Category: California Missions

History of the California Missions.

Mission San Luis Rey

Back in the 90’s, my wife and I made it our mission to visit missions. We set a goal to see all of the old Spanish missions in California. There are 21 in total, and so far we’ve managed to tour 16. We planned to visit four more in 2020, but then Covid hit and the missions were closed to tourists.

California is reluctantly returning to normal, and our coronaphobia has been slowly ebbing. All of the missions are once again open to the public, so next week we’re heading off to visit a trio of them. We hope to get there before the omicron variant sets off a new wave of paranoia.

Meanwhile, the very first mission we saw together, about 25 years ago, was Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, located in Oceanside, California. A few weeks ago we traveled to Oceanside and paid that mission a repeat visit.

Mission San Luis Rey. That’s my wife in the purple muumuu, trying to get away from me and my pesky camera. The sky was unbelievably clear and blue that morning, but by mid-afternoon a heavy fog rolled in from the Pacific. Which is typical weather for Oceanside.

Mission San Luis Rey was founded in 1798. Its location near the San Luis Rey River was meant to bridge the gap between Mission San Diego de Alcala and Mission San Juan Capistrano. The idea of the old Spanish planners was to space the missions out so that they were all within a day’s walk from each other. Thus, if you were to travel by foot from the furthest south mission in San Diego, to the furthest north mission in Sonoma, you’d always have a safe shelter to lay your head at night.

Mission San Luis Rey de Francia was named after King Louis IX of France, who reigned from 1226 to 1270, and who was the only French king to be canonized as a saint. Why saints were shot out of a cannon, I’ll never figure out. Must have been one of those weird medieval practices.

King Louis IX, brandishing an ancient sex toy. No wonder he was canonized.

The first head of Mission San Luis Rey was Father Antonio Peyri, and he knew what the hell he was doing. This man of the cloth missed his calling. He should have been a businessman. Under Peyri’s leadership, San Luis Rey became the largest, most prosperous, and most populated of all the California missions.

It arrogated a million acres of surrounding land, it enslaved 2,700 Luiseno Indians, and it developed gigantic herds of livestock, including 50,000 cattle and sheep, 1,300 goats, 300 pigs, and 2,000 horses. At its peak in 1831, it produced 395,000 bushels of grain, and drowned California in 2,500 barrels of wine.

Inside the mission church, where mass is still held on a regular basis.

Father Peyri also planted the very first pepper tree in California. The seed for this tree was brought from Peru as a gift, by a sailor. This tree grew high, wide, and strong, and propagated. It’s the ancestor of all the California pepper trees found throughout the state. And this original tree, planted by Father Peyri, is still living, providing a broad swath of shade on the mission grounds, even today.

Father Peyri’s Pepper Tree.

In the 1830s, the new country of Mexico decided to secularize the Spanish missions. Father Peyri despaired over this and returned to Spain, where he died a few years later. Under secularization, mission lands were supposed to be distributed to the Indians, but that didn’t last long. And at Mission San Luis Rey, as well as the other missions, the Indians were soon run off, with their lands taken over by powerful Mexican politicians and ranchers.

In 1846, the Mexican governor of California, Pio Pico, and his brother Andres Pico, took over most of the vast acreage surrounding the mission. But shortly after that, California was conquered by the United States during the Mexican-American War, and the mission was abandoned, neglected, and fell into ruins.

The mission cemetery. Many of the graves date back to the 1800s.

In fact, this was happening to all the missions, and it seemed they would crumble into the pages of history, and only be remembered in whimsical paragraphs penned by nostalgic historians. But then, on March 18, 1865, exactly four weeks before he died, President Abraham Lincoln signed an executive order that returned the California missions to the Catholic Church.

The original executive order, signed by Lincoln, is on display at Mission San Luis Rey.

This order was mainly for the buildings. Most of the land that surrounded the missions was never returned. Still, it was a necessary step toward preserving these ancient, historic structures.

It took awhile, but in 1892 a group of Franciscan friars arrived from Mexico and began restoring the ruins of Mission San Luis Rey. And today most of the mission has been refurbished to its original grandeur, although there are a few restoration projects still in the works.

The Franciscan Order does not have monks. Rather, they are called “friars.” This is a group of friars exiting the mission about a hundred years ago, probably after cooking a hearty chicken lunch. The camera I had back then could only take black-and-white photos, so please pardon the lack of color.

You can attend mass at Mission San Luis Rey, as it is a working parish of the Catholic Church. We enjoyed our time there, and the peaceful, numinous atmosphere that we encountered as we strolled the grounds. It’s a beautiful place to visit.

Carriage Arch. This is one of the last remnants of the mission’s original quadrangle. Father Peyri’s pepper tree is at the middle-right, in the Retreat Gardens.

The Mission to End All Missions

Mission San Francisco Solano (aka Mission Sonoma, aka Mission Solano)

Mission San Francisco Solano has one damned confusing name. Don’t confuse it with Mission San Francisco de Asis. The latter is in the city of San Francisco, and is more commonly known as Mission Dolores. But you know that, because I posted about it a few weeks ago. Remember? Probably not. I hardly remember, myself.

The former is in Sonoma, California. So you can also call it Mission Sonoma. And many call it Mission Solano. Are you getting as mixed up as me?

It seems the Catholics were good at building missions, but confusing as hell at naming them.

Solano is the Spanish word for Sonoma. And Sonoma is a Native American Miwok word that means, “Valley of the Moon”. Miwok legend has it that the moon rose from Sonoma valley. But I suspect those Miwoks just sampled a little too much Pinot Noir one evening.

Sonoma, California is a quiet, wine country town, with a current population of about 11,000 winos. Well it’s quiet now, but at one time it was the place to go if you were looking for trouble. That’s because it was once the site of Catholic in-fighting. And the Mexicans and Russians rattled their sabres here. And not to be left out, the Native Americans got in on the action, and raised some holy hell in these parts. And most famously, this is the site of the Bear Flag Revolt.

This prickly pear cactus outside the mission might symbolize the prickly situations often encountered during the early days of Sonoma. Or perhaps it symbolizes the prick who founded the mission.

Finally the citizens had enough of all the tumult going on in their town. They turned their troubled waters into wine, and mellowed out. Hic. The world-renowned California wine industry was born in Sonoma in 1857, with the establishment of the state’s first commercial winery. Hic. And California has continued to grow mellower and mellower ever since. Hic.

But that’s boring. Let’s go back to this town’s exciting and controversial beginning.

Mission Sonoma was the mission to end all missions. It was the last to be established, of California’s 21 centers for brainwashing Native Americans. And it’s the only mission to be established under Mexican rule. It came to be on July 4th, 1823, our Independence Day holiday, and nearly two years after Mexico achieved its own independence from Spain.

This bell in front of the mission is rang annoyingly and incessantly during the Christmas season, by someone from the Salvation Army.

It was kind of a red-headed stepchild. The Catholic Church didn’t want this mission. But Father Jose Altamira did. The rule was that if you wanted to establish a new mission, you must ask permission from the Padre-Presidente. At the time, this was Father Sarria, the founder of nearby Mission San Rafael Arcangel (which I posted about, a week ago).

But Father Altamira must have guessed that Father Sarria would say no. So he said to hell with him, broke this rule, and instead asked permission from Luis Antonio Arguello. Who? Why, he was California’s first governor, under Mexican rule.

And the governor liked the idea. He wanted to close Mission San Francisco de Asis and Mission San Rafael Arcangel, and have a new mission further north for countering the Russians at Fort Ross.

Yep, the Russians.

Fort Ross had been established by the Ruskies in 1812, on Bodega Bay, just 50 miles north of San Francisco Bay. Those greedy bastards were trying to take over California.

The governor hated communists, or whatever they were at the time, and so gave his permission. And soon construction began.

But when Father Sarria found out about this, his face turned florid, his eyes bulged out, and he nearly leapt out of his frock. He ordered an immediate halt to the construction. A big argument broke out. And it was a tough argument to win for the enraged Father, because he was going up against the governor himself. But it wasn’t easy for the governor either, as he was going up against a highly respected leader of the Catholic Church.

Finally a compromise was reached. The new mission would go forward, which pleased the governor. And all other missions would remain open, including the missions in San Francisco and San Rafael. And that pleased Father Sarria.

But the Catholic establishment never got over it. They were still fuckin’ pissed. Bad feelings lingered, and the other missions did not give this new mission much support.

The interior of the mission church is the most simple and basic we’ve seen. By the way, the children at the front of the church are not missionary Indians. They were on a field trip from a nearby school. Poor kids. Imagine the disappointment of getting out of school, only to have to go to church.

Mission Sonoma was established about 46 miles southeast from Fort Ross. And it was effective for the governor’s purpose, because after all, Californians these days do not speak Russian. On the other hand, we have been accused of being communists, so I’m really not sure if the governor succeeded.

It was far enough from San Francisco Bay that the climate was warm and sunny. And it was quickly discovered that vineyards did well at this mission. And Father Altimira had no problem attracting Native Americans to help out. Like typical Californians, they knew how to appreciate a mild climate.

But what they didn’t appreciate was Father Altimira himself, who was not so mild. He exacted cruel punishments, and treated the natives harshly. He was a real prick. Conditions got so bad that in 1826, the natives grew restless and revolted. They looted and burned the buildings and supplies, and sent Father Altimira running for his life.

Now this outcast needed a new place to work. But he’d already burned all his bridges with the church, so none of the other missions would take him in. And so the cruel son-of-a-bitch had to return to Spain, never to bother Native Americans, or his fellow missionaries, again.

Father Buenaventura Fortuni, from Mission San Jose, took over the helm. He was a kind and loving man, and was able to regain the confidence of the natives. They soon rebuilt the mission and made it a prosperous success. At its peak, it encompassed 10,000 acres of vineyards, other crops, sheep, and cattle.

The altar at the front of the church contains a pornographic image of a partially disrobed man. I wonder if he’s a priest?

In 1834, all of the California missions were secularized. The stated goal of secularization was to distribute the mission lands to the Native Americans who had worked so hard to make them successful. Yeah, right. That goal was good for PR, but in practice most of the missions were confiscated by rich and powerful Mexicans, and the natives were left to fend for themselves.

Some of that happened at Mission Sonoma. In 1834, General Mariano Vallejo took the lands of this mission for himself, and made them part of his huge rancho. It was a raunchy thing to do, but at least he promised the natives protection, provided room and board, and put them to work on his raunchy rancho.

The general built an imposing home very close to the mission church, and named it La Casa Grande. And he was blessed by the Lord’s bounty, as he scavenged the roof tiles from the church, to use for his home.

Without a roof, the adobe chapel quickly deteriorated, then collapsed from neglect. But Vallejo wasn’t the only vulturine builder. Other settlers descended upon the site, and scavenged supplies from the remaining buildings. Thus, by the 1880s, the entire mission had been picked apart, and had fallen into ruins.

An outdoor pastry shop. Here, early missionaries baked holy foods, such as communion crackers and donuts.

In 1903, the California Landmarks League purchased the ruins of the original adobe mission. They used state funds to restore the chapel, and in 1926 they sold it to William Randolph Hearst. He then generously deeded it over to the state. Sounds sort of like a tax write-off scheme, to me.

Now it’s known as the Sonoma Mission State Historic Park, and is one of three missions that are part of California’s state park system.

Today you can visit the restored mission. And you can visit the restored presidio that housed soldiers, across the street from the mission. You know, those guys who kept the red tide of Russians away. A museum displays artifacts from the early mission, soldiering, and ranching days.

The museum is the long building to the right, which adjoins the mission at the far end. It costs three bucks per adult, to get in and gawk at all the goods. It’s two bucks per child, aged 6-17. And it’s free for those wee little ones who don’t give a damn.

At this museum you can also learn about the Bear Flag Revolt. It happened here in 1846, and led to California’s independence from Mexico. Which is another reason why Mission Sonoma was the mission to end all missions. It was here that Spanish and Mexican expansion came to an end, in North America, and they had to pack up and move south.

I’ll be boring you with some posts about the Bear Flag Revolt, soon.

Monument to the Bear Flag Revolt, that launched California’s independence movement from Mexico. Stay tuned for a series of posts, where I will tear down this overglorified monument, and give this revolt a reality check.

The Obliterated Mission

This restoration of the original Mission San Rafael Arcangel church was constructed in 1949.

The most obliterated of all California’s historic missions is Mission San Rafael Arcangel. It was established in 1817 as a medical asistencia, or sub-mission, of Mission Dolores in San Francisco. It achieved full mission status in 1822. And it’s located across the Golden Gate, about 15 miles north of Mission Dolores, in a sunnier, drier, and healthier climate.

It’s named after the archangel Saint Raphael, who is venerated by Roman Catholics as an angel responsible for miraculous healing.

Saint Raphael, the Archangel. Often associated with the unnamed angel in the Gospel of John 5:4, who stirs the water at the healing pool of Bethesda. Raphael is also mentioned in the Book of Tobit, from the Catholic scriptures. And besides the Catholic religion, Raphael is venerated by the Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran faiths.

Mission San Rafael Arcangel was California’s first sanitarium. The warmer climate at this mission helped the Native Americans at Mission Dolores recover from European diseases, such as measles. As word spread of its success, other missions also began sending their sick to this sanitarium.

Father Vicente Francisco de Sarria established the mission. He was very dedicated and benevolent toward the welfare of the natives, especially their physical health. And he knew his stuff when it came to medicine. He’s credited with the first original contribution by a resident of California in the field of medicine, for an 1830 paper on the use of the caesarian section as a method of childbirth.

But Father Sarria was fighting an uphill battle. The new Mexican government was determined to secularize all the California missions. And in 1833, Mission San Rafael became one of the first missions to fall into secular hands.

Mission San Rafael keeps odd hours, and was closed when my wife and I arrived. We were unable to enter the large, restored church and take photos, so I did what any non-God-fearing atheist would do, and ripped this photo off from Wikipedia.

By 1844, the mission was completely abandoned, and in 1846 the empty buildings were sold for $8,000.

It briefly came back to life in June, 1846, when Captain John C. Fremont occupied the mission during California’s Bear Flag Revolt.

On June 28, 1846, an event began here that would affect the course of American history. Fremont ordered his scout, Kit Carson, and two others, to kill three prominent Californios who were passing through San Rafael.

This triple-murder was used against Fremont when he ran as the Republican party’s first nominee for president, in 1856. It helped turned public sentiment against him, and he lost the election to James Buchanan.

In 1861, the old mission church was razed, and a new church was built beside the ruins of the old church. Unfortunately, no one had ever sketched or painted the old church, so to this day nobody knows how it looked. All that was left of the original mission was one lone pear tree. For this reason, San Rafael is considered the most obliterated of all the California missions.

The building to the right is the parish church that was built in 1861, beside the demolished ruins of the original church.

Nonetheless, in 1949, the old church was rebuilt. It was restored on the site of the original hospital, by Monsignor Thomas Kennedy. Kennedy had to rely mainly upon his imagination for the design, because of course, he had never seen the original.

These three ding-a-lings hang out in front of the parish church that was built in 1861.

The parish church built in 1861 remains beside the 1949 restoration.

Mission San Rafael Arcangel keeps unpredictable hours. If you want to visit, take my advise and call ahead to see if it will be open. We didn’t do that, and found ourselves locked out of the restored old mission church. However, the church that was built in 1861 was open, and we were able to enter and snap a few photos.

Interior of the parish church, built in 1861.

We also got some great photos of the exterior of the restored church. We loved the architecture and pink color, and enjoyed admiring this restoration from the imaginative mind of Monsignor Kennedy.

We felt impressed with the beauty and architectural design of the restored church, even if it might not resemble the original.

naturechirp

Celebrating God's creatures, birds and plants...

Starting Over

Because there's never enough time to do it right the first time but there's always enough time to do it over

awifemyverse.wordpress.com/

A Wife, My Verse, and Every Little Thing

Lizi Rose

stories from me, for you.

Chasing Unicorns

Where smartasses chase unicorns

suyts space

Just another WordPress.com site

barsetshirediaries

A site for the Barsetshire Diaries Books and others

The Trefoil Muse

Words are art on paper, and for me they are the seeds of my soul.

Marta Frant

Humor and Lifestyle

Jessica reads&write

I read to live, I write to share their life

Jessica E. Larsen

Writer. Reader. A mom and a romantic dreamer 🥰 💕

Borden's Blather

A 60-something guy trying to figure out the world, and his place in it.

...i choose this...

joy, happiness, travel, adventure, gratitude

A Pierman Sister

Paris, Travel and Family

Luminous Aether

Light is a state-of-mind.

Nuggets of Gold

Helping you to find the gold nuggets amidst the dirt, sand and pebbles of life!

Kieran's Humor

Not suitable for children, the sensitive or those hoping to get into heaven.

History Present

History Understood In Its Present