the missions. The conditions in Upper California were much more favourable to the system under which it was intended to convert and civilize the natives, and the latter were found less dull and brutish than those of the peninsula. The Indians about San Diego, however, stubbornly resisted the Gospel, even by force of arms, so that prior to April, 1779, a full year after the appearance of the first missionary, Father Serra and his companions, with all their kindness, persuasiveness and presents, did not succeed in gaining a single soul, a fact which makes the historian Bancroft exclaim: "In all the missionary annals of the northwest there is no other instance where paganism remained stubborn so long."
When a sufficient number of religious had arrived, Father Serra, in compliance with the rules of his apostolic college, which forbade a friar to live alone, placed two fathers at each mission. To these the governor assigned a guard of five or six soldiers under a corporal. The latter generally acted as steward of the mission temporalities subject to the missionaries. For the erection of the temporary church and other structures at each mission, and for the purchase of agricultural implements and church-goods, the Government, out of the revenues of the Pious Fund, paid to the procurator of the Franciscan college in Mexico the sum of one thousand dollars. Each missionary was allowed an annual stipend of four hundred dollars. The money was likewise paid to the procurator who would purchase the articles designated by the missionaries. Money was never sent to the missionaries in California. When a site had been selected for a mission, the temporary buildings were constructed. As soon as practical, permanent structures took their place, and were built of adobe or sunburnt brick, or in a few cases of stone, generally in the form of a square. The church was located usually in one corner, and adjoining this stood the quarters of the missionaries to which women or girls had no admittance. Then followed the rooms of the attendants and cooks, who were Indian youths selected from among the converts. The sides and rear of the mission square, enclosing a courtyard called the patio, contained the shops, storerooms, granary, stables, and apartments for the young women. This last-named part of the mission was called the monjério or nunnery, and the inmates went by the name of nuns, though of course they were not nuns in reality. The monjério was an important and necessary institution of the mission system and due to the carnal propensities of the Indians. According to this arrangement girls twelve years of age and more, and younger girls who had lost both parents, made their home at the mission in the charge of a trustworthy matron, where they lived pretty much like the girls at an orphanage or boarding school. During the day, when not occupied at work in their shops, they were permitted to visit their parents in the neophyte village, but at night they had to rest in the mission building under the eyes of the matron. Young men too, though not kept so strictly, had their quarters in another section of the mission buildings in the charge of the missionary. When a young man wished to marry he approached the missionary, who would direct him to make the selection, and if the girl consented the pair were married with solemn ceremonies at Mass after the banns had been published. A hut in the village was then assigned where they lived, subject to the regulations of the community.
Besides this, through extreme kindness, the natives were won by means of presents in the shape of food, clothing, and trinkets of which the Indians were very fond. The principal points of the Christian Faith were explained in the simplest manner possible, through interpreters, at first, and later on in their own and the Spanish languages by the missionary. Inasmuch as the Indians in every mission had a different language, and frequently several dialects were spoken among the neophytes of a single mission, it was an exceedingly burdensome task for the missionary to make himself understood by all in the native idiom. Nonetheless, some of the Fathers became expert linguists, and some of them composed vocabularies which are still extent. To insure regular attendance and to prevent backsliding the Indians were induced to leave their desert or mountain hovels and make their homes with the missionaries. For those that came separate huts were erected in more or less regular order. Once baptized, the neophytes were not permitted to leave the mission for the purpose of going back to their pagan homes for any length of time without permission of the missionary. The license would extend over two and three weeks for the men only. In the mission village under the shadow of the church, the neophyte families dwelt with their children, except for the marriageable girls who had to take up their quarters at the mission proper. Morning and evening prayers were said in common at the church, and all attended Mass after which there was breakfast, followed by a few hours of labour. The noonday meal was again taken together, whereupon in the hot season there would be a rest more or less followed by work until the Angelus, when supper was taken. The evening was devoted to all kinds of amusements consisting of music and play; the Spanish dance was general. Every mission had its band. Thus the inventory of 1835 enumerates the following musical instruments in use at Mission Santa Barbara which was typical of all:
Each great mission family was comprised of many hundred, sometimes two or three thousand natives, good, bad, and indifferent. Excesses were necessarily to be expected, especially in the neighbourhood of white people. To prevent disorders, the missionaries, with the approval of the viceregal government, drew up what may be called police regulations, for the transgressions of which various punishments were meted out, of a kind which would impress the dull and rude nature of the Indians. The missionary dictated the punishment which was ever tempered with mercy. When simple reproof availed nothing, the whip was applied. This was the only correction, besides fasting, which affected the lower class natives of the Pacific Coast. This manner of punishment had been introduced by the Jesuit founder of the Lower California missions, Father Juan María Salvatierra, about seventy years before, as the only means to make the rude creatures grasp the wickedness of a deed. The number of lashes to be administered was governed by law, and might never exceed twenty-five for one offense, nor more than once a day. The chastisement was not applied by the missionary, but by an Indian chief or other native official, nor was it so readily inflicted as malevolent and ignorant writers would have the world believe. The stories of cruelty prevalent among closet historians were either manufactured or exaggerated out of all resemblance to the truth by the enemies of the friars, because the latter stood between white cupidity and Indian helplessness. At times the culprit would be locked up, but that was a penalty he courted, as it relieved him from work, for which the Indian had an innate aversion. If the offense was of a serious nature, or a crime against the natural or the civil laws the delinquent had to be turned over to the military authorities. Inasmuch as the missionary considered himself, as regards the neophytes, in loco parentis, and was so recognized by Spanish law, he acted in that capacity. It was this fatherly treatment which gained for him the veneration of the converts which "approached adoration."
Throughout the mission period, the missionaries aimed at making their establishment self-supporting, with a view to independence of government assistance, and to wean the natives from insolence, so that they might adopt civilized ways and learn to maintain themselves by the fruit of their labour. The friars succeeded so well that from the year 1811, when all government aid ceased, as well for the missions as for the soldiers, on account of the revolutionary situation in Mexico, the California establishments maintained not only themselves, but also the whole military and civil government on the coast down to the end of 1834, when the Franciscans were deprived of control. From the beginning of a mission the Fathers insisted that all should work according to their capacity, either on the farm or at the workshops, during six or seven hours a day. The product was stored in the granaries or warerooms for the benefit of the community. It was their endeavour to raise or manufacture everything consumed or used by the Indians. For this reason much of the meagre allowance of the friars was invested in agricultural implements or mechanical tools, and it was for that reason, too, that the missions were located where there was sufficient arable land and enough water to irrigate the soil. In this way, notwithstanding the primitiveness of the implements of those days, and the frequent droughts, thousands of acres of land were brought under cultivation by the natives directed by the missionaries, who themselves, for the sake of example, never disdained to labour like the Indians. The official records show that in the twenty-one missions of Upper California from the year 1770 to the end of 1831, when the general reports cease, there were harvested in round numbers 2,200,000 bushels of wheat, 600,000 bushels of barley, 850,000 bushels of corn, 160,000 bushels of beans, and 100,000 bushels of peas and lentils, not to mention garden vegetables, grapes, olives, and various fruits, for which no reports were required. It must be remembered that before the arrival of the Franciscans, the natives raised absolutely nothing, but subsisted on whatever the earth provided spontaneously, e.g., acorns, seeds, berries in their season, fish near the coast, or, when there was nothing else, anything that crept above the surface of the land. All the grains now raised, and all the fruits, such as apples, oranges, peaches, pears, plums, prunes, lemons, grapes, pomegranates, olives, nuts, etc., were introduced by the missionaries. To irrigate the land, long ditches had often to be constructed, some of which were of solid masonry. The one which brought the water down to Mission San Diego was of stone and cement and ran along the river side over a distance of six miles, beginning at a dam made of brick and stone.
Much livestock was raised, not only for the purpose of obtaining meat, but also for wool, leather, and tallow, and for cultivating the land. Thus the missions in the height of their prosperity owned altogether:
It was Mexican independence of Spain that put an end to the prosperity of the missions and the happiness of their inmates. With the advent of Echeandia, the first governor under the Mexican flag, began the decay of those homes of peace for nearly thirty thousand neophytes. In 1835 secularization completed the ruin. According to the intent of the Spanish laws which always recognized the Indian's right to his land, secularization meant nothing more than the turning over of the spiritual affairs of the mission from the respective religious order to the bishop of the diocese, while the Indians retained control of the temporalities in severalty or as a whole. To this manner of secularization the friars made no objection. Secularization as practiced by the Mexicans and Californians was the turning over of the mission or Indian property to the control of hired commissioners appointed by the governor without regard to the wishes of the rightful owners, the Indians, placing the missionary on a level with the secular priest, and leaving it optional to the Indians whether they would practice their religion or not. This kind of secularization, which was disguised confiscation, encountered the fierce opposition of the Franciscans, because the friars insisted that the land and all it produced, along with the live stock and buildings, belonged to the Indians and must be held sacred to the rightful owners; that the neophytes were incapable of managing their property and therefore it should be left in charge of those who, with the aid of the natives, had accumulated its wealth without salary or compensation for the benefit of those same Indians, inasmuch as the hired officials were both incompetent and unworthy of the trust, because they were not looking to the welfare of the rightful owners, but only aimed at enriching themselves. As no court existed to which appeal could be made, the friars were powerless to secure the rights of their wards. The result was similar to that experienced in lower California. The Indians gradually disappeared; the mission property was squandered; the mission buildings given over to destruction; the missionaries one by one died amid the few faithful who shared the poverty of the beloved padre, and the land once cultivated by the neophytes passed into the hands of the avaricious.
Notwithstanding the many drawbacks, the opposition, and the scandalous example among the military and the white settlers, the missionaries met with extraordinary spiritual success. Down to the year 1845, when but few friars and Indians survived, the Fathers had baptized, according to the records, 99,000 persons, of whom possibly nine thousand were not Indians; they had blessed 28,000 marriages, of which possibly 1,000 were not Indians, and they had buried 74,000 dead, four thousand of whom were probably not Indians. The largest number of neophytes harboured, fed, clothed, and instructed at all the missions at one time was nearly thirty thousand.
One hundred and forty-six Friars Minor, all priests and mostly Spaniards by birth, laboured in California from 1769 to 1845. Sixty-seven died at their posts, two as martyrs, and the remainder retired to their mother-houses on account of illness, or the expiration of their ten years of service. The missions from south to north, with the date of founding, were:
For Lower California: Torquemada, Monarchia Indiana (Madrid, 1723), 3 vols; Díaz, Historia Verdadera (Madrid, 1632); Vetancurt, Crónica (Mexico, 1697); Mendieta, Historia Ec.ca Indiana (Mexico, 1870); Tello, Crónica (Guadalajara, 1891); Venegas, Noticia de la California (Madrid, 1757) 3 vols.; Clavijero, Historia de la California (Mexico, 1852); Baegert, Nachrichten (Mannheim, 1772); Alegre, Historia (Mexico, 1841), 3 vols; Palou, Noticias de la Nueva California (San Francisco, 1874), 4 vols.; Palou, Relación Histórica, Vida de la P. Serra (Mexico, 1787); California Archives (U.S. Land Office, San Francisco), 300 vols. In addition, for Upper California, cf. Santa Barbara Mission Archives, 2000 documents; Archives of the Archbishopric of San Francisco, 8 vols.; H.H. Bancroft, History of California (San Francisco, 1886), 7 vols.; Englehardt, The Missions and Missionaries of California (San Francisco, 1908).
APA citation. (1908). California Missions. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03177b.htm
MLA citation. "California Missions." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03177b.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Mary Thomas.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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