Miguel Junipero Serra was born in Petra, Majorca, Spain on 24th November, 1713. His parents were devoutly religious and Miguel and his sister, Juana Maria, were regular visitors to the nearby church. His biographer, Don Denevi, points out: "For Miguel, pride of his parents, memorizing his catechism, reciting his prayers, and talking to God was as natural as taking the livestock to pasture or carrying the heavy water bucket from the town cistern."
In 1728, at the age of fifteen, he moved to Palma, to be trained as a priest at the Convent of San Francisco. He was too young and it was not until the following year that he was allowed to apply for admission to the Franciscan order. These priests came to be known as grey friars from their habits, simple robes woven from undyed wool. They served all over the known world at the time. Whenever possible they were also to walk in imitation of Christ and the apostles, practicing humility, poverty, and austerity, and avoiding signs of pride and ostentation. Miguel had a strong desire to become a missionary in order to "serve God better and to save my soul".
It was the tradition of Franciscans in Majorca to choose a new name to replace their baptismal name. One of his favourite book was The Little Flowers of Saint Francis on the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, included the character of Juniper. According to the author of Junipero Serra (1985): "Miguel chose Brother Juniper, renown for his guileless simplicity and celestial mirth... Here was a kindred spirit, someone unhampered by deviousness, a personality with the humor and common sense of Miguel himself."
Junipero Serra started studying theology in 1734. Two years later, at the age of twenty, he was ordained as a deacon. On 29th November, 1737, after several days of examination, he was declared lector of philosophy by the members of his council. On 9th January, 1740, Serra was officially commissioned to teach philosophy for the next three years in the Convent of San Francisco. Two of his first students were Francisco Palóu and Juan Crespi. Palóu later wrote: "i was the object of his very special affection, an affection we always mutually shared, more than if we had been brothers in the flesh."
Considered one of the most intelligent of all the Franciscans, Serra was appointed as professor of theology at Lullian University on 16th October, 1743. He also preached in the cities and towns of Majorca. He was chosen to make the most prestigious sermon of the year in Palma on 25th January, 1749.
However, Serra's great desire was to become a missionary in New Spain. He told his friend Francisco Palóu: "The rumour is true. I am the one who intends to make this long journey, and I have been sorrowful because I would have no companion for so long a journey; but I would not on that account turn back from my purpose... In my heart I felt that inclination to speak to you as I was led to believe you would be interested." Palóu agreed and they both decided to volunteer to become missionaries. Juan Crespi also agreed to join them.
Junipero Serra wrote to his parents: "Words cannot express the feelings of my heart as I bid you farewell nor can I properly repeat to you my request that you be the consolation of any parents to sustain them in their sorrow. I wish I could communicate to them the great joy that fills my heart. If I could do this, then surely they would always encourage me to go forward and never to turn back. Let them remember that the office of an apostolic preacher, especially in its actual exercise, is the greatest calling to which they could wish me to he chosen."
On 13th April 1749 the three men left the Convent of San Francisco and began their journey to Cádiz. The Board of Trade decided to document the physical characteristics of the missionaries. Serra was described as: "thirty-five years old, of medium height, swarthy, dark eyes and hair, scant beard."
Serra arrived at Vera Cruz in New Spain on 6th December, 1749. The voyage took ninety-nine days. Serra noted that he had not been seasick once. On arrival, Francisco Palóu recalls that Serra "delivered a sermon that eloquently spiritualized the entire voyage, emphasizing the protecting mantle of God's providence".
Junipero Serra and a friar from Andalusia, decided to walk to Mexico City. They left without money or a guide. Between 15th December, 1749 and 1st January, 1750, the two missionaries walked a little more than fifteen miles a day. Each morning after mass they set out, taking a siesta around mid-day when the sun was very warm. During the walk Serra was bitten on his left foot by a zancudo. It soon became swollen and he complained about a "burning itch". This caused him serious problems on his journey to the capital of New Spain.
Soon after Serra arrived at the College of San Fernando de Mexico, he was told that recently four priests had died while working for the missions in Sierra Gorda, a rugged mountain area about 150 miles north-east of Mexico City. Serra, Francisco Palóu and six other Franciscans volunteered for this dangerous task.
Don Denevi, the author of Junipero Serra (1985), points out: "During the eight years and three months Serra spent as a missionary in the sierra, he laboured for improvement in conditions for the Indians. He realized that the more progress the missions made economically, the more stable and successful would be his religious ministrations. Through the college, he obtained oxen, cows, asses, sheep, goats, and farm implements. Palóu, equally competent and zealous, at first served as overseer of planting and harvesting until the Indians learned how to do it themselves. Blankets and clothing sent from Mexico City were provided as encouragement for their labours... As time went on, the Indians were presented with their own parcels of land on which to grow corn, beans, and pumpkins. Some were given oxen and seeds for planting. Women were taught spinning, knitting, and sewing. Serra encouraged the Indians to broaden their commercial activity by selling their wares in Zimapan, a ming center less than fifty miles away."
King Carlos III of Spain became very concerned about the possibility of other world powers such as Russia, England, France and Prussia threatening Spanish territories in the New Spain. He thought the best way of protecting and expanding his control of this region was to dispatch additional missionaries and colonizers.
Since the beginning of the century, Jesuits had been working in the Americas. Don Denevi argues: "For seventy years, more than six hundred Jesuits had toiled in Baja California, steadily moving northward, evangelizing everyone in their path, never abandoning a mission. With patience and devoted zeal, they had accomplished what Cortes had been unable to do with the sword - Spanish domination over the native populations."
Carlos III questioned the loyalty of these Jesuits to the Spanish monarchy. In January 1762, he issued a so-called Pragmatic Sanction, which limited considerably the privileges of the religious orders in Spain. This was seen as an attempt to reduce the power of the Pope and the Church. The Jesuits were extremely hostile to this move and the king claimed they were behind attempts to assassinate him.
On 27th February, 1767, Carlos III issued a royal decree known as the Pragmatic Penalty of 1767, that led to the Jesuits being expelled from Spain. All their possessions were also confiscated. The king also wanted the Jesuits removed from territories he controlled in the Americas. He wrote to Carlos Francisco de Croix, viceroy of New Spain, on 24th June, 1767: "Repair with an armed force to the houses of the Jesuits. Seize the persons of all of them and within twenty-four hours transport them as prisoners to the port of Vera Cruz... If after the embarkation there should be found one Jesuit in that district, even if ill or dying, you should suffer the penalty of death."
Gaspar de Portolà was appointed as governor of Baja California with orders to expel the Jesuits from the territory. When the Jesuits rebelled against this persecution, he dealt severely with the rebels, hanging the leaders. The viceroy defended his actions by claiming that: "It is done... for motives known to the royal conscience of the sovereign, and which have to be acknowledged by the vassals of His Majesty, who have been born to obey and not to mix in the high affairs of government."
Carlos Francisco de Croix suggested to Carlos III that the Franciscans should attend to the people of Baja California. It was also agreed that the missionaries should push on quickly into Alta California in order to build a chain of missions that would stop other countries to try and colonise this territory. When asked to organise this campaign, the College of San Fernando de Mexico unanimously selected Junipero Serra, to carry out this task. Serra became president of these missions and Francisco Palóu was appointed as his deputy.
On 14th March, 1768, Serra and his small group of 15 missionaries left the port of San Blas on the small ship, Concepcion. The missionaries reached Loreto, two hundred miles up the east coast of Baja California on 1st April. They received a warm welcome from Gaspar de Portolà, who had been told to work closely with the missionaries.
Inspector General José de Gálvez had been sent to New Spain with orders to organize the settlement of Alta California. Gálvez began to arrange what became known as the "Sacred Expedition". It was decided that three ships, the San Carlos, the San Antonio, and the San José, should sail to San Diego Bay. It was also agreed to send two parties to make an overland journey from the Baja to Alta California.
The first ship, the San Carlos, sailed from La Paz on 10th January, 1769. The other two ships left on 15th February. The first overland party, led by Fernando Rivera Moncada, left from the Misión San Fernando Rey de España de Velicatá on 24th March. With him was Father Juan Crespi, who had been given the task of recording details of the trip. Also in the party were 25 soldiers, and 42 Baju Christian Indians.
The overland expedition, led by Gaspar de Portolà was to include Junipero Serra. However, Portolà was concerned about the swelling of Serra's infected and tried to persuade him not to accompany the expedition: Serra replied that "I trust in God that he will give me strength to arrive at San Diego and Monterey." In order not to slow the party down, Serra suggested that Portolà should go on ahead. Francisco Palóu commented: "He said farewell, causing me equal pain for the love I felt for him and for the tenderness that I had owed him."
Serra, accompanied by two others, left on 1st April, 1769. "I undertook from my mission and the royal presidio of Loreto in California bound for the ports of San Diego and Monterey for the greater glory of God and the conversion of the pagans to our holy Catholic faith." He recorded that "I took along no more provisions for so long a journey than a loaf of bread and a piece of cheese." He reached Misson Santa Gertrudis on 20th April. Dionisio Basterra, was all alone at the mission. When Fernando Rivera Moncada had passed through he had requisitioned his interpreter, servant and guard. Serra remained with Basterra for five days.
On 28th April, after two days of strenuous travel, Serra arrived at Mission San Borja, where he was greeted by Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. Serra wrote: "My special affection for this excellent missionary detained me here for the next two days which for me were very delightful by reason of his amiable conversation and manners." Although it was in an isolated spot with a shortage of water, Lasuen had managed to convert several hundred Indian families living in the area.
On 1st May Serra joined up with Gaspar de Portolà at Santa Maria. Serra met the Cochimí people who had settled in this area. He was amazed that they were able to survive in the conditions. There was little water and virtually no arable land or pasture. On 11th May, Serra and Portolà, headed north and arrived in Velicatá two days later, where they met up with the advance guard of the party. Serra commented: "I praised the Lord, and kissed the earth, giving thanks to the Divine Majesty that after desiring this for so many years, He granted me the favour of being among the pagans in their own land."
Serra later recorded: "Then I saw what I could hardly begin to believe when I read about it or was told about it, namely that they go about entirely naked like Adam in paradise before the fall. Thus they went about and thus they presented themselves to us... Although they saw all of us clothed, they nevertheless showed not the least trace of shame in their manner of nudity."
Fernando Rivera Moncada and his party that included Juan Crespi reached San Diego on 14th May. He built a camp and waited for the others to arrive. The San Antonio, reached its destination in fifty-four days. The San Carlos took twice that time and the San José was lost with all aboard. The seaman on the ships suffered from scurvy and large numbers had died on the journey.
Junipero Serra left Father Miguel de la Campa to create a mission at Velicatá and the rest of the party moved on to San Juan de Dios. He was now having serious problems walking: "It was only with great difficulty that I could remain on my feet because my left foot had become very inflamed, a painful condition... Now this inflammation has reached halfway up the leg. It is swollen and the sores are inflamed. For this reason the days during which I was detained there I spent the greater part in bed."
Gaspar de Portolà pleaded with him to remain but Serra insisted on going on: "Please do not speak of that, for I trust that God will give me the strength to reach San Diego, as He has given me the strength to come so far... Even though I might die on the way, I shall not turn back. They can bury me wherever they wish and I shall gladly be left among the pagans, if it be the will of God." Eventually it was agreed that he should be carried along the trail by the Christian Indians from Baja California.
Serra received treatment from one of the soldiers, Juan Antonio Coronel. He heated some tallow and green desert herbs and spread the mixture over Serra's foot and leg. He later told Francisco Palóu: "God brought it about (through Coronel) and I was enabled to make the daily trek just as if I did not have any ailment. At present my sore foot is as clean as the well one."
Gaspar de Portolà recorded in his diary: " The 11th day of May, I set out from Santa Maria, the last mission to the north, escorted by four soldiers, in company with Father Junipero Serra, president of the missions, and Father Miguel Campa. This day we proceeded for about four hours with very little water for the animals and without any pasture, which obliged us to go on farther in the afternoon to find some. There was, however, no water."
On 26th May, some of the party's Christian Indians, captured a man who had been following them along the route. Serra immediately ordered the man to be released and fed him with figs, meat, tortillas and atole (a thin porridge of corn and wheat). He told them his name was Axajui and that he was a member of a tribe who were planning to ambush and kill the missionaries and soldiers. Axajui was sent back to inform his people of the good treatment he had received. The strategy worked as they were allowed to continue on their journey unharmed.
Serra also recorded that a few days later they were approached by a couple of women: "I desired for the present not to see them (fearing that they went naked like the men)... When I saw them so decently clothed... I was not sorry at their arrival... They were talking as rapidly and effectively as this sex knows how and is accustomed to." The women offered the men some "doughy pancakes" that they had been carrying on their heads.
As the expedition moved on through the month of June, the terrain became gradually more attractive. Serra noted at Santa Petronilla that the land was "so loaded with grapes that it is a thing to marvel at. I believe that with a little labour of pruning them, the vines would produce much excellent fruit." On the 20th they saw the Pacific in the distance. That night they arrived on the shores of Ensenada. Serra commented: Here, if the water could be properly utilized, great plantings could be made and enough water was at hand to supply a city." The party was now only 65 kilometres (40 miles) south of San Diego.
On 23rd June the party met a large party of Native Americans. Serra records: "The people were healthy and well built, affable, and of happy disposition. They were quick, bright people, who immediately repeated all the Spanish words they heard. They danced for the party, offered fish and mussels, and pressed them to remain... We were all enamored of them. In fact, all the pagans have pleased me, but these in particular have stolen my heart."
José Francisco Ortega, chief scout of the party, went on ahead to San Diego. He arrived back on 28th June, with news that the last leg of the journey was extremely difficult due to the hundreds of gullies they still had to cross. Serra later told Francisco Palóu that he crossed each one with a prayer on his lips. When he arrived at San Diego Bay Serra was reunited with Gaspar de Portolà and Fernando Rivera Moncada, who had gone ahead.
Junipero Serra later recalled: "It was a day of great rejoicing and merriment for all, because although each one in his respective journey had undergone the same hardships, their meeting through their mutual alleviation from hardship now became the material for mutual accounts of their experiences. And although this sort of consolation appears to be the solace of the miserable, for us it was the source of happiness. Thus was our arrival in health and happiness and contentment at the famous and desired Port of San Diego."
Gaspar de Portolà was named as governor of San Diego. Junipero Serra was impressed with the area. As Don Denevi, the author of Junipero Serra (1985), has pointed out: "Reconnoitering the grassy plains around Presidio Hill where the expedition was encamped, the padres noted that fresh water and arable land were plentiful. Fields could be sown with grain, fruits, and vegetables. Willow, popular, and sycamore trees dotted the river banks. Wild grapevines, asparagus, and acorns grew in abundance. Deer, antelope, quail, and hares were abundant, as were the more ferocious wolves, bears, and coyotes. In addition to the abundance of food on land, the Indians, from rafts made of tules, fished for sole, tuna, and sardines and gathered mussels."
Gaspar de Portolà and his expedition, consisting of Father Juan Crespi, Fernando Rivera Moncada, José Francisco Ortega, Pedro Fages, sixty-three soldiers and a hundred mules loaded down with provisions, headed north on 14th July, 1769. Portolà reached the site of present day Los Angeles on 2nd August. The following day, they marched to what is now known as Santa Monica. Later that month they arrived at what became Santa Barbara, Portolà's party walked across the Santa Lucia Mountains to reach the mouth of the Salinas River. The fog obscured the shore and they therefore missed reaching Monterey Bay. The men had walked over a thousand miles from Misión San Fernando Rey de España de Velicatá.
Over the next few months Junipero Serra began organising the building of Mission San Diego de Alcalá on Presidio Hill in honour of Saint Didacus. Serra wrote about his motivation for the Franciscans establishing these missions: "Above all, let those who are to come here as missionaries not imagine that they are coming for any other purpose but to endure hardships for the love of God and the salvation of souls, for in far-off places such as these, where there is no way for the old missions to help the new ones because of the great distance between them, the presence of pagans, and the lack of communication by sea, it will be necessary in the beginning to suffer many real privations."
The settlement was close to a Kumeyaay village. Tracy Salcedo-Chouree, the author of California's Missions and Presidios (2005), has pointed out that their "natural suspicion flowered into animosity when the soldiers began raping their women and stealing their food." On 15th August, the colonists came under attack. One of the Spanish settlers was killed during the raid. Junipero Serra recorded what happened: "He entered into my little hut with so much blood streaming from his temples and mouth that shortly after I gave him absolution... he passed away at my feet, bathed in his blood. And it was just a short time after he died before me that the little hut where I lived became a sea of blood. All during this time, the exchange of shots from the firearms and arrows continued. Only four men of our group fired while more than twenty of theirs shot arrows. I continued to stay with the departed one, thinking over the imminent probability of following him myself, yet, I kept begging God to give victory to our Holy Catholic faith without the loss of a single soul."
The battle for San Diego, the first in the Spanish settlement of California, changed the relationship between the settlers and the Kumeyaay. They now became more peaceful and began revisiting the camp, bringing along their wounded, probably hoping that Spanish remedies would prove as powerful as Spanish arms. Don Pedro Prat, who had received some medical training, did what he could do to help the wounded men brought to the settlement.
Gaspar de Portolà and his men reached the San Francisco Bay area on 31st October. It has been claimed that José Francisco Ortega, his chief scout, was the first European to see the bay. He explored and named many localities in the region. Running short of provisions and forced to live on mule meat, they decided to return to San Diego to replenish supplies. The men arrived back on 24th January, 1770, remarkably, every member of the expedition had survived. Portolà and Juan Crespi had recorded the places they had stayed, the tribes they had met, possible mission sites, and the animals and widflowers found.
Inspector General José de Gálvez had sent orders that their next task was to locate Monterey Bay. On 16th April, 1770, Junipero Serra, left the San Diego harbour on the San Antonio. The following day, Portolà's land expedition, that included Father Juan Crespi and Pedro Fages marched north. José Francisco Ortega was left in charge of the Mission San Diego de Alcalá.
Portolà successfully arrived at Monterey Bay on 24th May, 1770. A three-man party was sent out to explore the rocky coast south to Carmel Bay. A few days later the San Antonio arrived in the bay. The journey had been slow and difficult. Over the next few days Serra began planning the building of Mission San Carlos de Borromeo, named in honour of Saint Charles Borromeo. Portolà left Fages behind to establish a settlement that they called California Nueva (New California). During this time, Fages explored by land San Francisco Bay, San Pablo Bay, the Carquinez Strait and the San Joaquin River.
On 9th July, 1770, Gaspar de Portolà sailed from Monterey Bay on the San Antonio. He left forty men in charge of Spain's latest settlement. Junipero Serra remained in Monterey. Carlos Francisco de Croix wrote that Serra: "The President of those missions, who is destined to serve in Monterey, states in a very detailed way and with particular joy that the Indians are affable. They have already promised him to bring their children to be instructed in the mysteries of how holy Catholic religion." It was not until 26th December, 1770, that Serra baptised his first Native American in California.
The following year, on 8th July, Serra left Monterey with seven soldiers, three sailors and a few Baju Christian Indians, for the Sierra de Santa Lucia. Five days later he found a site for Mission San Antonio de Padua. The local Indians showed friendship by bringing seeds and acorns. Serra reciprocated with strings of beads and food made from corn and beans. Serra left Miguel Pieras and Buenaventura Sitjar in charge of the mission and returned to Monterey.
Serra's assistant, Father Juan Crespi, disliked the "foggy" climate of the Monterey area. Serra agreed that he could return to San Diego. A few months later he wrote to Serra claiming he was missing his friend and the "daily treks between Carmel and Monterey". Serra agreed his return.
In August 1772, the supply ships had difficulty getting to Monterey. Serra wrote to Francisco Palóu: "All the missionaries grieve - we all grieve - over the vexations, labours, and reverses we have to put up with. No one, however, desires to leave his mission. The fact is, labours or no labours, there are several souls in heaven from Monterey, San Antonio, and San Diego."
Eventually, Serra took a party down to San Diego, a 500 mile journey, to bring back food. On the journey, Serra created California's fifth mission, San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, on a site located halfway between Santa Barbara and Monterey. It was named after Saint Louis of Anjou, the bishop of Toulouse. Serra left Father Cavaller, a four-man guard, and two Baju California Indians, at the mission and moved on. The party was attacked by a Chumash tribe in the San Luis Valley. Fages and his men fought off the warriors, and to Serra's distress, one of them were killed. They safely got to San Diego and managed to arrange a supply ship to Monterey.
Serra had a difficult relationship with Pedro Fages, the commander of Monterey. He was also disliked by his troops. One soldier wrote that: "The commandante used to beat us with cudgels; he would force us to buy from him at three times their value, the figs and raisins in which he was trading; he would make sick men go and cut down trees in the rain and would deprive them of their supper, if they protested; he would put us all on half rations even though food might be rotting in the storehouse. We had to live on rats, coyotes, vipers, crows, and generally every creature that moved on the earth, except beetles, to keep from starvation. We almost all became herbivorous, eating raw grass like our horses. How many times we wished we were six feet under ground."
Serra decided to visit Antonio María de Bucareli, the new viceroy of New Spain, in Mexico City. He left in October 1772, with his servant, Juan Evangelista. He did not arrive at the College of San Fernando de Mexico on 6th February, 1773. Bucareli asked Serra to put all his requests in writing. He gave the viceroy this document on 13th March. It was in fact a "Bill of Rights" for the Native Americans.
Serra also asked for the removal of Pedro Fages. Bucareli granted the request. He later commented: "The dispute with Don Pedro Fages... compelled Father Fray Junipero Serra almost in a dying condition to come to this capital to present his requests and to inform me personally a thing which rarely can be presented with such persuasion in writing. On his arrival I listened to him with the greatest pleasure and I realized the apostolic zeal that animated him while I accepted from his ideas those measures which appeared proper to me to carry out."
Don Denevi, the author of Junipero Serra (1985), has argued: "Serra could reflect on a number of achievements: the promise of expeditions to explore and open up overland routes from Sonora and new Mexico; the separate marking of mission and military goods; the removal of immoral soldiers from the missions at the padres' request; the regulation of prices and standardization of weights; the recruiting of Mexicans on sailors' pay to the missions' fields; the protection of the padres' mail from tampering by military commanders; the provision of a doctor, blacksmiths, and carpenters, and of bells and vestments for the new missions; serious consideration of the shortage of mules; and pardons for all deserters."
Serra returned to Carmel in September 1773. He was now nearly sixty years old and in poor health. He had decided that he would never return to Spain to see his family: "California is my life and there, God willing, I hope to die." He wrote to his nephew Miquel: "Although I am lukewarm, bad, and unprofitable, yet every day in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, I always make a memento for my only and most beloved sister Juana, your mother, and for her children... I hope all of you do the same for me so that the Lord may assist me amid the perils of a naked and barbarous people."
On 24th January 1774, Serra took 97 people from San Blas on the Santiago to Monterey. This included two doctors, three blacksmiths, and two carpenters, some with wives and children. This was as a result of the arrangement reached with Antonio María de Bucareli. Serra believed this would enable him to build a permanent Spanish community in this part of California. Serra left at San Diego and walked the rest of the journey to Monterey so that he could see for himself the progress that his missions were making. This included visits to the missions at San Diego de Alcalá, San Gabriel Arcangel, San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and San Antonio de Padua.
Serra arrived back at Mission San Carlos de Borromeo on 11th May, 1774. He was greeted warmly by Francisco Palóu and Juan Crespi who were now both stationed in Monterey. When he left, there had been twenty-two baptisms since the founding of the mission; on his return, the total was one hundred seventy four. Serra was extremely happy about the progress that had been made in his absence.
In a letter he wrote on 24th August, 1774, Serra explained that: "Every day Indians are coming in from distant homes in the Sierra... They tell the padres they would like them to come to their territory. They see our church which stands before their eyes so neatly; they see the milpas with corn which are pretty to behold; they see so many children as well as people like themselves going about clothed who sing and eat well and work." Serra wrote that he was especially pleased with the impact the missionaries were having on the children: "The spectacle of seeing about a hundred young children of about the same age praying and answering individually all the questions asked on Christian doctrine, hearing them sing, seeing them going about clothed in cotton and woolen garments, playing happily and who deal with the padres so intimately as if they had always known them."
Serra encouraged the Spanish sailors and soldiers to marry local women. He wrote that three of them had done so and that three others were considering the prospect. If they colonised the area, they received two years' pay and food rations for five years for themselves and their families. Serra believed that unless colonists began to live permanently near the mission, the missions would never become formal settlements.
E has argued: "In his letters, whether to the governors, the guardians of the College of San Fernando, or the viceroys, Serra was the epitome of sincerity and candor. Frank, open, clear, direct, he came straight to the point, his scholastic training and habits of logical thinking manifesting themselves from the first line to the last. When he wanted to establish a thesis, as he often did, his letters suggest the precision of a military commander deploying his troops in advantageous positions, his paragraphs proceeding in meticulous formation like companies of infantry on the march."
Antonio María de Bucareli appointed Fernando Rivera Moncada as the new commander of Monterey. Junipero Serra, who had worked with Rivera previously, welcomed the decision. Michael Hardwick has argued: "Rivera showed the most scrupulous honesty in administering presidio accounts. His penmanship was firm and distinguished. His ideas were expressed economically and with conviction in a terse and businesslike style. While governor of California, Rivera made every effort to improve the material conditions of the presidio of Monterey. He pleaded for more animals – more cows for milk and meat, more horses and mules to haul supplies from ships to the warehouse, to distribute them among the missions, and to patrol the vast territory. Rivera tried to secure better weapons and worked out a signal system in order to distinguish Spanish ships from hostile intruders. He insisted on regular attendance at religious services and attended regularly himself at the Monterey presidio chapel."
However, it was not long before the relationship between Rivera and Serra began to disintegrate. The main problem was that Rivera did not share Serra's passion for building new missions in the area. Serra wrote: "What are we doing here since it is plain that with this man in charge, no new missions will ever be established." Serra complained that the first mission south of San Carlos de Borromeo was San Antonio de Padua, nearly 70 miles away. Beyond was San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, another 75 miles to the south. The next mission was San Gabriel Arcangel, 212 miles away. The final mission, San Diego de Alcalá, was another 116 miles along the coast. Serra argued that these gaps needed filling in. He envisioned ten or eleven California missions being developed in his lifetime, "on a ladder with conveniently placed rungs". With missions founded at suitable intervals, travellers would spend only two or three days in the open between them.
Serra argued that these gaps needed filling in. He envisioned ten or eleven California missions being developed in his lifetime, "on a ladder with conveniently placed rungs". With missions founded at suitable intervals, travellers would spend only two or three days in the open between them. Serra was given permission to build these missions but Rivera refused to supply the soldiers to protect the missionaries. Rivera argued that: "I have never seen a priest more zealous for founding missions than this Father President. He thinks of nothing but founding missions, no matter how or at what expense they are established."
Kevin Starr defended Serra in his book, California (2005): "Serra's constant quarreling with the military governors of California reflects not only legitimate points of contention - the chronic sexual abuse of Indian women by soldiers, most notably - but also the fundamental tension between Spanish California as a missionary society reporting to the Franciscans and California as a secular society reporting to the military governor."
Serra also complained about lack of resources. He wrote that: "To clothe the nakedness of so many girls and boys, women and men, even moderately, not only to protect them from the cold, which is quite severe here during the greater part of the year, but also to foster decency and urbanity especially among the weaker sex, I am confronted with an almost insuperable difficulty."
In 1774 the missionaries based in San Diego moved about six miles inland from the Presidio to take advantage of more productive farmland and a better source of water. Luis Jayme, a priest from Sant Joan, Majorca, organised the building of the Mission San Diego de Alcala. It is claimed that they converted more than 500 local people to Christianity. Serra was extremely pleased with the progress being made by Jayme and his fellow missionaries.
Serra also heard encouraging news about the possibility of building a mission north of Monterey. In October, 1775, Juan Bautista de Anza left Tubac with a party of 240 soldiers and colonists, together with four civilian families, including women and children. They also took cattle and horses for breeding stock. The plan was that after crossing the deserts of Arizona and California, they would travel up the coast to San Francisco.
However, Serra was hearing bad news about his mission in San Diego. Father Vincentre Fuster had ordered the flogging of some members of the Kumeyaay tribe for attending a pagan dance. He also threatened to set fire to their village if they continued to behave in this way. The result of this warning was to make some of these people to runaway to join Chief Carlos, who was calling for an attack on the Spanish missions.
On 4th November, 1775, Chief Carlos and over 600 members of the Kumeyaay approached the Mission San Diego de Alcala. At first they surrounded the huts of the Christian Indians, threatening them with death if they tried to escape. They then crept into the church and stole the statues and other objects they thought might be of some worth. Soon afterwards they began setting fire to the buildings in the mission.
Vincentre Fuster jumped from his bed and raced towards the soldiers barracks, where he found the troops already firing their muskets. By this time two of the soldiers and the carpenter, had been hit by arrows and were gravely wounded. Luis Jayme refused to seek protection and instead walked calmly towards the warriors, chanting, "love God, my children".
According to Francis J. Weber: "Instead of running for shelter to the stockhold, Fray Luís Jayme resolutely walked toward the howling band of natives... In a frenzied orgy of cruelty, the Indians seized him, stripped off his garments, shot eighteen arrows into his body and then pulverized his face with clubs and stones... Early the next morning, the body of the thirty-five year old missionary was recovered in the dry bed of a nearby creek. His face was so disfigured that he could only be recognized by the whiteness of his flesh under a thick crust of congealed blood." Luis Jayme is considered to be the first Catholic martyr in Alta California.
Fuster recorded: "Great was my sorrow when I laid my eyes upon his person for I saw him totally disfigured... I saw that he was entirely naked except for the drawers that he wore, his chest and body pitted like a sieve from the savage blows of the clubs and stones. Finally, I recognized him... only insofar as my eyes noted the whiteness of his skin and the tonsure of his head. It is fortunate that they did not scalp him as is customary among these barbarians when they kill their enemies."
Fernando Rivera Moncada was given responsibility for investigating the rebellion. On 27th March, 1776, he was discovered hiding behind the altar in the church at the Mission San Diego de Alcala. Rivera and his soldiers surrounded the church. They entered the chapel and seized Carlos and after dragging him from the church he was put in the guardhouse. Father Vincentre Fuster protested loudly against the action and shouted that all those participating in the arrest were now excommunicated. Serra, who argued that as Carlos had sought refuge in the church, Fuster was right to excommunicate Rivera.
The San Gabriel Arcangel also experienced problems with local tribes. The wife of an Indian chief from a nearby village was raped by one of the mission soldiers. The chief tried to kill the soldier but the arrow bounced off the man's leather shield. The chief was captured and his head cut off and impaled upon a pole to warn off other members of his tribe. After the intervention of the missionaries, the warriors were persuaded not to take revenge on the Spanish.
Juan Bautista de Anza arrived in San Francisco on 28th March, 1776. Three babies were born on the 1,500 mile journey, and one mother died. Anza returned to Mexico and left behind José Joaquín Moraga to establish the Spanish settlement in the area. The Mission San Francisco de Asís, a log and thatch church was completed on 29th June, 1776. The mission was composed of adobe and redwood and was 144 feet long and 22 feet wide. Francisco Palóu was placed in charge of the mission that had been dedicated to San Francisco de Asis. It was about 3 miles from the Golden Gate. The surrounding houses, a pueblo, became known as Yerba Buena. It was named after a sweet-smelling minty herb that grew wild in the area.
The Spanish also built a Presido at San Francisco. According to Tracy Salcedo-Chouree, the author of California's Missions and Presidios (2005): "The Presidio of San Francisco started out much as other Spanish settlements - a cluster of brush and tule huts surrounded by a palisade that housed, according to one historian, about forty soldiers and nearly 150 settlers. Adobe would replace wood and mud within a few years, with a chapel, a guardhouse, officers' residences, barracks, warehouses, and other buildings forming a square protected by a defensive wall."
On a trip to San Gabriel Arcangel Serra had a narrow escape. He was walking ahead of a small pack train when he was approached by a group of hostile warriors in war paint. The Indian interpreter shouted out not to kill Serra as a large party of soldiers were following close behind. When they lowered their weapons, Serra gave them glass beads. They accepted the presents and allowed him to pass.
Serra's friend, Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, recalled: "A missionary priest has to engage in many duties, many of which only concern him as a means to something else. He is responsible for the spiritual and temporal welfare of people who are many and varied. He has individuals who are more dependent on him than small children, for there are many needs that arise...and many different things to be done for the different groups that make up the community. He is surrounded by pagans, and placed in charge of neophytes who can be trusted but a little."
In January 1777 Junipero Serra received a letter from his religious superiors in Mexico City reducing his responsibilities for the missions in California. Serra, who was now 65, was in poor health. He had developed breathing problems and his ulcerated leg caused him constant pain. He wrote to a friend that he considered retirement but eventually decided that: "I am not going to give up. While my first reaction is to resign, I am not doing so because I think it is better with the help of God to work toward amendment."
Serra visited Mission San Francisco de Asís at San Francisco for the first time in September 1777. It gave him the opportunity to meet up with his friend, Francisco Palóu, who was running the mission. Afterwards he wrote: "Thanks be to God. Now Our Father Saint Francis, the crossbearer in the procession of missions, has come to the final point of the mainland of California; for in order to go farther, ships will be necessary."
The following month they were together at the Mission Santa Clara de Asis, a mission that had been established earlier that year. Palóu wrote that Serra was not in good health: "He arrived in such a condition that he could hardly stand. Nor could it be be otherwise since he had walked seventy-one miles in two days. When the officers and the surgeon saw the inflammation of the leg and the wound of the foot, they declared that it was only a miracle that he could walk."
Serra returned to San Francisco and he confirmed 189 people at several ceremonies in October and November. He was also told that over over a hundred Native Americans had been baptised in the mission. He was overjoyed by this success but this turned to distress when he heard news that Antonio María de Bucareli had died and that war had broken out between Spain and England.
The Spanish Government was eager to establish an overland link between California and New Spain and needed to establish a presence to protect point where travelers would ford the Colorado River. In January, 1781, Father Francisco Garcés established the Mission San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer. However, unlike the missions established by Serra, the powers of administration rested with the military and not with the padres, as a result the soldiers were abusive to the local Native Americans. Spanish colonists were also accused of seizing the best lands in the area. This caused conflict with the Native Americans.
In the summer of 1781, Fernando Rivera Moncada and a small group of soldiers advanced across the desert with a vast herd of animals, estimated to nearly 1,000 in number. On 17th July, while camped on the banks of the Colorado near Yuma, Rivera and his men were killed by a surprise attack by the Quechan tribe. They then went on to destroy the Mission San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer. The mission was never re-established and the overland route to Alta California was considered too hostile to be used and was therefore abandoned.
In November 1781, Serra was on a journey to Carmel when his mule threw him to the ground. His companion, Father Juan Crespi, brought a doctor from San Jose, but despite the pain, it appeared that he had not broken any bones. Crespi was taken ill when he arrived back in Monterey. Serra described "his infirmities as chest trouble and a swelling of the legs that began in the lower extremities and gradually rose higher". The missionaries consulted their medical books but the remedies were ineffective and he died on 1st January, 1782.
Pedro Fages, the new governor of California, soon came into conflict with Junipero Serra over the building of new missions. In 1783 he wrote to the former governor, Felipe de Neve: "The opposition of Father Serra to every government measure is already manifest and has been signified not only in words but in actions and writings... Father Serra walks roughshod over our measures, conducting himself with great despotic spirit and with total indifference".
Despite suffering from severe leg and chest pains, Serra continued to make visits to the missions in California. In September, 1783, he sailed from Monterey to San Diego on La Favorita. On his arrival he had a meeting with Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. He admitted to his friend that he could hardly walk or breathe. Yet he continued to baptise, marry and confirm all those who wanted his services.
Serra returned to Monterey where he was cared for by Francisco Palóu. During this period the two men discussed publishing a book about Serra's adventures, in order to stimulate interest in the activities of missionaries.
Junipero Serra died on 28th August, 1784, at the age of 70, at Mission San Carlos Borromeo. His friend, Palóu, later wrote: "After a short time I returned and approached his bed to see if he was sleeping. I found him just as we had left him a little before, but now asleep in the Lord, without anv sign or trace of agony, his body showing no other sign of death than the cessation of breathing; on the contrary, he seemed to be sleeping."
(1) Junipero Serra, letter to his parents (April, 1749)
Words cannot express the feelings of my heart as I bid you farewell nor can I properly repeat to you my request that you be the consolation of any parents to sustain them in their sorrow. I wish I could communicate to them the great joy that fills my heart. If I could do this, then surely they would always encourage me to go forward and never to turn back. Let them remember that the office of an apostolic preacher, especially in its actual exercise, is the greatest calling to which they could wish me to he chosen.
Since they are advanced in years, let them recall that life is uncertain and, in fact, may be very brief. If they compare it with eternity, they will clearly realize that it cannot be but more than an instant...
Tell them that I shall ever feel the loss of not being able to be near them as heretofore to console them, but since first things must come first and before all else, the first thing to do is to fulfill the will of God. It was for the love of God that I left them and if I, for the love of God and with the aid of His grace, had the strength of will to do so, it will be to the point that they too, for the love of God, be content to be deprived of my company....
Now is not the time to muse or fret over the happenings of life but rather to be conformed entirely to the will of' God, striving to prepare themselves for a happy death which of all the things of life is our principal concern. For if we attain that, it matters little if we lose all the rest. But if we do not attain that, nothing else will be of any value.
Let them rejoice that they have a son who is a priest, though an unworthy one and a sinner, who daily in the holy sacrifice of the Mass prays for them with all the fervor of his soul and on many days applies the Mass for them alone, so that the Lord may aid them; that they may not lack their daily bread, that He may give them patience in their trials, resignation to His holy will, peace and union with everyone, courage to fight the temptations of the evil one, and last of all, when it is God's will, a tranquil death in His holy grace. If I, by the grace of God, succeed in becoming a good religious, my prayers will become more efficacious, and they in consequence will he the gainers.... I recall the occasion when my father was so ill that extreme unction was administered to him. I, being a religious, was at home at the time, and thinking that he was going to die, we two being alone, he said to me: "My son, let me charge you to he a good religious of your Father, Saint Francis."
Now, dear father, be assured that those words are as fresh in mv memory as when they proceeded from your lips. Realize, too, that in order to become a good religious, I have set out on this course. So do not he disconsolate when I am carrying out your will, which is one with he will of God. I know, too, that my mother has never ceased to commend me to God in order that I mat he a good religious. Now, dear mother mine, if perhaps God has set me in this course as a result of your prayers, be content with what God disposes and ever say in life's tribulations: "Blessed be God. May His holy ill be done."
Good-by, my dear father: Farewell, dear mother of mine! Good-by, dear sister, Juana! Good-by, my beloved brother-in-lavv. Take good care of little Mike and see to it that he becomes a good Christian and a studious pupil and that the two girls grow up as good Christians.
(2) Don Denevi, Junipero Serra (1985)
During the eight years and three months Serra spent as a missionary in the sierra, he laboured for improvement in conditions for the Indians. He realized that the more progress the missions made economically, the more stable and successful would be his religious ministrations. Through the college, he obtained oxen, cows, asses, sheep, goats, and farm implements. Palóu, equally competent and zealous, at first served as overseer of planting and harvesting until the Indians learned how to do it themselves. Blankets and clothing sent from Mexico City were provided as encouragement for their labours...
As time went on, the Indians were presented with their own parcels of land on which to grow corn, beans, and pumpkins. Some were given oxen and seeds for planting. Women were taught spinning, knitting, and sewing. Serra encouraged the Indians to broaden their commercial activity by selling their wares in Zimapan, a ming center less than fifty miles away.
(3) Herbert E. Bolton, Spanish Shadowlands (1920)
Of names illustrious in the pioneer mission field of America none is more renowned than Junípero Serra. If, as in the case of Serra, we are disposed to think that the biographies of some of the pioneer padres, written by members of their own Order, may be too colored with hero worship to be strictly historical, let us remember at the same time that only men capable of arousing exalted affection and admiration could tempt their memorialists into this extravagance. In his character, it is plain, Serra was gentle, loving, and selfless. Like Kino, he had distinguished himself in the Old World and had turned his back upon honors to enter the laborious and perilous life of a missionary to savages. It was a life that promised little but hardship, disappointment, danger, to be cut short, perhaps, by a death of agony at the hands of those he sought to save. Whatever might be the worldly policies of governors and ecclesiastics pertaining to the results of his labors, the true missionary himself was moved by two separate motives - a passion for his Faith and a yearning towards those whom he deemed eternally lost without it. His humanity as well as his zeal found exercise in a fatherly interest in the children of the wilderness and in efforts to teach them innocent games and pleasures in the place of some of their native amusements which were less moral. To learn their various languages - and Indian languages are among the most difficult to master - to coax them into habits of industry, to make them love labor and strict virtue as well as the Catechism - required infinite patience and kindness no less than a heart staunch against all fear.
Such a blend of zeal and humanity was seen in Junípero Serra. Withal, he was an organizer and executive. All in all, indeed, Serra was the outstanding Spanish pioneer of California. During the fifteen years of his labors there, he supervised the founding of nine permanent missions of the twenty-one which the Franciscans built in the Golden State before secularization undid the work of their Order.3 San Diego was the first, but the more famous was San Carlos at Carmel, where Serra lived until his death in 1784.
The present San Carlos, which has been preserved and is still regularly used for services, was begun on the same site in 1793. The little congregation which gathers there now answers no longer to the descriptions left us by visitors of long ago - such as those of the Frenchman La Pérouse, who saw the original building, the English discoverer, George Vancouver, and, later, the Boston seaman and writer, Richard Henry Dana. Then, along the five-mile road leading from Monterey, the capital, to Carmel, passed the magnificent Governor and his uniformed escort, caballeros in slashed and gilt-laced pantaloons and brilliant serapes, staid señoras shrouded in black lace mantillas yet keeping an eye on their daughters, whose glances, decorous but eager, roved over the rim of the cart as some hero with jingling spurs curvetted past, peasants under their huge sombreros, gray-gowned friars in sandals, Indian muleteers and vaqueros, and Indian laborers in their coarse dull cotton smocks. Scarlet, gold, and blue livened the black and white and tawny brown in the costuming of this frequent procession, which made its way along the shore of a sea sapphire and amethyst and spread with the hammered gold of the kelpfields, on through the green slopes, on among the giant columns of the Carmel pines, to San Carlos, on the hill above the river, with red-tiled roof and belfry and thick bluish stone walls. In Serra's day there was only a small adobe church beside the orchards of olives and fruit trees which he planted. Half a stone's throw from the church Serra dwelt in a cell furnished with a chair and a table, a bed of boards, and the blanket which covered him when he slept. Nearby rose a high cross and, at dawn and often through the day and night, he knelt at its foot in prayer. It was, says Father Palou, Serra's pupil, friend, and biographer, "his companionship and all his delight." Under the shadow of the cross in his cell, attended by his disciple Palou, Serra died. From near and far, the Indians who venerated him came to strew his plain coffin with flowers. And they wept bitterly that their Padre, now silent in death, would never again greet them with his habitual tender admonition, "amar á Dios" - to love God.
Aided by other devoted Franciscans, Serra had accomplished much according to the plan which he held to be essential to the welfare of the Indians. Along the fertile coast valleys from San Diego to San Francisco stretched a chain of missions, some seated so that the limits of one mission's lands touched upon the borders of the next. Grain fields, vineyards, olive groves, and orchards flourished, cared for by native labor under Indian overseers. Indian herdsmen tended the great flocks of sheep and the droves of cattle and horses. Each mission with its lands and its Indians formed a type of patriarchal state under the padre's rule backed by the soldiery. Under the new régime, which curbed every native injustice and changed the whole fashion of their lives the Indians decreased. But, while it is easy to pick flaws in the mission system of dealing with the Indians, it is not so easy to point to any other system which has done better. The problem of civilizing a wild people has baffled others than the padres.
(4) Carlos III, letter to Carlos Francisco de Croix (27th February, 1767)
Repair with an armed force to the houses of the Jesuits. Seize the persons of all of them and within twenty-four hours transport them as prisoners to the port of Vera Cruz. Cause to be sealed the records of said houses and records of such persons without allowing them to remove anything but their breviaries and such garments as are absolutely necessary for their journey. If after the embarkation there should be found one Jesuit in that district, even if ill or dying, you should suffer the penalty of death.
(5) Gaspar de Portolà, diary entry (11th May, 1769)
The 11th day of May, I set out from Santa Maria, the last mission to the north, escorted by four soldiers, in company with Father Junipero Serra, president of the missions, and Father Miguel Campa. This day we proceeded for about four hours with very little water for the animals and without any pasture, which obliged us to go on farther in the afternoon to find some. There was, however, no water.
(6) Francis F. Guest, Fermin Francisco de Lasuén (1973)
Junipero Serra and Permin Francisco de Lasuen, in many respects, were opposites. Both were highly intelligent, yet Lasuen, gifted with a degree of perceptiveness to which Serra could not lay claim, easily surpassed him in human relations. Serra was more learned in theology, in which he had a doctors degree; but Lasuen, though lacking the erudition of the first Father President, was endowed with greater psychological insight. Both excelled as administrators, vet, here too, Lasuen revealed a flexibility, a subtlety, a suppleness which Serra did not manifest. Both exhibited strong qualities of character, yet Lasuen suffered, for a time, from spiritual infirmities with which Serra did not have to contend. Serra was rugged, forceful, self-assertive. Lasuen was quiet, cautious, circumspect. Both were involved in controversies between the military and the religious, Serra much more so than Lasuen. And both defended the interests of the Church. But, in his encounters with the state, Lasuen was more adroit, more politic, more pacific than his predecessor in the presidency of the missions.
The most important characteristic in which Serra and Lasuen differed is that, whereas Lasuen excelled as a diplomat, Serra did not. In his letters, whether to the governors, the guardians of the College of San Fernando, or the viceroys, Serra was the epitome of sincerity and candor. Frank, open, clear, direct, he came straight to the point, his scholastic training and habits of logical thinking manifesting themselves from the first line to the last. When he wanted to establish a thesis, as he often did, his letters suggest the precision of a military commander deploying his troops in advantageous positions, his paragraphs proceeding in meticulous formation like companies of infantry on the march.
(7) Francisco Palóu, diary entry (28th August, 1784)
The gentlemen went out to eat. Since I was a little uneasy, after a short time I returned and approached his bed to see if he was sleeping. I found him just as we had left him a little before, but now asleep in the Lord, without anv sign or trace of agony, his body showing no other sign of death than the cessation of breathing; on the contrary, he seemed to be sleeping. We piously believe that he went to sleep in the Lord a little before two in the afternoon, on the feast of Saint Augustine in the year 1784, and that he went to receive in heaven the reward of his apostolic labors.